Jennifer’s Way by Jennifer Esposito (5 out of 5)

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It seems like every year I read another amazing book about the evils of gluten. Last year it was Gluten Is My Bitch by April Peveteaux. This year it’s Jennifer Esposito’s book Jennifer’s Way: My Journey With Celiac Disease. I knew Jennifer’s work from her time on Spin City, one of my former favorite TV shows. I hadn’t heard from her much since, and this book chronicles her attempts at acting on a normal basis while going through internal hell with her body.

Jennifer grew up in an Italian family, and you know that means food is a way of life. She describes eating her way through everything ever put in front of her. Then she describes a litany of ailments, mysterious joint pains, unexplained rashes, panic attacks, thousands of prescriptions written for her by doctors over a period of over ten years, chest pain, headaches- I mean, you name it, this poor girl has had it. She continues to try to find a doctor who will help her and diagnose her. The thousands of prescriptions written for her by these doctors trying to figure out what the fuck is wrong with her. I mean, I was in tears reading what this poor girl went through. (And it also echoes what several of my good friends have gone through with doctors and mystery ailments through the years). There are a number of stories here that border on nightmarish. The doctor’s lackadaisical attitudes toward what Jennifer describes as unbearable pain and related ailments and symptoms, will make you retch. The story about Jennifer and her father trying to get in to see her primary when she has mysterious joint pain after being gluten free for a month, and she ends up being locked up in a psych ward instead? Unbelievable. And very, very scary.

Jennifer eventually does get her diagnosis of full-blown celiac disease, and the doctor tells her it’s one of the worst cases they have seen. What follows is her journey of diagnosis, having to completely re-adjust her lifelong eating habits, and how despite being gluten-free, her many years of undiagnosed celiac disease has done its damage on her body. Her struggle to completely cut gluten out of her life, her frustrations at people having no idea what celiac disease (the nurse who has worked in healthcare over twenty years and has no idea what celiac disease is!) is or just making comments about it without recourse. The prescription carousel they have her on is head spinning, to say the least. I can’t tell you how speechless I was reading this book. And alternately horrified.

Celiac disease is a real thing. It’s an autoimmune disease that unfortunately more times than not, opens the door to other illnesses. Jennifer painstakingly takes the time to point out all of the pitfalls, how to spot hidden gluten ingredients, how eating out is a secret danger if the restaurant does not use a separate cooking space for the gluten-free diner, the medications, the indifference much of the healthcare profession has for it, how hard it is to accept that people have little or no concern for those who need to be gluten-free, as well as the numerous resources that there are out there for those who are new to this way of living.

Throughout Jennifer’s ordeal, you get a very real idea of how celiac disease can unravel your life. Jennifer finally gets ahold of the reins, and starts to slowly get a foothold on this. She also feels powerless to help those who are afflicted and like her, can’t seem to get a diagnosis, a decent doctor who will test for celiac (the number of doctors who do not test for it? Frightening), or answers. She finally decides to take a huge life risk and open a gluten-free bakery. With the help of  her boyfriend Louis, she learns just how hard that undertaking is, but yes, she does it. And discovers that she has another niche in this life, next to acting. Jennifer’s story is scary, eye-opening, and inspiring. You learn a hell of a lot. I learned a hell of a lot, and I’ve been gluten-free for a little over a year now. There were things in this book that I never realized (gluten in ibuprofen? Bye, bye ibuprofen), and things in this book that made me more determined to not slip up, no matter how tempting those bread baskets are. So I am grateful that Jennifer has come out of the darkness that was gluten, and found a new purpose in her struggle. I’m also grateful that she wrote this book to let people, who are in similar situations to hers, know that there is an answer and sometimes although it often takes a long ass while, you will find yours. There is an alarming ring of reality throughout the book. I’m glad she writes about the unpleasantness of trying to go out and live a normal life when you have this disease. And ultimately, despite the indifference of many healthcare professionals, celiac disease is a disease and a very serious one. If you suspect it, get into your doctor and get tested. Go online and research the three tests, and insist your doctor test you. If they resist, tell them to suck it and find a different doctor who will. It’s serious as hell and nothing to mess around with. Jennifer’s aim to bring awareness to this is precisely the sort of book that needs to get out there and be noticed, and maybe some more lives will be saved.  I cannot recommend this book enough.

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~ by generationgbooks on April 13, 2014.

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