Chapter One: Sealy-whut?

I once picked up a random book while working at the library (that’s the place to find them) in which the author argued that the decision as to where to begin and end a story is essentially arbitrary. This, is bullshit. I assume the point they failed to argue successfully is that, given the infinite nature of time and the concurrent nature of events, the choice to start a narrative at a certain moment is not necessarily as natural as some may think. However, in order to construct a story certain information must be relayed, and often that information is inextricably bound to a point in time. And that is why this discourse begins on 2nd June 2015, eleven days before my departure from the UK.

It is 8:30am on Tuesday and I am in my local general practitioners, waiting for my 8:10am appointment. I’m getting fidgety because as soon as this is done, I will be driving to London with Maisie to collect my Japanese visa and do fun London things. I am here because for the past three years I have been suffering from what I can only surmise as a “funny tummy,” which at worst involves agonising and debilitating stomach cramps. Since the problem began, I have discovered that as long as I don’t get too hungry, the pain doesn’t bother me. However, as I am going to be starting a new job in a new country, this kind of management might not suffice. Three weeks ago I saw a doctor, in the hope of finding a more reliable way of coping and, upon listing my symptoms, was told I had given a textbook description of IBS.

While the doctor seemed pretty confident in this diagnosis, further tests were necessary, for which I provided samples two weeks ago. The nurse who drew copious amounts of blood from my arm and left a week-long bruise, told me that I would only be contacted if the results should cause concern. I have not been contacted, and so am not concerned. I am beckoned into the consultation room, I sit down next to the doctor, expecting to be handed a fistful of leaflets about IBS, when she beams a warm smile at me and says “You have coeliac disease.”

I had never heard of this before. I’m not even sure I’d heard of gluten before. I probably had, but it was nothing worth remembering. Apparently, my genetic makeup has somewhere in it a panic button for gluten. As soon as my smaller intestine sees the stuff, even a crumb, it freaks out and the villi that decorate the intestinal wall and should be standing to attenceoliaction, throw themselves down like hostages at gunpoint, and stop doing their rather necessary job of properly absorbing all the nice food I give them. Result: pains and deficiencies. As all this may, in the long term, cause more worrying issues such as osteoporosis, malnourished babies, diabetes and cancer, it’s pretty bloody important to stop eating gluten. Of course, this would be a piece of piss if it wasn’t for the fact that gluten gets put in FUCKING EVERYTHING.

From the relatively small amount I have read about coeliac, it seems I have experienced a pretty standard grieving process:

Relief: I’m not a hypochondriac!

Optimism: I can actually become healthy!

Forward thinking: How am I going to make this work?

Uncontrollable weeping: My body is the product of millions of years of evolution and it can’t digest bread.

Self-loathing: People get told they have cancer every day. Get a grip.

Frustration: I am far too lazy to deal with this problem.

Pragmatism: I will read lots of information and make myself laminated check-lists.

Defeatism: Maybe osteoporosis isn’t as bad as it sounds.

Determinism: It’s good I’m going to be forced to cook and eat healthily.

Bitching: I’m unable to stop facetiously grumbling about not being able to eat cake even though it’s clearly annoying.

Anticipation: I can’t wait to be in control of my own diet and make this work.

The last two steps happened in the first two weeks of living in Japan. Not having a kitchen makes avoiding gluten in this country the largest of proverbial ball aches. This was not a surprise to me, as a handful of blogs by people trying to deal with coeliac in the Land of the Rising Sun stated in no uncertain terms that it is nigh-on-impossible to find gluten-free pre-packaged food. It made me exceptionally eager to finally move into my flat and prepare my own food so that I wouldn’t have to spend what feels like years scouring the ingredients list on every piece of food packaging.

While still at training in Tokyo I moaned for the hundredth time about my bread privation. Jordan, another trainee ALT, said (without my prompting) that I was still in grieving and was about three months away from acceptance. He was joking, but sadly it’s likely to be a good guess.


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