Picture it you are at a professional conference, everyone is in a large banquet hall. There are eight people to a table. At each place there is a salad, water, and what looks like an iced tea. You sit down amongst your colleagues to eat. If you have Celiac anything you eat or drink will either nourish you or…will make you feel like you have a terrible stomach bug. I don’t think anyone can understand this until they live it. As you know it’s terribly stressful.
No matter how long I have had Celiac, I will always feel uncomfortable and awkward in this situation. I’m sitting at a big round table with eight people trying to find out if my food is, or is not gluten-free. I have had to deal with a lot of uncomfortable situations and/or topics in my profession but for me this one never seems to get easier.
Everyone has a salad in front of them and they start passing the bread and the dressing. You are trying to pass the bread without getting crumbs all over your salad. I’m thinking, is the dressing gluten-free? I did state in my conference registration that I had Celiac and needed a gluten-free dinner, but will they know? Was it communicated? If they do, will it be safe? Everyone else is looking to see why I haven’t started eating. I try to sneak away to ask a server if the dressing is gluten-free.
Next comes dinner, I tell the server I need gluten-free and they take the plate away and go back to the kitchen. Everyone is looking, but pretending not to, wondering what is going on. A few minutes later they come back with a plate that looks exactly the same as everyone else’s. Now, do I eat it and hope I don’t get sick? If I get sick, I’m going to miss the conference.
In my mind I feel like people think I’m making a big deal of something that isn’t a big deal. I ultimately decide not to eat my dinner. I have some snacks in my room just in case. Now people are wondering why I’m not eating. Part of me thinks if I could avoid dinner altogether that would be a lot easier. However I’d then be anti-social and miss part of the conference.
The social impact of having Celiac or a food allergy is considerable. Do we adapt and juggle this? Yes, every day. Most days it’s okay. Some days it’s hard and you feel isolated. I think it’s important to remember it's okay to feel like this.
In what other situation do you have to explain a medical condition to your table mates? Imagine sitting at a table with eight people you don’t know sharing your private medical information. Everyone sits down at the table you look at all of them and say “So I just had a double bypass.” Then you would sit there and wonder…do they think it’s because I don’t exercise enough, do they think I don't eat well. When you have Celiac or a food allergy you have to do this over and over again. Then you look at everyone around you and wonder…are they judging me? Do they think I’m over the top?
Have you ever felt like this?