First off, I’d like to introduce myself: Hello! I’m Brittany McNeal. That’s me over there to the right… Snazzy. I’m the brand-spanking new content creator at Lauren’s Hope, and I (like almost 8% of Americans) have an autoimmune disease. In fact, like most people who have an autoimmune disease, I have more than one: Celiac Disease and Hashimoto’s Disease.
As you might imagine, these disorders (namely Celiac’s) are a huge part of my life, and since I love talking about myself so much, it should be obvious that I really love to talk about Celiac’s Disease with the hope that I can help spread awareness– A whopping 20 million Americans have some sort of Gluten intolerance and an incredible amount of them don’t know that they can feel lightyears better than they do.
Phew, now that we’ve got that heavy stuff out of the way, I’d like to share my story. I, like so many Celiacs, waited far too long to be diagnosed. Although I’m not completely sure when I first developed an intolerance for gluten, I’ve got a pretty good idea of when it first started.
I moved to Lincoln, Neb. from South Texas in mid 2009. Aside from it being a complete culture shock, I also started to notice that I was retaining a lot of water. It started gradually, but eventually, I was a proverbial red water balloon. My belly was bloated, and even though (at the time) I was a fit former collegiate athlete, everything jiggled. In a vain attempt to stop this strange appearance of what I like to call “Jell-O-itis”, I started cutting salty foods out of my diet, continued to cut down on calories and drank more water with the thought that I was just dehydrated, and my body was full of water in order to compensate.
I ultimately continued on this salty chip-less, water guzzling, whole grain-eating path until the early in 2012 when my fiancé and I started a low carb diet together (the Keto diet). This diet essentially limited us to 20 grams of carbohydrates per day. Essentially no sugar and, lo and behold, breads, grains or wheat led me to eventually lose all that water retention and feel so much better. Not only was I losing all that water retention, I was also more alert, sharper and just all-around more “with it”. I hadn’t even noticed that my mind had become so foggy until I was on this Keto diet. We continued on the diet for another six months when we gradually lost interest in cheese and bacon and turned back to breads and sweets (because, come on, if someone hands you a plate of rolls, you’re probably going to choose it over the veggie platter, after all.)
As a former athlete, I will always be conscious of what goes into my body, so I continued to choose whole grain bread over white bread and the like, but I eventually started to feel worse, and the water retention and bloating returned with a horrible vengeance. During the fall of 2011, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Disease, and properly medicating my under active thyroid helped a little with my water retention, but I was still suffering. In fact, even a (what I thought was) healthy meal at our favorite burrito place left my shirts feeling so tight around the midsection that I was forced to change my clothes. That’s when I knew something was really wrong. I mean, I had to change clothes because my meal had left me so incredibly bloated that my shirt literally did not fit me anymore.
Let me just say, I’ve been aware of Celiac’s Disease for quite a few years since my aunt was diagnosed with it. (Most people have no idea what it is or how it works, which aided in the speed of my diagnosis.) My aunt always talked about the bloating, but I’d never really paid too much attention to how her symptoms correlated with mine, and it was ultimately the mistake to do so.
After speaking with my aunt about it, she urged that I have a blood test done to check for the antibodies associated with Celiac’s Disease. I immediately called up my doctor and asked for the test. She obliged, and I was finally onto the path of diagnosis. Although I’d been suffering with these symptoms for years, my diagnosis was incredibly quick, and for that, I am very, very thankful. Many Celiacs go years and even decades waiting for a diagnosis.
Mine was swift.
As UX/UI Designer and Website Manager for Lauren’s Hope, Brittany Raum wears a lot of hats. Wearing her UX/UI Designer hat, Brittany creates positive customer experiences on the website by creating and implementing a blend of functional design that helps each visitor more easily find their way to the right products and information. Her Website Manager hat is no less integral to the customer experience. In that role, Raum is involved in strategy, analytics, troubleshooting, and a wide array of tech-driven projects. She collaborates with every part of the Lauren’s Hope team, always looking for ways to better serve our customers.