I wake up excited every Sunday morning…okay, sometimes physically very slowly, but mentally excited. After nuzzling my face in Ben’s neck one last time, I open my front door, bend down, and pick up the paper. I bring it to the kitchen table and either Ben or I start a large pot of coffee. We read the paper, sometimes to each other, and by the time we are cooking breakfast, we begin work on the crossword puzzle. This is the Sunday morning ritual I look forward to each week.
Sometimes rituals like this can be very important. Maintaining a sense of stability in ones life can support overall health and well-being; it seems we benefit in some way from knowing what to expect from our day and ourselves. While some rituals define who we are and others simply bring us joy, understanding when to hang on and when to let go can make some transitions easier.
I remember a time, just before my diagnosis, when I felt weak and nothing seemed interesting to me anymore. Still, I got up at 6:00am every morning to workout at the school fitness center simply because I had been doing so every day for months. Even though my heart wasn’t in it and I would sometimes only make it 2 miles instead of 5, I would go. At a time when I didn’t know what was going on, when I felt I sometimes didn’t even know myself, I hung onto this ritual. It was an integral part of my self-identity.
While I was going through tests at the student clinic, I had been blood tested for gluten-intolerance. Of the three available blood tests for gluten intolerance, my doctor chose one based on what she had read somewhere. I later found out that it is best to administer all three tests, as some can come back negative while others come back positive, based on what the individual’s body is doing to fight the gluten. When my test came back negative, I was frustrated with the idea that I still didn’t have an answer for my symptoms, but was elated to know that I wasn’t doing any more harm by eating a sandwich.
Since I had suspected gluten intolerance and my mom had been diagnosed with it, I tried to eat a variety of grains and limited my intake of straight-up gluteny foods, like bread. After getting my negative diagnosis, I was freed to not feel like I was potentially harming my body with every bite of bread. Of course, I went nuts. I immediately went to the grocery store and happily purchased bread, cereal, and pasta.
That week, I enjoyed turkey sandwiches on multigrain bread with avocado, onion, lettuce, and tomato. I savored my favorite honey bunches o’ oats with yogurt and bananas. I also grew sicker and sicker, and by the end of the week, I was so tired that my afternoon coffee was followed by an hour-long nap. Determined to go work out that afternoon (because I hadn’t made it that morning), I got up from the couch, feeling chilled and feverish, and put on my workout clothes. They felt uncomfortable over my bloated belly and, still feeling chilled, I wanted sweatpants and a sweatshirt on, not shorts and a t-shirt. I promptly sat down on my bed and cried.
Instead of working out, I drew myself a bath and opened a bottle of wine. I didn’t know who I was anymore, why I lacked all motivation to do anything, why I was so tired, why my body ached, and why my stomach rejected anything I put in it. I had lost my battle to keep my ritual and my self-identity as an athletic, active individual was slipping away.
I also remember when I was contemplating whether to try going gluten-free, one of the biggest obstacles for me was the idea of letting go of some of my gluteny rituals. Like happily trotting down to the farmer’s market on a Saturday morning, after a good 2-hour row, and nibbling on a scone the size of my face while picking up that week’s fruit and vegetables. I didn’t want to let this part of my routine go. However, after going gluten-free, I mentally approached the farmer’s market in a new way; I now think of my favorite bakery stand as where the "old me" used to go. The healthier, happier me walks right by and mentally acknowledges my old ritual as I actively seek out vegetables and fruit I've never heard of before.
I think that struggling to hold onto my ritual of working out is what kept me from going completely insane during those winter months. On the other hand, being flexible enough to not only physically, but mentally, adjust my farmer’s market ritual has made my transition to a gluten-free life easier.
It seems that holding onto some rituals can be mentally beneficial, especially those which are inherently good for us. However, by breaking some rituals and habits we allow ourselves to encounter new experiences and potentially change our lives for the better.