Addison’s Disease & Celiac Mom Story: “The Autoimmune Snowball”

Girl holding a snowballI was 32 years old.  I had just survived a miserable pregnancy and rough delivery, but instead of gaining my strength back and enjoying this new stage of my life, I was rushed to the hospital, at risk of stroke and heart failure.  My adrenal gland had failed.

Task 1: Figure out what to do with this new human being.

Task 2: Figure out Addison’s disease.

Neither was easy, but with the support of family and friends and a lifesaving endocrinologist, I was feeling hopeful.  What I didn’t anticipate six years ago were the ancillary effects of having an autoimmune disease, both medical and social.

Three years after the Addison’s diagnosis, my energy flagged, my mood crashed, and I dropped a lot of weight, fast (20 lbs. in 1 month).   Enter Celiac disease.  Less than a year after that, stabbing pain in my side brought on the gall stone diagnosis (thought to be caused by my rapid weight loss) and subsequent surgery.

The next year, a fluke metatarsal break revealed Osteopenia (thought to be brought on by my diminished nutrient uptake from the Celiac).

Following that, I experienced significant weight gain that has since been indifferent to exercise and healthy diet.

At that point, it wasn’t surprising to welcome the diagnosis of depression to the party!

Now, at age 38, I feel like I have a tenuous handle on the medical side of things.  I consider myself extremely fortunate because my symptoms these days are manageable with diet/exercise/medication, and more often than not, I feel “normal.”  I can’t help but wonder “what next?” but try not to dwell.  I have a beautiful, healthy 6-year-old son and a supportive husband.  My challenges these days are more social in nature.

“Can’t you cheat just this once? “

“A little bit can’t make THAT much difference, can it?”

“Come on, have one more glass of wine, let your hair down!”

My new normal makes for some frustrating social interactions.  For the most part, my friends and family have been extremely supportive.  They make an effort to be as knowledgeable as possible on Celiac and I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the concessions so many of them make to ensure I can fit in with groups and dine with everyone.   A friend’s husband joked with her after a grocery store trip, “You realize that WE don’t have Celiac, right?”

However, not everyone “gets” it.  Thanks to the fact that gluten free dining has become a dietary trend, many people assume that I can “cheat” and eat small amounts of gluten.  They don’t give a thought to cross contamination.  They think that slipping up on my diet just once or twice is a small concession for the pleasure of their company/hospitality.   I struggle with how to make people understand that it is not worth it to repeatedly inflame my intestines to the point of risking lymphoma or, at the very least, feeling like crap and setting up residence in the restroom.

My social circle enjoys alcohol consumption.  They often seem baffled as to why I won’t have another drink or why I won’t “live a little.”  I sometimes resent the lack of understanding, but it is not worth it to me to compound my depression symptoms or become forgetful and miss my array of time sensitive medications.

With autoimmune diseases, there are often a lot more questions than answers.  But for this question: Cheat or prosper?  Autoimmune diseases aren’t easy, but that choice sure is.


 About the Author
Emily lives in Northern California with her husband, son and dog.  By day she is an instructional designer for a health care organization.  By night she is an avid reader, wine taster, and gluten free champion.

This post contains opinions of the author. is not a medical practice and does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.  It is your responsibility to seek diagnosis, treatment, and advice from qualified providers based on your condition and particular circumstances.  Camino Real Ventures, Inc., the company that makes available to you, does not endorse nor recommend any products, practices, treatment methods, tests, physicians, service providers, procedures, clinical trials, opinions or information available on this website.  Your use of the website is subject to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy



  1. Very good article. I am experiencing many of
    these issues as well..

  2. Very good article! I can relate. I have hypothyroidism (autoimmune), pernicious anemia, and most of the symptoms of Addison’s disease. Also, am gluten intolerant and have many food allergies which were difficult to figure out, so the “setting up residence in the restroom” applied to me many times! You have probably figured out the weight gain issue already, but for anyone else that may read this, the most common autoimmune disease to have in addition to Addison’s is thyroid disease (usually hypothyroid) and weight gain is a symptom of hypothyroidism. Get a TSH and free T-4 done-(blood tests). Don’t let a doctor talk you out of doing the test. They can’t tell by looking at you, your age, or anything else! My daughter was 19 yrs. old when she had symptoms (weight gain, tiredness, hair loss, sometimes weakness) and her doc told her she was too young to have it, but finally ordered the tests when she insisted. He didn’t have much to say when the tests showed that she did have it.

  3. Jill Walton says:

    Thank you for your insights. I also have several autoimmune issues: Vitiligo, Addison’s, Celiac, and most recently, pernicious anemia. I can’t help but wonder what’s next. The anxiety and depression are a constant battle that most people don’t understand, so I tend to keep it to myself. I agree that celiac is the biggest struggle, if only because of social interactions. People don’t understand how careful we have to be and often brush aside our caution with jokes or ridicule. I am a sensitive person and find this difficult to ignore/accept/forgive…I’m just not sure how to handle these insults yet. But I have rediscovered activities that bring joy to my life and am pursuing them regularly for counter balance. I hope you find peace and health in your journey.

  4. Nancy Riegert says:

    Hi Emily
    I have had Addison’s Disease for 32 years and it has been managed well. I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes 6 years ago and have learned to manage it well. But as of one year ago, Celiac is the new addition to the party and I am having a hard time balancing my trio. I have had two Addisonian crises in the past year. Being “glutened” puts an extraordinary amount of stress on my body. I am looking for anecdotal stories of other people with both and wondering how you manage them together. What do you do when you get glutened?

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