Gardens, celiac disease, and being kind

“Your garden looks great this year!”

“Wow! The garden looks fantastic! Last year by now it was crazy.”

“Man, I’m proud of you. You really kept up with the garden.”

First tomato crop
Butterfly garden.

My gardens are impressive this year. Huge. Productive. Largely weeded. I’m getting comments from nearly everyone who sees them, especially if they’ve see my gardens in the past. Mostly, come July, let alone September, my gardens are lost in the weeds; this year, they looks comparatively manicured. Still, when I hear the compliments they feel a tiny bit sideways. That isn’t how they’re intended.

It’s just how they land.

For some reason, my past attempts feel like failure. More than that, like personal failings.

Why exactly did I succeed this year and fail before? Am I just lazy? Why do I feel blamed for what I didn’t do instead of proud of what I’ve managed to accomplish.

Then I pause, remind myself, sometimes out loud: “Life is easier when you aren’t sick all of the time.”

<<<>>>

Just over a year ago, I found out that I have celiac disease. The changes I have made since–namely ridding my life of all forms of gluten–have been life altering.

Celiac is an autoimmune disorder caused by gluten (a component of wheat) that triggers all kinds of seemingly unrelated symptoms. My symptoms included headaches and migraines, digestive upset, stabbing pain in my stomach, severe fatigue, joint pain, chronic inflammation, peripheral neuropathy, mood changes, and bloating. It also, likely, contributed pretty substantially to both my anxiety and depression. (I mean, I still have those, but they are much more manageable now.)

It’s a pretty extensive list of widely varying symptoms, and before I figured out what was going on, I wasn’t sure whether I was dying or a hypochondriac. (I was beginning to feel pretty sure it was one of the two…)

Over time, gluten exposure can kill the intestines of people with celiac; as such, undiagnosed, it can be deadly. Either way, it makes life pretty miserable.

Within two weeks of getting ridding my diet of gluten, I began to understand what it is to feel healthy. Those weeks were full of epiphanies: You mean it isn’t normal to feel ill after every time you eat? Wait…I literally had a low level headache all of the time? I can make it through a day without taking a nap?

And the weirdest one…

My face isn’t round????

These photos were taken about a week apart. Like I said, not round.

(All of the inflammation had made my face swollen. I lived my entire life thinking I have a round face; I don’t.)

Later, I learned that celiac disease is genetic and that it affects 1% of the general population.

It affects at least 20% of my maternal cousins.

I didn’t realize how much pain I was in, or how fatigued I was, until it went away. I had been running the farm by pushing through pain, and I had beaten myself up for all the ways I hadn’t been able to keep up. Like with the garden.

<<<>>>

Why am I telling you all of this?

Partly, it’s because I discovered this problem by following an internet research rabbit hole. I tested the theory by removing gluten from my diet on my own, and THEN I talked to my doctors about it. I know there are a lot of people out there living with this thing who aren’t aware of it, and I know that it’s possible that telling my story could help. I had been living chronically ill for so long, I didn’t recognize many of my symptoms as symptoms, and I sure as shit didn’t think anything on that random list was related. I’m not the only one.

Also, and this lesson comes up over and over again in my life: it turns out I am often too hard on myself.

<<<>>>

I spent part of the evening shredding yellow squash from the garden for the lasagna I made for dinner and for the muffins I will make tomorrow. Earlier today, I stuck probably thirty tomatoes in the freezer, part of a hack that makes them easy to peel for salsa and canning. I have more green beans than I know what to do with. Honestly, I will probably feed a bunch of them to the pigs this weekend instead of their grain.

I have watermelons to pick, pesto to make, potatoes to dig, and butternut and acorn squash ripening on the vine. My tomato cages have collapsed under the weight of the plants, and my sunflowers, which I honestly just grow for the birds, are 8+ feet high.

My garden looks pretty great this year.

It’s never looked this good before, but it turns out, I’ve never been truly well to take care of it before either. I wish I would have known to give myself a little grace about it before now.

We have all heard the saying “be kind to people, you never know what they’re going through,” and there is so much truth there.

We need to be kind to ourselves too though, and we often are not, not realizing that we don’t always understand everything we, ourselves, are going through.

One of my zinnias from the butterfly garden.

Be kind, loves. Especially to yourselves.

3 thoughts on “Gardens, celiac disease, and being kind

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