Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Michael Stern
My first systemic reaction to a food happened right after Christmas in 2004. Brandon, my family, and I were vacationing in Branson and were watching a movie. Along with everyone else, I was popping pistachios.
Then something odd...my ears swelled, grew hot, and began itching. My throat followed suit. I put the pistachios away, popped a Benadryl, and didn't think about the experience again for over a year.
Over the course of 2005, I sometimes felt unwell after I ate--weirdly sleepy, grumpy, bleh--so I began The Maker's Diet with my parents to clean up my eating. That seemed to help. For a while.
Then in early 2006 (a particularly stressful time in my life), itching, hives, swelling, shortness of breath, etc. became common during and after meals. I don't know why it took so long for me to stop living in denial, but eventually I was able to associate the way I felt with food.
Within a few weeks, I eliminated wheat, dairy, corn, soy, and tree nuts from my diet, and I stabilized. For a while.
Spring came with a case of hay fever from HELL. I went about either drunk, sneezy, coughy, sleepy, and sensitive to light and noise or knocked out cold by Benadryl. I wish I were kidding.
Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of NIAID
The Allergy Shots Experiment
So I saw an allergist. He prescribed daily Claritin, Singulair, and an inhaler along with weekly injections to treat my environmental allergies. (He didn't want to touch my food allergies. They scared him.) I improved. For a while.
A few months into treatment, my allergies worsened. I became increasingly sensitive to the foods I knew I was allergic to. New foods piled onto the "no-no" list. If I had to walk across campus while staff was mowing grass? Asthma attack guaranteed. And then I began reacting to the allergy shots themselves.
At first, it was just localized swelling and itching at the site of injection. No big deal. Normal, even. Later, I had systemic itching. Oh well. Pop a Benadryl. Whatever. After that, full body rashes. Not pretty, but not life-threatening. Go back to the office. Get a steroid shot. Go home.
The day my tongue and throat swelled was a different matter. After an in-office dose of Benadryl failed to bring my symptoms under control, I was given an injection of Epi. The nurse told me this was normal. That some people need Epi every week after injections.
Uh...no thank you.
When I became pregnant with Micah, I used my pregnancy as an excuse to stop treatment, and I never went back. And I got better. For a while.
Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Greg Friese
After pregnancy, things went back to normal...but worse. In June 2009 when Micah was three months old, a few soggy chow mein noodles hidden in a sub par chicken salad sent me to the ER. That episode ended with two Epi injections and a frustrating 10 days of steroids during which this breastfeeding mama had to pump and dump several times a day. Good times.
The next eventful moment happened in January 2011. Brookshire's began carrying pre-made gluten free muffins in the bakery, so Brandon brought some home as a treat. Which they were...until two hours later.
Guys, I'm not a puker. I have a gag reflex of iron. I once went 10 years without a good purge. Even now, I have to be pretty sick to toss my cookies, but that day...I tossed my muffins. Again and again and again and again.
In two hours I puked 11 times. That may be more times than I've puked in my life outside of that day. Each heave was so forceful I was sure something would hemorrhage. Every time it ended, I collapsed onto the floor beside the toilet unable to move.
I don't know how to describe that level of misery except to tell you that I wanted to die. I prayed the Lord would take me. No other pain, no other emergency has ever caused me to pray that prayer.
There was no relief. I couldn't pick myself off the cold bathroom tile. I think Brandon eventually did it himself after he jumped a few flaming hoops to get me the anti-nausea medicine I needed.
Unfortunately, I believed my little puke-a-thon was the stomach virus of the apocalypse. My mistake.
As my friend Tim said the other night, "What you believe matters."
Once recovered, I ate another muffin. Two hours later, I start puking again. As if the first mistake wasn't enough, I used the anti-nausea medicine too soon, thereby trapping the offending substance (teff flour) inside my body, which forced it to run its course.
Take my word when I tell you this was a bad decision.
A few days after this, I caught an actual stomach virus, then another virus, then the flu. Then I got pregnant. Oh boy.
I stayed sick until week 26 of my pregnancy (which amounts to six months of constant illness), at which point I perked up. Until I had Sara.
During labor, I had a systemic reaction to the epidural, which didn't even work in the end. Man, oh man, was she worth it, but dude...
After her birth, I wasn't the same. I knew something was wrong. Suddenly, it wasn't just what I ate. It was what I touched. What I breathed. But I couldn't think about me. I had a sick baby to take care of.
Things spun out of control. I couldn't safely administer Sara's medicine because I reacted to it upon skin contact. I lost several more foods. Anaphylaxsis became a common occurrence. I lived off Benadryl. And I bought a medical alert bracelet because I never knew what would happen, when, where, how, or why.
When God healed Sara of RSV and her chronic ear infections, I snapped. Like a twig.
One afternoon, I ate a coconut macaroon for a snack and immediately had an anaphylactic reaction. The next morning, I awoke to pain. Tissue pain. Muscle pain. Bone pain. All of it. Pain which never left. Which I still have to this day, to a lesser degree.
I began to reject all food. Even water made me ill. After several days of being unable to eat and too slow to drink, I dehydrated and had to be given IV fluids.
Elders from our church prayed for me. Within a couple of days, I was able to eat again, but everything gave me trouble. I might eat one thing one day and reject it the next.
We struggled for months to figure out what to do. We tried fasting, supplements, liquid nutrition, amino acid powder. I dropped a lot of weight very quickly. I remember wondering if I would die of starvation.
In September 2012, we learned of the GAPS diet, which is a gut-healing diet. I followed it to perfection, practically living off broths and soups. And it was enough. For a while.
I won't go into the details of how it happened--you can read the story here--but after being poisoned by a fluoroquinolone drug, my issues worsened. This is when I had to stop drinking coffee and wearing make-up. I lost a ton of foods at once and had to begin wearing a mask every time I ventured into public. Even normal, natural scents like lavender essential oil sent me into respiratory distress. Anaphylaxsis became even more common. As in "three to five times a week" common.
I remember at least two instances during that time in which my spirit separated from my body, allowing me to see everything outside of myself. I remember deciding at least three times to live rather than depart to my Lord for the sake of Superman at my bedside.
In early June 2013, I found myself in another crisis. I again ended up in the ER. This time, we all wondered whether or not I would survive.
My family called a prayer meeting on my behalf, which resulted in God saving my life in a really cool way. For the summer, I was able to eat anything that grew in our garden. Even watermelon, which I hadn't been able to eat in years.
(Note: Prayer changes things. Every time.)
When the summer ended, so did my freedom. I lost all the foods I had enjoyed over the summer and several more, and had one final crisis in December. Fortunately, I was able to stay out of the hospital that time.
I enlisted the help of my friend Jennifer Nervo of 20 Something Allergies in February 2014. She had just become a licensed nutritional therapist. With her help, I gained stability in my diet by following a low-histamine Autoimmune Paleo plan on a four day rotation, which is every bit as complicated as it sounds. I couldn't eat a wide variety of foods, but for the first time since I became ill, I was eating enough.
Even still, my "safe foods" list dwindled.
In summary, food has been a struggle, and the struggle's been real.
I always knew God would heal me, but part of me doubted my food allergies would be included in that healing. I mean, they've been around for a decade.
When I imagined being well, I imagined going around mask-free and fearless. Having my old energy back. An absence of pain. Even the ability to eat the things I could before I was really sick.
But then Jesus showed up, and all this impossible stuff started happening. First my hands. Then the way I tolerated cold temperatures. Then no more mask because fragrances no longer affected me as they once did.
I couldn't help myself. I asked, "Why not my food allergies?" If Jesus could heal all the other symptoms, he could heal those too.
One day, I tried a bite of a gluten-free cookie. Just to see what would happen. Nothing happened. Then I tried goat milk. Again, nothing. Then eggs. Nothing.
When I no longer required a mask, I told Brandon I wanted to attend the Project 41 White As Snow gala on January 22. (Project 41 is a ministry for sex-trafficking victims and prostitutes in Ouachita Parish. The gala is their big fundraising event each year. Contact me if you're interested in joining the prayer team.)
One morning not long after buying the tickets, I was praying through the Lord's Prayer. (I often use it as a guideline and personalize it to fit the needs of the day. Martin Luther style.) When I got to "give us this day our daily bread," I felt the Holy Spirit say, "You have not because you ask not." And I knew in some mysterious way He wanted me to ask for permission to eat the food at the gala and if I did, He would allow it.
I began telling people--Mom, Brandon, my prayer group--"Just you watch. I'm gonna eat that food and be fine. No matter what it is."
Sure enough, I enjoyed grilled chicken, candied carrots, seasoned green beans, twice-baked potatoes (with cheese and pseudo bacon bits), and two bites of cheesecake (no crust) that I didn't have to cook. Without issue.
As Brandon so eloquently put it, I was bulletproof.
The Big Leagues
My stomach wasn't too happy the week following the gala. I had a fair amount of GI inflammation, nausea, intestinal pain, and bloating. Which--granted--isn't all that bad considering what I've been through, but still...
I figured God had given me a free pass for that one night and I'd have to wait a bit longer for complete healing. No big deal. I can be patient.
My prayer group met on Friday night. They asked for testimonies of miraculous healings, which we've been seeing in a steady stream since December. I shared my story again for those who hadn't heard it and for those who wanted to hear it again, during which I mentioned I was believing God for complete healing of my food allergies.
When I got home that night, the Holy Spirit whispered to my spirit, "You haven't asked to be able to eat the food tomorrow."
I'd planned to attend a bridal luncheon in honor of my cousin's fiance the next day. A meal would be served. Honestly, partaking hadn't even occurred to me. Neither had requesting permission to do so.
"Okay, Lord. I would love to eat the food tomorrow. If it would please you, will you allow me to enjoy it?"
I lacked the assurance I felt before the gala, but was content to leave the matter in the Lord's hands. I knew I would know whether or not the food was for me when I saw it. No matter what, I was thrilled just to attend. I hadn't seen my Chapman cousins in years.
Long story short(er): I. ate. it. all. (Minus the orzo and cheesecake crust.)
I knew the moment that fabulous salad was placed before me, it was meant for me and I would be fine.
I even took a bite of the orzo pasta, mistaking it for rice. (I didn't read the menu carefully.) That mistake might have killed me three years ago and would've required Epi and an ER visit in 2009 and 50-100mg of Benadryl as far back as 2007.
But that day my face swelled a little bit. Basically, the equivalent of a sneeze. I didn't even flush.
Mom and I laughed and laughed and laughed throughout the entire meal, which may have been slightly inappropriate, but we couldn't help it. We were absolutely drunk on the joy of the Spirit. (We may have cried a little, too.)
What happened was impossible. The food was delicious. And that cheesecake? The best thing I can remember eating in 10 years. Hands down.
"Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus," was the song of my heart which accompanied each bite.
The night after the luncheon, I renewed the habit of praying over each meal (in addition to Sara's sweet blessing), thanking God and praying it would heal and nourish my body and the bodies of my family.
This habit accomplishes several important things at once:
- It reminds me food is a gift, not a right.
- It reminds me of the Giver.
- It's a declaration of dependence upon Father for all sustenance.
- It forces me to be a good steward of what I put into my body, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), and reminds me that "all things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful" (1 Corinthians 6:12).
- Each bite becomes joyful worship (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Oatmeal and goat milk for breakfast yesterday morning.
I hadn't eaten oatmeal in four years. Brandon left
some in the pot, and I just knew it was for me!
A little coffee to go with my Jesus time this morning.
First time in three years.
Lawful, not helpful, but oh so yummy.
Omelet with farm fresh eggs, onion, bell pepper, spinach, and goat cheese.
Not low histamine and definitely not AIP approved.
Should've made me flush, sneeze, and itch for the rest of the day, but I'm good.
After my bowl of oatmeal yesterday morning, I said it out loud and posted it to Facebook: I don't have Mast Cell Activation Disease anymore. I'm healed.
What a delight eating has become! I can sit before my plate with gratitude, joy, and confidence. No fear. I've been eating foods I haven't enjoyed in years without a hint of discomfort, even when I kind of expect it.
For so long, food was an enemy. No more.
I've been healed of an "incurable disease" by my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I no longer claim MCAD. All my online biographies have been changed (see below). I humbly and enthusiastically accept the gift the Lord is pleased to give--healing of body, mind, and spirit.
Just one month and a couple of days into 2016, the Lord has proven His word to me. This is the Year of Abundance, indeed.