Coeliac disease and mental health

While awareness of gluten free and coeliac disease is constantly improving, one issue which generally isn’t being talked about is its effect on mental health.

I was inspired by the recent #WorldMentalHealthDay to share my story on Instagram and Facebook. The posts seemed to resonate with people so I thought I’d expand into a blog post where I’m not limited by Instagram’s pesky character limit!

My story

While I’ve never been diagnosed with anything, mental health is something I have (and still do) struggle with. I often feel down and upset, sometimes for no good reason. My self confidence is also often lacking/non existent. As a bloke this can be tough as traditionally we’ve been expected to just ‘man up’ and get on with things. Thankfully the conversation is changing and asking for help is not now seen as a sign of weakness. 

I’ve been fortunate to have had help from a couple of really great counsellors over the past couple of years. Thanks to these sessions I’ve learned to acknowledge when I’m feeling down and give myself space to think about things, without beating myself up over it.

I’ve also learned strategies on how to lift myself up again when I’m feeling down and remind myself that I’m not actually a terrible human. These are really basic things like just going out for a walk to get some fresh air, making the effort to go and see friends or putting a record on and chilling out.

I’m also a firm believer in the power of exercise so I drag my weary self to the gym at least a couple of times a week as that always helps to lift my mood.

Coeliac disease, fatigue and eating out anxiety

‘But what about mental health and coeliac disease?’ I hear you cry! Don’t worry, I’m getting to it..

Having coeliac disease can be extremely detrimental when it comes to mental health. I get very anxious about eating out, especially somewhere I’ve never been before. Putting your health in someone else’s hands is pretty bloody scary. Everyone has different symptoms to glutening but for me I know that one mistake will mean I spend the next day in agony throwing my guts up, and won’t recover fully for days.

My most recent example of glutening thanks to a cross-contamination issue at a restaurant was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had. The usual vomiting was accompanied by horrendous stabbing pains in my stomach to the point where I thought I was going to end up in A&E. Thankfully it eventually calmed down and a few days later I arose from my sleepy stupor to face the world again.

It really hit home to me after this how one tiny oversight can lead to me being seriously ill. Ever since, my anxiety about eating out has got a lot worse. Even when eating somewhere I trust there’s still a nagging worry.

What if the message doesn’t get communicated to the kitchen that I’m coelaic? What if it does and the chef is having a bad day and can’t be bothered to follow cross-contamination procedures? What if there’s just a genuine error and my food gets mixed up with some glutenous nonsense? These are just a few of the thoughts that race through my mind while sitting in a restaurant trying to pretend like I’m having a fun time.

I know rationally that most places who offer gluten free on their menu are usually pretty clued up, and by talking to the staff 99 times out of 100 you end up having a great experience. But I can’t help but worry about that one time when something goes wrong.

Having been coeliac for all my life though it is something I’m used to, and I like to think I’ve got fairly good spidey senses when it comes to restaurants. I’ll ask questions and if I’m not convinced by their answers I am not afraid to walk right out of there. As a coeliac putting your health first over any social awkwardness this may cause is a total no-brainer.

While most people know that coeliac disease can lead to having a bit of a funny tummy, there are some lesser know effects such as fatigue that can also be harmful to our mental health. I just about manage this through taking a cocktail of vitamin supplements and exercising, which generally perks me up a bit. But there’s still days where I’m so tired I just can’t be bothered to move from the sofa (at least I’m blaming that on the coeliac disease anyway, not just being a lazy git!)

With all this to contend with it’s a wonder coeliacs aren’t offered counselling on the spot when being diagnosed. While I’ve been focusing on the negative aspects of having coeliac disease here, it’s not all bad! Check out my top five things about being gluten free if you need cheering up!

I hope some of you have found this post useful. I know it can be difficult to be open and talk about these things, but I thought even if sharing my experience helps one person then it will have been worth doing. There is a great community of coeliacs out there, particularly on Instagram, which is a great help in feeling like you’re not fighting this thing alone. Reaching out and chatting to people in a similar position sometimes be all you need and my DMs are always open to anyone wanting to talk. 🙂

Coeliac Man out x

2 Comments

  1. Thanks again for such an insightful post. My daughter has coeliacs (aged 16), and I have always planned eating out carefully, (always stressing out and talking to the staff a billion times etc!) But I have never considered her concerns and anxieties, and how she feels about it all. I will certainly be showing her your post later and talking to her about her feelings, as well as encouraging her to find the support groups you mentioned on instagram.
    Thank you for your honestly and vaunerability- I’m sure it will also help many others too!

    Liked by 1 person

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