To be honest, there are times when I want people to notice me. I want my friends to notice my overpriced haircut. I want the only cute guy at a party to notice my blue eyes and genuine smile. I want a stranger to notice my outfit and drunkenly tell me how “super cute” it is while we wait in a never-ending line for the ladies’ room at a crowded bar. Who doesn’t enjoy this kind of feel-good attention? But then there are other times when I’m afraid to draw unwanted attention to myself.
I don’t want to be the one who stands out in a crowd for being different. Being different is definitely not a bad thing. In fact, being different can help define who you are and may even be what attracts people to you. Wise words. I know. Maybe I should try listening to my own advice, but I guess I’ve always just preferred the comfort of blending in with the people around me.
Throughout my years in school (especially in high school) I would occasionally wait to do the majority of my back-to-school shopping until the first week of school, so I could see what everyone else was wearing. (I’m totally aware of how pathetic this sounds btw.) I had a tendency to buy clothing based on trends that the “popular kids” were setting—from UGG boots to The North Face black fleece jacket that everyone and their mothers owned.
So, when the reality set in that I would have to be different in order to survive, I panicked. I quickly realized that being on a strict gluten-free diet means that people will notice me for being different and ask too many questions that I am already tired of answering. It means that I will have to politely turn down the $3.00 Bud Light from the guy with whom I locked eyes with across the bar. It means that I will end up asking the waiter or waitress at least eighty-seven questions about the menu while everyone else at the table stares in amusement. It means that I will have to stuff my face before any catered event for fear that I won’t be able to eat anything at the actual event, and instead be forced to drink my way through the night because yayyy they have WINE.
And when someone does notice and asks why I can’t eat or drink certain things, there’s that look. It’s the look of sympathy that people give you as if you just said that your pet parakeet flew away—a mixed expression of confusion and concern. I hate this look and the feeling of pity that comes with it.
But although there are some people that may point out our differences and ask questions simply out of curiosity, there are many other people who will ask because they genuinely care. There are plenty of people in my life who want to understand my diagnosis and go out of their way to make me feel included during meals. I truly appreciate everyone who has taken the time to understand my dietary needs this past year: my non-celiac friends who often order off the gluten-free menu so we can all try each other’s meals; one of my best friends who traveled with me to another state just to sample products at a gluten-free expo; my mom who purchased all new cookware so I wouldn’t get “glutened” by old pots and pans that may be contaminated with gluten; my dad who brings home a new gluten-free product every time he goes grocery shopping; and my sister (the only other person in my family who has also recently been diagnosed with celiac disease) who can totally relate to this gluten-free life more than anyone I know.
So, although it’s not particularly ideal or convenient to be forced to follow a strict gluten-free diet, it’s comforting to know that there are plenty of people who want to help us on this journey. For the moments when being different may seem a bit overwhelming: just take it one day at a time, one meal at a time. And remember, life is good.
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for my first food-related post (enough about me already)!