My friend Christina is awesome. She is smart and fun and funny, opinionated as anything, decisive and honest, loyal and incredibly generous. She loves books and food and dogs and geek culture and cool music. She’s a librarian to the core of her soul, and a fantastic cook. She’s also the kind of friend who, if something is wrong, says, “What can I do? How can I help?” and then does it. If I ever needed to bury a body, she’d be high on my list to call, although I suspect (like me), she’d suggest finding a good lawyer instead. But if we needed to bury the body, she’d bring a shovel.

Her birthday is on the 19th of July. We exchange presents on our birthdays these days — not big things, but fun things. My favorite refrigerator magnets are from her, ditto my favorite socks. She told me in a recent phone call that the bath salts I sent her for Christmas were great. That kind of thing. And I was ready for her birthday. I’d had one of her presents sitting on my shelf since February!

Look, presents! Wrapped and everything.

But, as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve not been feeling well. I came back from Florida at the end of May, promptly got sick, and then just… never quite got better. Achy, exhausted, and with joint pain in all my joints, not just the usual suspects. (I have a couple of joints that always hurt, so I ignore them — that’s just status quo.) Not sick-sick, no fever, no dramatic cough, nothing that would take me to urgent care, but waking up at night because of the pain, hobbling my way out of bed in the morning, and flagging on my walks with Sophie before I’d even made it a mile. My hands hurt when I typed, my knees and ankles and hips hurt when I walked, just… yeah, not fun.

But also amorphous. I truly hate going to the doctor when the details of my complaint are “well, yesterday the base of my right-hand ring finger was throbbing, but today it’s a burning sensation on the back of my left-hand and a stabbing in the bottom of my foot. Also my elbow hurts, my hip hurts, my wrist hurts, and I’m really tired.” In my experience, doctors do not do well with that kind of “something’s wrong, but I really don’t know what” symptoms.

The good news (if I can really call it that) is that this is not the first time in my life I’ve had an extended period of not-wellness. I can remember one summer, back when R was maybe four, spending about an hour on the phone with a Kaiser nurse who really, really wanted to convince me that I should go to the ER, while I really, really wanted to convince her that I was too sick to go to the ER. I was a single mom with a toddler and the thought of the ER was overwhelming; I just wanted an appointment with a doctor for the next day, so I could show up, find out why I had a fever of 103, get some good drugs, and then go home and resume lying on the couch watching my kid watch Zaboomafoo. (TIVO was my friend – probably the only time I was ever an early adopter of technology.) About a month after that, I remember telling my mom that my great accomplishment was that I’d done our laundry with only one break to sit on the stairs and cry from exhaustion. That was a really hard summer.

Fast forward a few years and we were living in Santa Cruz. I was traveling a lot for work, and every time I came home, I got sick. Sinus infections, colds, the flu, just one thing after another. The only breaks came when I left. Finally I came down with shingles. Shingles! (So unpleasant, I can’t even. Just awful. If you can get the vaccine, totally do, because you do NOT want shingles.) My doctor said at the time, “This is not normal. Healthy 30-somethings do not get shingles.” I concluded that it was the mold in the house we were living in.

Maybe it was. Probably it was. I definitely did improve after we got out of that house. No more shingles, thank heaven. But I remained a person who got sick a lot, who had to ration her energy and strategize her days. I had plenty of tests, none of which ever showed anything interesting except “osteoarthritis, highly advanced for age.” Bleck. And then a friend convinced me to try cutting gluten out of my life. Whoa! Three days without gluten and I was asking Christina to watch me for signs of a manic phase. I felt so good! But I still had a lot of joint pain, congestion,  gastrointestinal issues, etc, and so the same friend convinced me to try the auto-immune protocol diet.

I’ve discussed it before, so I won’t reiterate all the details, but it’s a very comprehensive elimination diet. And it is so hard. Not just because of the willpower it takes to live with such strict restrictions, but there are no convenience foods on AIP. No quick snacks, no cereal, nothing fast and easy. Every meal requires preparation and planning. It’s a lot of work, a lot of time spent focused on cooking, and cleaning up from cooking, and planning more cooking.

It was incredibly effective for me; I’m not going to bore you more by listing off the host of food reactions I discovered, but there were plenty. (The short list of things I shouldn’t eat if I want to feel my best: gluten, dairy, soy, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, potatoes, peanuts, almonds, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and sugar. Maybe a few others that I don’t remember because they weren’t that important to me.)

So with this go-round of not-wellness, the first and most obvious suspect for me was a food reaction. I actually did think when I first got sick that I was having a gluten reaction, but then it just went on and on with no gluten in my life, so that couldn’t be it. But maybe my body had found a new gluten? I went to the doctor and had some bloodwork done to rule out other suspects (negative on Lyme disease), and resigned myself to starting AIP again.

And so I did, on Sunday the 10th of July. Nine days before her birthday, so loads of time to get Christina her presents, right?

Spoiler alert: No.

But this has gotten long, so I will have to continue this story in Part 2.