Could food really cause terror?
To most that question would be answered in a split second, with a strong and certain, “Of course not!”
To those with life threatening allergies or autoimmune diseases like celiac disease, you might hear a different answer. Personally, I like to keep the word terror reserved for that utmost uncontrollable panic inducing fear that leaves your heart racing, your limbs frozen and cold, your body trying so hard to flee but unable to. It is a very extreme form of panic that leaves you shaken to the core, and that is exactly what I went through today, accompanied by flashbacks and uncontrollable tears… All because of food.
Somewhere else in the house, our housemates were off baking a pizza. The house began to fill with an aroma that would have most salivating, but left me with the sour nausea that always comes from the smell of wheat. It has been like that since long before I was diagnosed with celiac disease. Back in the time when I ate normal north american food like everyone else… but I couldn’t taste the bacon, lettuce or tomato in my blt sandwich because the bread overpowered the other flavors so much. A time when I would bring pasta to university as my lunch, because leftovers have always been my lunch of choice, and I would find myself so nauseated that I could barely finish the meal. As I was teaching online tonight, the nausea crept up in that normal way it does as the smell of baking wheat wafts through the air. I was not prepared for what would happen next.
My husband was on cooking duty, so he made some gluten free pasta which has never been an issue in the past. In fact, it was always a meal we have both enjoyed thoroughly. The olfactory overload was too much though, and all I could smell was the wheat that our housemates had baked into a pizza. My head started to spin at the look of the pasta, and images flashed reminding me of my days in university, reminding me of how horrible I had felt eating those noodles that smelled of wheat. The pizza tricked my brain into thinking I was about to ingest poison, and I felt uncontrollable terror.
I ate my food urging my mind to calm, “It is quinoa and rice in pasta shape.” I repeated that over and over, but I couldn’t calm down. My mind wasn’t in charge, my body’s survival instinct was. The memories of images and sensations were so vivid that I could not stop crying. I felt true terror as my body was trying to tell me to not poison it. Unfortunately, that mix of smell and visual cues was too much for my conscious mind to over come in battling my subconscious need to keep me from danger.
In all honesty, I thought I had healed more emotionally than this in the 5 years that I have been gluten free. I didn’t expect to be gripped so uncontrollably with terror like that… all because of the smell and look of food…