Social leprosy


There is no better guarantee of social leprosy than the inability to eat grains, especially wheat. Today was a perfect example: it was my company’s quarterly meeting, when the whole firm meets to discuss performance, share information, set goals…. and eat lunch together. The spread is standard British cold buffet fare – sandwiches, sausage rolls, pizza and spring rolls, followed by cupcakes, brownies and flapjacks, none of which I can eat. Now, you might imagine this is a good thing, and it is good for my health and my waistline. But I haven’t been working at this firm for long, and eating lunch is part of the ice-breaking process before the meeting begins in earnest. So I join the queue and grab my plate, and peer hopefully at the food, looking for something I can tolerate (I’m not hungry, because I have eaten my lunch half an hour earlier). As usual, I fall upon the fruit, adding a few crisps to my plate to make it look less holy. I still get the usual comments: “Is that all you’re having?” “Are you on a diet?” “Wow, healthy! You’re making me feel bad!”

I have explained to the people in my department that I have a restricted diet, but there are many others I only ever see at the quarterly meeting, and there simply isn’t time to explain to everyone the reason for my virtuous plate. So I smile and say “I’m not that hungry!”, and keep going. Of course it doesn’t matter to most people, but sometimes it matters to me, because there are moments when you just want to “belong”. Food is a big part of that sense of belonging, even when it’s a cold, fat-laden buffet in a corporate setting (or perhaps especially when it’s a cold, fat-laden buffet in a corporate setting). At these moments I sometimes have a childish “Why has this happened to ME?” moment, when I wonder what I did to deserve being unable to eat the same food as everyone else. Those moments used to be more frequent, but they are less so now. I have adapted over time, become more accepting, and have (mostly) learned to be grateful that my illness actually had a cause that I was able to identify and deal with.

But there are times when all I want to do is scoff the egg and cress sandwich, the cheesy pizza, and the crispy spring roll dipped in sweet chilli sauce. And then I want to finish off with a hunk of dark chocolate brownie or a butter-iced cupcake, accompanied by a hot, caffeine-filled drink (I can drink tea, but how I miss the cake/biscuit and tea combination!). And then I want to sit down with the girls I work with and moan about how much I’ve eaten and how bad I feel! Instead, I’m the leper in the corner with the fruit platter.

About Sam Gulbis Bishop

Twenty years ago, I left for a year's travelling in Europe, carrying a single backpack. Now I'm back in Melbourne with a husband, two kids, and a shipping container full of furniture. This blog is about finding a job, finding a home, and finding myself a foreigner in my own country.

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