This post may be about food allergies, but it isn’t just for people with them. This is a post that is mean to educate and enlighten. I certainly hope so, at least.
Food Allergies SUCK! Seriously, it’s a crappy hand that’s dealt and there’s nothing anyone can do to fix it (oh, and please don’t start in with some “just try this miracle cure that reversed my food allergy” bull… not in my house, honey). There are the “big” ones; like peanuts, shellfish, etc. Down to food sensitivities; where you CAN still eat it, but you’ll pay for it later. All of these are serious and have validation!
When I was told that I potentially had food allergies, I wasn’t surprised. I have severe environmental allergies, and unexplainable rashes on my arms. The testing was grueling, and truly awful. Weeks of injections, then disappointment. Because every time I went in I would find out another food I couldn’t (or shouldn’t) eat any more. Just that experience was devastating, but it was nothing compared to the years to come.
Let me as you this… have you ever been on a diet, then suddenly you find yourself in front of a buffet table or pitch-in? All your favorite foods are spread out in front of you, but you know you shouldn’t eat it. Well, what if eating those things (that you have loved for so long) could now put you in the hospital? For example: let’s say you have discovered you have a dairy allergy, and while you’re at that same buffet you can’t help but stare at the mac-n-cheese. A friend walks up and says “You have got to try this! I cannot stop eat it!” You politely decline and explain that you are allergic to cheese. They gasp, and exclaim “Oh my gosh! If I couldn’t eat cheese I would die! Seriously, just shrivel up and die!” You can feel the rage boil up inside you as you want to scream “Is that what you think I should do? DIE because I can’t eat CHEESE anymore?!” But you suppress your anger, because you’ve heard this a hundred times (really, I’ve heard this over and over again… I’m not exaggerating). They just don’t get it, and they never will. So you leave the party to go and find somewhere with you can food you can eat, again.
For me (and I’m sure many others), the worst part is the distance it puts between myself and those around me. It may seem like a ridiculous notion that a “silly thing” like food allergies could cause arguments, but they do (especially among family). When the topic of get-togethers comes up, I’m either an after-thought or an inconvenience. Sometimes my allergies aren’t even considered at all and I have to go out to get my own food. Yes, I could just always bring my own food with me and avoid this. What people need to realize is that this can become VERY isolating and old… quick! Then to be asked what I’m allergic to on a regular basis, even though I have had these allergies for year can be like a stab in the gut every time. Or to be handed a food I can’t eat (especially if it was one I used to be able to, and loved). Whenever someone hands me a piece of birthday cake or a cookie, a little piece of me breaks… every single time.
Here’s an analogy…
(disclaimer- I am in NO WAY saying that food allergies and being blind are the same! It is a simple analogy, we cool?)
A man in his twenties finds out his eye sight is progressively getting worse. Then one day his eye doctor tells him that he is going blind. After multiple tests, they determine there’s nothing that can be done and all he can see are some shapes (but even those are very blurry). So he becomes totally dependent on a walking stick to get around. After a time, he is determined to start living his life again and ventures out to a night club he used to frequent. There an old friend spotted him and called him over. Upon seeing the walking stick, she gets flustered and asked what had happened. After he explained, she said in astonishment… “You’re amazing, man! I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t see!!! I think I would eat one, if you know what I mean. For real, I just cannot imagine!” The blind man was deeply hurt. He knew she was just saying how she really felt. She was an artist and her eyesight meant the world to her, but the statement still stung. All he could do was shrug it off, it had been too long since he had been out with a friend. So he smiled and enjoyed the rest of his evening. The next week he went to his parent’s house for Easter brunch. Upon walking into the house he heard his niece and nephew playing. His mother came up, hugged him and said… “Just look at those two! Don’t they look adorable today?” It was hard to keep the pained look from showing on his face, and she apologized as soon as she saw it. “Oh, sweetie, I’m so sorry! Bear with me, okay? This is going to take some getting used to.” He forced a smile and said… “I know, mom. Better than anyone.” After a few years he had gotten very good at making his way around. There was still the occasional stubbed toe here and there. Even a very risky attempt at using the stove-top, that ended in an ER visit and a gnarly scar. But overall the biggest problem was people. He had been blind for quite a while now, yet he was constantly told to “look at this” or some variation thereof. When it was someone he didn’t know well, it wasn’t as bad. But when it was I close friend of family member the hole just dug deeper each time. It wasn’t even the words they said that got to him, it was the fact that it kept happening. The stress of it had torn a rift between him and his friends/family. Sometimes is wasn’t even what they said, just how they acted around him. Or in attempts to be nice, they just alienated him even more! A friends invited him to an art class (the kind for adults, with wine), which would have been very fun… five years ago. His brother invited him to join his family for Fourth of July fireworks, but all they do is give him migraines (the fireworks, not the kids). His parents tried to include him in family gatherings as well, he knew that. But no matter what, the subject always turned to what he couldn’t do, not what he could. One day his brother called and got on his case… “I just got off the phone with mom and she’s in tears because of you!” He was dumbfounded. “What did I do?” He said. His brother continued… “She called to tell me that you’re upset because other people are always doing things you can’t do. Well guess what, we are allowed to have a life too. Don’t make her, or anyone else feel bad for that!” This was the last straw. He gathered all his strength and said… “Look I NEVER said anyone couldn’t go out and do whatever that want! I’m sorry I vented to mom. She asked what was wrong, so I told her. It won’t happen again. But you have to understand that inviting me to go sightseeing, is just like giving someone that you know is allergic to eggs, a piece of cake.”
Please don’t treat your friends or family like an inconvenience. Don’t ever let them feel like their health doesn’t matter. If it means going out of your way, do it. Research their allergies, add them into the contact information on your phone (so you won’t ever forget what they are), know what you can or cannot feed them so they feel safe in your home. This goes double when there are kids with allergies! Doing this could (literally) save their life.