In the past couple of weeks, I’ve had news about two changes which will each have a major impact on my life from this point onwards.
Firstly, just days after the Christmas holidays ended, myself and my colleagues were told that the educational support service we’re employed by is to be disbanded and we will all be out of work from the end of August. Days later, I opened the post to find a letter with the results of a stomach biopsy I’d had two weeks before. The letter, addressed to my doctor and copied to me, confirmed that I have ceoliac disease. Or in other words, that I am intolerant to gluten, a substance present in cereal grains, particularly wheat.
Perhaps it wouldn’t surprise you to realise exactly how reliant the western diet is on bread and cereals. You probably would be surprised, however, to discover how many manufactured food-stuffs contain cereal products, a great number of which, in a sensible world, wouldn’t really need to use them. Products like microwaveable rice, for example. No longer having the option to make a quick sandwich to take to work, I picked up a packet of instant rice in the supermarket, thinking it would be a good alternative lunch. But I was wrong – listed under flavourings at the bottom of a long list of ingredients were the words ‘wheat powder’. Back it went on the shelf. Its place in my basket was taken by a small but horrendously priced gluten-free loaf. I can’t lie to you, gluten-free bread has an off-putting, sweaty-feet-style odour and tastes absolutely rank. As do gluten-free biscuits. The hazelnut and orange cookies I bought yesterday state they are ‘made without gluten, wheat, milk, salt, buckwheat, soya, eggs or hydrogenated fat.’ Or flavour, apparently. Things aren’t being helped much by the husband – not by the jokes he’s enjoying at my expense (all through Countryfile yesterday, which had a feature on growing wheat) or the song he’s made up about my new-found condition, fitting the word ceoliac into the ‘Maniac’ song from Flashdance. If he power-ballads it to me one more time I swear I’m going to kill him.
All of which has prompted me to stop looking for ‘pretend’ versions of wheat products and re-design my diet to do without them instead. I should have something completely worked out by the time I’m retirement age. If I manage to find myself a job to retire from, that is.
On the face of it, the two life-changing issues don’t seem comparable. For one thing, I’ve been expecting the first – the disbanding of the service – for some time now, though expecting it and the reality of knowing it’ll actually happen are different, and I’ve found myself incredibly tearful over what it will mean for me, for my team and for the children I support in school. For another, one is just a job which can be replaced, whilst the other is a health issue with far reaching effects and is more difficult to overcome. But in both cases, the adjustments I’m being forced to make have been necessary for quite some time.
I don’t believe there is a god, which often puzzles my friends – hindu, muslim and Christian – given the amount of times I say ‘if there really was a god, he’d have done this to me because…’ In respect of the gluten intolerance, he/she would probably tut that they’d given me plenty of chances to sort out my diet, but as I would insist on not listening, I’d left them with no choice but to take over. And as for redundancy, well, I’m aware I would struggle to give up a secure job to chase some transient, unformed dream, no matter how long overdue it is for me to do so. My hand has been forced, so to speak, I’ve been relieved of the necessity of making a decision. And whilst the prospect of losing a salary we rely on is scary, the thought of the wonderful and exciting future I’m going to have, doing the creative things I’ve so longed to do, is incredibly exciting. I can’t wait, now, for it all to begin.
Which is a shame, really, given that I’ve got to get through the next six months first, dismantling my presence in a school that means so much to me, amongst people who are my community, until the day I walk out the door and it looks as if I was never, ever there.