Living (and Thriving) with Food Allergies
Ever since I can remember, I have been highly allergic to eggs and nuts. If I eat something with peanuts in it, I will go into anaphylactic shock, meaning my airways will constrict and I might lose consciousness. Like most people in my situation, I am always armed with Epi-Pens and Benadryl in case of a reaction. However, I was also armed with a unique responsibility from a young age, unlike most children.
In preschool, a friend’s mother brought our class treats for my friend’s birthday and placed a large cupcake in front of me, encouraging me to eat it like the rest of my classmates. When I refused, she was confused and continued to push me to eat it, unknowingly almost risking my life for a cupcake! This is one of the many situations I faced as a kid: forced to constantly and meticulously monitor what I was consuming. I began to bring my own treats to school to eat for my friends’ birthdays, and continued avoiding any suspicious foods that came my way.
When I go to restaurants, I always have to ask the waiter if the dish I desire has eggs in it. Some foods you wouldn’t think of are no-no’s for me, like mayonnaise, salad dressing, and breaded chicken tenders, rather than something like eggs in breakfast plates. When I go out for ice cream, I ask for the ingredients. This is often problematic, as the employees sometimes assume I have voluntary dietary restrictions like veganism, and respond with sass or attitude because I’m a pain in their ass. Once, I ate ice cream that was safe for me, but the server had used the same spoon to scoop an ice cream I was allergic to prior to mine, so I had a reaction.
Through all of the ingredient-reading and cautiousness, the time I finally accidentally ingested peanuts was something so simple yet dangerous. In January, I was reaching for a girl scout cookie, but accidentally mixed up the peanut-butter Tagalongs with the mint-flavored Thin Mints. I bit into the Tagalong and swallowed, only then catching a glimpse of peanut butter oozing out of my half-eaten cookie. Almost robotically, I reached for my Epi-Pen and ran to the front of my high school, telling the security guards to call 911 and then stabbing myself in the leg with my Epi-Pen. I ended up being totally okay, but this experience taught me how easily I could risk my life without realizing it.
It was only after this experience that I realized how seriously my allergies impact my life; I think differently and act differently than most people when it comes to food every single day. While my allergies have presented many challenge, they also helped me hone this enhanced perceptiveness and sensitivity to my surroundings, which has been an important silver lining for me. They have also helped me discover delicious spots I would have never eaten at otherwise, like unique vegan bakeries and local businesses. Some of my friends even say the vegan cookies at Cream on Telegraph are better than the regular ones! I’ve also gotten creative with how I carry around my Epi-Pens at places that aren’t so purse-friendly, like parties with lots of dancing. For those like me reading this—a cute fanny pack is definitely the move.
Although I look back somewhat regretfully at the days in elementary school during which I sat alone at the peanut-free lunch table, or felt excluded from birthday parties and school events because I couldn’t eat what my friends were eating, I salute my allergies for giving me this added strength. I don’t blame society for not totally getting the struggle. It’s a daily battle that I am still learning about, and I wish the best for those facing similar battles.