Your delight is my poison

She started washing her hands, and washing them, and washing them.  Then they started to bleed and I understood.  She wasn’t quirky, she had OCD.

Thus began our adventure in doing our very best to help her before seeking out professional advice, which would have amounted to medication and (hopefully) behavioral therapy.  I know some of you will blast me for not taking her right away, but my experiences in life have led me to draw the conclusion that medical professionals are pretty much only truly useful in a true emergency.  So, until I have exhausted my arsenal of cures and supportive care, I leave them to those of you who still have faith in them.

I had a friend acquaintance whose son had OCD, and I can’t remember if she was like me or just that the doctors couldn’t help him, but together they “cured” his OCD.  I asked her what they did to help him.  She told me about research involving omegas and referred me to a book called Talking Back to OCD. I haven’t gotten to that book yet.

I did my research (it’s available on the interwebs) and started her on some gummy omegas.  Within three weeks her questions all but stopped.  Oh, I didn’t tell you about her questions did I?  For a while time she had been asking questions.  “Will x catch me on fire?” “I touched x, am I going to turn into x ?”  “I touched x, am I going to die?”  She asked them over, and over, and over.  At first they were frequent, but then they came at a frequency and an urgency that left her older sister in frustrated tears and myself breathless and nauseous.  It was then that I asked my acquaintance.

Sometime during all of this I did lots of research about OCD and came to understand that it is a condition rooted in fear.  Her actions and questions were all because she was afraid of dying.  She hoarded bits and pieces of papers because the thought of getting rid of them caused her too much anxiety.  My poor little girl spent her every waking moment dodging death.  I get a little bent out of shape when people try to explain their preference for order over chaos and symmetry over unbalance as OCD.  Bitch, if you’re not afraid that your poorly organized pantry is going to kill you please shut the fuck up.

When we realized that my husband’s body reacted to gluten I stopped baking bread.  We had been eating a lot of it.  Man, the smell of a loaf of bread baking is heaven, second only to the delight in tearing into a fresh, warm loaf soft and springy and loading it up with butter, honey, jam or just scarfing it plain.  Le sigh.  After a few weeks I realized my Hurricane was less hurricane-like and more cooperative.  I watched her as I continued to feed my family.  Heavy gluten intake resulted in less cooperative behavior for days.

These were the days when my committment to eating gluten-free was half-hearted.  Sometimes I did it, sometimes I said fuck it.  One day we went to Sonic, and I let Hurricane have a cherry slush. She. Went. Psycho.  Seriously, I thought.  Red 40, too?  My husband didn’t really believe me, until he witnessed it himself.  She changes from a perfectly normal three-year-old into this psycho growly attacky beast with no inhibitions, no sense of danger, and zero control.  It was terrifying and incredibly frustrating.  So, Red 40 is off the menu now.

When she was a baby, my Soccer Star would get a bright red patch on her skin whenever yogurt or ranch dressing got on it.  A couple of years ago she was getting loads of tummy aches and constipation and she had always been a very gaseous child, but she got old enough that it started to embarrass her so we started her on some lactose enzymes.  She is no longer my Thunder Booty.  Oh well.  Hurricane’s system seems more and more like Soccer Star all the time.  Red splotches, constipation, gas.

The Artiste has always had odd poo.  I asked doctors about it, but they seemed pretty unconcerned.  The older girls tested negative for celiac (the antibody test) so I got shrugs. (See, I’m not totally anti-doctor, they just prove themselves worthless over and over again).  Let me give you the gross details:  it was greyish and mucus-y.  I knew it was probably dietary, but I wasn’t sure if it was gluten or dairy.

My husband finally got the blood test to get the genetic test for gluten sensitivity.  He’s positive.  We already knew that.  So, enough pussy-footing around.  I had to ask myself what kind of damage is occurring to their insides where I can’t see it?  I can see the red splotches and I can witness the behavior of the toddler, but what about what is invisible to the world that shows up at age 50 with Stage 4 colon cancer.

Food sensitivity is linked to a plethora of other symptoms and conditions, many of which affect my family.  ADHD, depression, fatigue, eczema, joint pain, nervous behavior… Out. Done. Finito.  No more pussy-footing around.  I have stopped buying anything with gluten.  I have also stopped buying dairy, except for butter.  And ranch.  I having a helluva time getting my people to eat a different dressing.

How are they doing?  Soccer Star?  No more tummy aches or poop problems.  Artiste? The tummy aches she had been having, which we attributed to anxiety, are gone.  Her poop looks normal.  She had done a 180, she’s still quirky, there is no changing who she is, but I don’t think a doctor would believe me now that she had classic symptoms of full blown OCD.  Hurricane?  She’s still my Hurricane, but she is much more responsive and cooperative.

I have to remain dedicated to this.  It is too easy to let the lack of obvious symptoms sway me to laziness.  Let’s be clear on this:  I don’t want to eat this way.  None of us do.  We want our breads and pastas, our cheeses and cheese sauces, the ice creams, the yogurts…we seem to want most what hurts us most.  Weird.

I think DH is the only one of us who has no problems with dairy.  I’m uncertain if my family history is entirely related to dairy, or if there is gluten sensitivity, too.  The littles clearly inherited dairy troubles from me.  That was obvious.  It just took me a really long time to understand that it was more than just some gas and that enzymes would only protect them so much from that food.  The gluten issue is a lot trickier.  Artiste is so much happier now.  She’s even open to the idea of throwing away scraps of paper she couldn’t part with.  She doesn’t ask questions anymore either, unless we run out of her gummies for a few days.  I really think she got the gluten sensitivity, but I’m not sure about the other three yet.  Until they agree to get the needle stick so we can get the genetic test, they prefer being denied foods with gluten.  I can’t won’t prepare two separate meals, so we are in this together.

My Artiste and Hurricane have made me wonder why oh why do these food sensitivities affect their behavior so.  A lot of experts talk about leaky guts and how they let in proteins.  I found out with Little Bit, that babies are designed with leaky guts.  That’s how the antibodies from breast milk are able to enter their blood stream, and that as their guts mature and the gaps begin to close they will start feeding themselves.  It’s called self-weaning.  The process doesn’t begin until about six months of age and some babies, like Little Bit, begin later.  Proponents of self-weaning say it’s dangerous to feed babies pureed baby food because it interferes with the natural process and their leaky guts allow food protein to enter their bloodstream directly which may result in food allergies or sensitivities.

Well, wait.  That doesn’t explain behavior at all, does it?  Your guts are part of your parasympathetic nervous system.  This system is responsible for sexual arousal, salivation, tears, digestion, urination, and defecation.  When all is well it’s on, when the shit hits the fan it turns processes off so the body’s resources can be used elsewhere.  Like fighting off that saber toothed tigger.  He just wants a hug, he says.  Sure, that’s what my cat told that squirrel last week.

The gut also houses the enteric nervous system.  Scientists call this system the second brain. It’s kind of on its own program and operates autonomously.  Your brain doesn’t control it.  It is a really complicated  system that is poorly understood.  It’s known role is to move food through the digestive track, but 100 million neurons can’t be needed just to control alimentary muscles.  The enteric nervous system gives your brain lots of information.  When you’re feeling nervous, and you feel those butterflies fluttering in your belly, that’s the second brain at work.  It seems to play an important role in our mood and sense of well-being.

It makes sense to me, that if someone consumes food that hurts the gut, then not only is there a physiological response to that injury, but also a neurological one.  The enteric nervous system says “hurt, hurt” to the brain, and the brain responds accordingly.  So, a leaky gut lets in substances that cause harm (and each person has a different body and response to different foods), the enteric nervous system picks up on it and tells the brain, and the brain tells the body what hormones and chemicals to release to correct the harm.  Since it’s not real harm like our striped buddy, but a continuous internal harm, too many hormones and chemicals are released and cause additional harm like depression or hyperactivity.

Maybe you’re a non-believer.  Maybe your children are perfectly well-behaved and you all eat whatever you want.  Awesome!  I’m happy for you.  But if not, before you go straight to the meds, maybe just maybe you can try a little food experiment and see if any foods trigger those unwelcome behaviors in your child. Maybe, just maybe you can try it on yourself and see if your pain, depression, or other medical conditions improve.  Food nourishes us, but it turns out it can hurt us, too.

5 comments

  1. Wow. With a lactose-intolerant teen and a couple of kids with ADD, I need to step back and look more closely at how nutrition affects their overall health, physical and psycho-emotional. You may have just gained a mentee.

  2. Fascinating post, my friend . . . especially the autonomous nervous system in the gut. That explains . . . a lot really. I’m so glad you found at least some of your answers by eliminating the dairy and the gluten!

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