Growing up was kind of a blur. I remember not feeling well, being tired most of the time, always complaining of a stomach ache, riddled with an overwhelming sense of being shy that caused a lot of anxiety. I held on to these feelings throughout my school years, high school was the worst. I really had no drive to succeed or even try to do well; I am surprised that I passed any of my classes. There were multiple factors that contributed to this, none of which I will get into. I didn’t feel like I had the brain power though. Not that I felt stupid, but I was just always in a fog and that played a serious role in my participation in school. I turned to other things that didn’t really require me to think, they just let me be and do something “productive”. It was not productive or time well spent, given that we only have so much time on this beautiful planet.
I graduated from East Ridge High School in 1999. I got my first real job shortly after graduation. At that point, my body started to feel more ill than my head. Not only was I having stomach issues (constipation, diarrhea, bloating that was so terribly painful), now it was turning into headaches, allergic reactions to the sun that was never a problem before, rashes all over my body, I remember being really thin (I remember size 0’s being too big), a diagnosis of endometriosis, and I’m sure more symptoms that I’m forgetting. If I complained at work about how I felt, they sent me right to the doctor. And I am so grateful for that because going enough times allowed my primary care physician to finally just refer me out to a specialist. I will never forget an appointment where I just had terrible stomach pain, nothing I could really describe, I just didn’t feel good! The doctor pressed on my belly, told me to take some Metamucil, a pregnancy test, and to call him in the morning. Way to give me the brush off instead of try to find the root cause. I developed a rash and he sent me to a dermatologist. She took a skin biopsy and popped into the treatment room and said “You have lupus and need to see a rheumatologist” and she walked out. Leaving me crying and alone. I saw the rheumatologist, (Dr. Tammi Schlotzhauer) and she listened to my mother and I. Everything we said and every symptom we wanted to mention, she found important and she listened. She took some blood tests and I got the call that my gluten antibodies were elevated and I had to eat gluten free. The lupus was confirmed and I had positive antibodies for Raynaud's and Rheumatoid Arthritis as well. My world just turned upside down!
I had no idea what to do or what to eat. What a mountain to climb! I was referred to a dietitian at the hospital and she literally showed me food models and discussed portion sizes with me. Not one bit of that conversation was about gluten. I was so angry and even more confused than I was before. I went to my mom and told her that I can’t let that happen to anyone ever again. So I went to the admissions office at Monroe Community College and enrolled in the 2+2 Nutrition Management program at Rochester Institute of Technology and the rest is history.
That dietitian has never left my mind. She could’ve been an intern for all I know! It taught me that we are all different and we each have something unique to offer in this profession. It’s certainly not her fault that she didn’t know how to educate me on a gluten free diet but I could’ve been given resources or a referral to an RD who could help me. Either way, I had to find my own way and I took that as an opportunity to grow and teach others. Since then, it has been my goal to open up a private practice and help people in a way that is meaningful to them. A way that is easy for them to understand, that helps them sort through the fact from fiction, and a way that will allow them to live the life they choose to live while incorporating the diet they may need to follow. I am far from perfect but I work hard to learn from each encounter and I grow every day, with each new client that I see. And I haven’t eaten gluten in 15 ½ years and I feel amazing! I have never been medically treated for ANY of my autoimmune diseases but they are monitored annually.