Bubbles and I started this blog in February of 2013 – more than three whole years ago! We meant it to be a source of help and support to those suffering from food-based allergies such as (the oh-so-tricky) gluten allergy here in Malaysia. At the time, very few restaurants and grocery stores were allergy-sensitive.
In three short years, so much has changed! It has become so much easier to find gluten-free alternatives here in Malaysia. However, for the newly-adjusting GFs or the bored “old pros,” we hope we continue to bring you some ideas that you find useful.
A personal story of encouragement
At the time we started this blog, Bubbles was already a veteran gluten-free eater who had been diagnosed and guided by experts in Australia. (She was a godsend to me, but more on that later. You can read her introductory story here.)
I, on the other hand, had just returned to Malaysia after 13 years in the United States. I was losing weight rapidly, couldn’t keep my food down, and was chronically sick with ill-defined, widely-varying symptoms. I was going in and out of hospitals – sometimes for weeks at a time – with no diagnosis in sight. The test results all showed that nothing was wrong with me, and yet, I knew there had to be something amiss.
My energy was low and my anxiety was through the roof (I remember my husband once saying to me in the hospital: “Can we talk about something other than your symptoms?”). I was deeply worried that no one could figure out what was wrong with me. What elusive illness could I have possibly gotten?
I couldn’t think very clearly, my emotions were right on the surface all the time, and it seemed so overwhelming to try and figure everything out, on my own, in a now-strange country. Family and friends were sympathetic, but no one seemed to believe me. Doctors thought that it was all in my head. I tried everything from steroids to supplements to acupuncture to traditional remedies to any and all alternative healing, all to no avail.
Through a massive amount of (slowly done) internet research and support from very gracious “keyboard healers,” I finally found my way out of my health fog. But the epiphany: it wasn’t just *one* way or one thing that I needed. As always, with complex situations, it was a combination of a variety of “ways.”
The short version is that I went completely and strictly gluten-free and made a conscious effort to eat and live healthily. That meant fresh, unprocessed food, and no chemicals (preservatives, conditioner, colouring) whenever possible. I also went back to being vegetarian (and vegan, whenever possible).
I wasn’t used to a gluten-free diet, and had no clue on how to begin here in Southeast Asia. Truth be told, it’s not an easy place to start. Indochina, South Asia, Africa, Europe, Australia – basically any other place on earth is easier to adjust to gluten-free living!
That’s where kind souls like Bubbles and others came in. One major lesson: you’ll never be able to guess who is compassionate towards your condition, so don’t make assumptions. I’ve been helped by Michelin-star chefs and mamak shop chefs. Sometimes people will understand your condition and sometimes they won’t, but there are many who were compassionate and went out of their way anyway.
A lot of that journey has been documented in this blog, in the sincere hope that it will be helpful to others.
I am still undiagnosed, but have made peace with my ambiguous illness. As with all such illnesses (and millions of people suffer from illnesses that medical professionals can’t identify or name!), it probably had some significant element of stress.
Over time, knowing what it is became less important than finding a way to manage it. There was once that I thought I would ever feel well again, and now, I am actually healthier than I’ve ever been. Such things are possible.
So, a word of hope and encouragement to all of you who are currently suffering from ambiguous illnesses or poor health that just doesn’t seem to cured (or even diagnosed): that long-awaited Day of Health will come for you too! Right now, you may be scared and anxious because you don’t see the changes you want happening quickly enough. Don’t worry – one day you will find the unique combination of solutions that will make you feel better. You have to keep trying. If you can manage nothing else, take that one small step in the direction of that Hope. You will get there. You will find your Bubbles, the compassionate mamak chef, thoughtful family and friends, and perfect strangers – people you never meet in person – who will help you in your journey.
To your health and happiness!