When Life Hands You Lemons, Don’t Be a Sour Puss

by Jennifer Iannolo | Print This Page

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Has life ever delivered a sucker punch that knocked you off your feet? Taken a passionate dream and rendered it cold and sterile? In those moments, how we choose to manage the change — and ourselves — can either empower us or make the process a long, drawn-out saga.

For 15 years, my life was a foodie’s fantasy. There wasn’t a world-famous chef I hadn’t met or worked with, a world-class table at which I hadn’t dined. I supped with Bocuse and Keller at a dinner in Paris, drinking 150-year-old Grand Marnier. I played in the kitchens at Le Bernardin and Daniel for R&D. I sipped Champagne at a reception with Martha Stewart, Ferran Adria and every other bold-faced name from the dining section. Life was a dream, and I was traveling the world capturing breathtaking views from atop Machu Picchu, the Swiss Alps and the verdant hills of Napa.

Then it all came crashing down.

For over a year, I have been coming to terms with the changes in my life. My fibromyalgia could no longer be ignored, nor could the gluten intolerance that triggered it. As I first went gluten-free and began to heal, I was delighted simply to be out of bed and not writhing in pain most of the day. But as the physical symptoms waned, the mental battle began.

Wine gave me instant migraines. Tasting events and restaurant menus became a gauntlet to be carefully navigated. Was that dish safe? Did I trust the source? Did the chef care? Would I have to eat another salad?

Every invitation to a wine tasting or fabulous food event was a blow to my psyche. I began to simmer with hatred toward existence itself. For what I had created. Every day was a reminder of what I could no longer have, and what had been. And after a rude response from a PR person when I asked about gluten-free options at a tasting event, I gave up. My career as a food person was over.

The grieving was at times overwhelming. Every time I saw an update from a food friend enjoying an event I seethed. That was MY LIFE they were living. I had WORKED HARD to establish myself. What about ME? Food lost all its appeal; I ate to survive. I no longer cared about color, flavor or texture. Pleasure was a long-lost friend I feared had abandoned and betrayed me.

Each day I would look at myself in the mirror and ask Are you done being angry yet? I could not answer yes for many months. And then something changed.

For months I had been half-assing it, sneaking some gluten here and there, because maybe it wasn’t real. I always felt awful. I was depressed and weepy. My body began to swell from the poisons invading my system. I knew that if I was going to do this, I would need to commit to it — all the way. So I took it a step further and got rid of almost all starches and sugars. I started working out. Most importantly, I accepted that my life was forever altered; and there was nothing wrong with that. There was instead something new to create.

As my health returned to a state I haven’t seen since my 20s, I saw life from an uncluttered horizon. My past was no longer blocking my view, as something to mourn. Instead, there was a clear path ahead where I could create whatever I wanted to — and out there, it wasn’t about me.

Rather, it was about every person who has spent a day in pain, feeling hopeless that it would never get better. It was about picking myself up, finding the sweet spot in life again and becoming determined to show others that it can and does get better — if you are willing to do whatever it takes. That now gets me out of bed in the morning.

If you are someone with a chronic illness, you get me out of bed in the morning.

If you are struggling, I am your champion. If you are depressed and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get better, I am reaching my hand out to you. I know where you are, in your head and body, and what it feels like. My commitment is that you one day stand here, where I am right now. I have been up, down, sideways and upside-down on the journey to this mountaintop, but I promise that the view is extraordinary.

To get here and stand with me, however, it’s going to take something. It will take you choosing and owning your illness, and committing to doing whatever it takes to scale that mountain. I’m not always going to give you a sympathetic hug and wipe your tears — sometimes I’m going to give you a mother lode of tough love.

You are not going to get better until you are WILLING to get better, and put in the effort required. There is no shortcut, no magic pill. But I have a team of people ready to help you, because it’s much harder to do it alone.

Our new membership program is ready and waiting for you. Let’s do this thing, shall we?