In the couple of months running up to your 18th birthday, you’re beginning to plan and look forward to all kinds of things. The presents you’re hoping to get, the big nights out you’re going to go on but one thing I wasn’t planning on dealing with in the run up to my biggest teenage birthday was Coeliac Disease.
I’m an August baby which means I was the last in my group of friends to turn 18, so the excitement and anticipation for this special birthday was extremely high for months in advance of the big day, so when I was diagnosed with Coeliac Disease in the June, just a couple of months before the all-important date, it put a bit of a downer on the impending celebrations.
Coeliac Disease for those who aren’t familiar with it is an auto-immune disease in which the body is damaged by the consumption of gluten. It brings with it a whole host of physical symptoms such as nausea and vomiting when gluten is consumed, bloating, fatigue and is also associated with things such as acne, joint pain and even depression.
Taking all these symptoms into consideration, as well as the obvious fact of having to eat a 100% gluten free diet whilst being super aware of cross contamination, being diagnosed with Coeliac Disease at such a big time in my life was pretty hard to accept.
I like to think that as a whole, I’ve adapted to having Coeliac Disease quite well. I like to think I’ve taken it in my stride and don’t often moan about being gluten free or everything else that goes along with being ‘a Coeliac’ but there are times when I’ve felt that having this auto immune disease has held me back from being a ‘normal teenager’ and getting to do the things that your average 18 year old will do.
In the grand scheme of things, they’re not big things or things that really impacted my teenage years but fitting in is everything as a teenager and being able to interact with your friends is such a priority and I often felt having Coeliac Disease stopped me from being able to do that.
Take nights out as an example. Once you turn 18 here in the UK, it’s relatively normal to start spending your Friday and Saturday nights out in pubs, bars and clubs with your friends partying the hours away but how do those nights usually end? In a local takeaway.
As someone with Coeliac Disease, eating from your local takeaway that sells cheap cheeseburgers, cheesy chips and popcorn chicken isn’t really an option. Not only is there very few gluten free options available on the menu, there’s also no procedures in place to avoid cross contamination, so eating from these places isn’t really possible.
Like I’ve said, I know there’s worse things in the world than not being able to get a takeaway with my friends at the end of a night out but it is a ‘normal’ thing to do for people of my age and I often end up feeling left out when I can’t have anything whilst my friends are enjoying their greasy fast food.
As a teenager, a lot of social situations revolve around food, hence I’ve felt I struggled to socialise at times because eating out was a lot harder for me. Another very normal thing to do with your friends at 18 is to head out for a meal and maybe the cinema or bowling or shopping but for me, the meal part of this situation often leaves me feeling anxious to the point where I don’t want to bother.
I hate feeling like the awkward one in the group who says no to every restaurant that is suggested because it is often misunderstood as being fussiness and not my dietary requirements. I can’t help having to be a little bit picky about where I’ll eat as its my both short term and long term physical health at risk but although my friends know about my Coeliac Disease and do their best to support me, I can’t help but be paranoid that my requirements when it comes to food are an inconvenience.
As well as being conscious that my Coeliac Disease makes being part of social situations difficult for everyone involved, I also tend to choose to avoid or exclude myself from these situations because of the fear of becoming unwell. Even when choosing a restaurant that is reliable for gluten free, things can and do still go wrong and unfortunately, you can end up reacting to the food which is an unpleasant and at times, intense experience.
I don’t want to ruin the social situation by becoming unwell and I know the likelihood of that happening if I meet up with friends for food is quite high, so I have always removed myself from those situations, but although I have done that to protect both myself and others from embarrassment or upset, I do sometimes feel I’ve missed out on something so normal.
Whether it’s ordering a takeaway for a night in with friends, heading to the local pub for a bite to eat or heading to a friend’s house for dinner, they’re all very mundane, normal social scenarios I feel I’ve missed out on due to being diagnosed with Coeliac Disease as a teen.
Sometimes through physically not being able to eat anything that’s available but sometimes through the anxiety surrounding the situation, having Coeliac Disease has in many ways held me back from feeling and acting like a ‘normal teenager’.
So, although Coeliac Disease is a physical medical condition, it impacts your whole lifestyle and that poses individual challenges for every age group and I can say from experience of being a teenager with the disease, it may not be the worst thing we have to deal with as teens but as being in your teenage years can be a challenge all by itself, having Coeliac Disease certainly doesn’t make socialising and fitting in any easier.