My Journey to Allergy Transparency
Updated: Aug 31, 2019
I am going to be completely honest here. Talking about food allergies can be really, really scary. When I was younger I hated it beyond belief. Now I've gotten to a point where I am learning it's okay to talk about allergies, and that it is actually important to do so in order to help others around me. I now run an instagram and blog dedicated to discussing my allergies, but it took a long time for me to get to this point.
There's a lot of stigma surrounding food allergies, and I'm not naive to the looks people give me when I say I have them. Sometimes it can be embarrassing to even acknowledge having food allergies. But as Denise Morrison said, "The single most important ingredient in the recipe for success is transparency because transparency builds trust." Accepting my food allergies has taught me to validate and trust myself and my instincts more. If you are currently struggling with this concept or are just curious about it, I hope you can find what you are looking for from my story.
In elementary school, my mom made a point to tell everyone she could about my allergies. She wrote up letters for the teachers to send out to families asking them not to send their children to school with anything that had peanuts. (When I was younger I was only allergic to peanuts). All the kids I went to school with knew about my allergy to “peanut butter." I find it funny how no one seemed to be able to refer to my allergy as a “peanut allergy.” It was always called “a peanut butter allergy.” If I have pet peeves, hearing my allergy referred to as an allergy to peanut butter is definitely one of them!
Anyways, elementary school was a time of great transparentency when it came to my allergy. While this was primarily for my own physical and emotional safety (when I was really young I would cry any time I was in the same room as peanuts), it eventually became more of a burden for me. In kindergarten and for a few grades on, often times my peers would help advocate for me.
I remember a few times when my peers had conversations about how peanut butter wasn’t allowed or else I would get sick. My peers talked about it in a factual, heroic, kind of way. They were proud to keep me safe. However, as time went on, those types of conversations changed. The tones became more annoyed. I was the reason so and so couldn't bring in peanut butter cookies for their birthday...I was the reason the teacher never brought in treats. I started to understand that my food allergies were affecting others and they didn’t like it.
By sixth grade, when I found out I had developed more allergies, I just wanted to keep my allergies a secret. My allergies became a source of major insecurity for me. I was different, I was weird, and I was annoying. It was a hassle to deal with me and my allergies, so people stopped inviting me to birthday parties. They stopped trying to eat near me, or talk to me as much. It felt like so many people were just getting closer, and I was feeling more alone.
I ended up going from a public elementary school to a private middle school after elementary school. This was mainly because the private school was a lot closer to my house than the public one. I was terrified to go into middle school because I was afraid I couldn’t handle my allergy on my own. My family and I worried about what would happen if I went into anaphylactic shock going to school so far away. I would have my meds with me no matter what, but it would be quite a distance to go if my parents needed to get to me in an emergency situation. So I went to the private school by my house. And this brought on new possibilities.
In middle school, I loved the fact that there was no letter telling people I had food allergies. I had told my mom at this point that people knowing about my allergies just made life more difficult for me. All the teachers I had were informed about my allergies, but the first week I felt like I was normal. I didn’t tell anyone about my allergies, and I liked feeling that people would look as me just like I was another student. I wasn’t seen for my allergies, I was seen as a person. At least that’s how I felt.
Eventually though, word gets out. It’s hard to not mention allergies when you have to explain why you can’t eat the cookie you are given, or why you can’t help clean up the Reese’s Pieces wrapper off the ground. Once again, I found myself being looked at as different by my peers. It was disheartening. I was once again the strange girl who couldn’t eat anything, and was too much work to invite to anything. I didn’t really have too many friends.
In high school, I found that things got a bit more tricky, in ways I never expected. As a young, naive, girl (who was definitely a hopeless romantic), I wanted a boyfriend who would sweep me off my feet. But all the boys I seemed to come across would turn around and run as soon as I mentioned the allergy I had.
At that point, I finally met a close friend who took time to understand my allergies and even made safe food for me when I came over to her house. She reminded me that the right boy would still want to be with me despite the accommodations that would need to be made in order to date me. It didn’t feel like it at the time.
Eventually, I couldn’t take the anxiety that I had at my first high school (which was an extension of my middle school, same campus but different building). I felt so different and it just wasn’t the right fit. So I changed schools and once more delt with not really having friends.
This time, however, I went to a private school 45 mins away from my home. This taught me to take my allergies in my own hands. I stopped trying to hide my allergies. I told the people that I actually talked to about my allergies, though I didn’t talk to many people in general. At that point, it felt like no matter what people would find out so mind as well tell them. I laid low, I managed to make a few friends through choir, and I told those who I interacted with.
It was my junior of high school I started to learn how to manage my allergies and boys. I realized that it was important to tell anyone I might hang out with that I had allergies if it seemed like there was some chance of a kiss. I learned to mention my allergy and to explain what all went into it. I would tell them jokingly how what should have been my first kiss never actually was because the guy ate almonds right before seeing me and didn’t know that would be a problem. Then would come the question, “So if we kissed, I would have to avoid all that too right?”
I was surprised to find that I could make friends, and that some boys would actually go out of their way to understand my allergy and try to do the best they could to keep me safe. My prom date junior year asked me to go to the grocery store with him so that I could teach him how to read labels so that he could make sure he was okay to kiss. I was absolutely flattered! I didn’t think it was truly possible for someone like me to have so many normal experiences when so much of who I was seemed so abnormal. I found myself shocked that people were willing to do extra to be around me.
Then came perhaps the biggest lesson of my life so far. I met a boy senior year who knew how to flatter. He jumped in and asked me out and seemed to genuinely adore me. That was, until I started to notice a few things. Any time I saw this boy he would make a HUGE deal about the fact that he sacrificed so much for me so that we could see each other. He told me how he COULD have had a chocolate bar, but then he remembered he was going to see me and he couldn’t or else I could die. We would go out places and he would want something at a restaurant that I didn’t feel safe eating at.
For me, when something doesn’t feel safe I will refuse to eat it, even if it means not eating. He would get upset with this, and would then spend the rest of the day talking about how he couldn’t eat anything because of me. If I dared to say that he should just go eat the darn thing and not kiss me, then I was in even more trouble. He managed to make me feel so completely horrible about protecting myself, and managing something I can’t control.
It took me a long time to break up with him, as he had many manipulative behaviors, but eventually I did. And I realized that I was worth so much more than I was giving myself credit for. I started to understand that no one should make me feel guilty about having food allergies. I realized that I never wanted to be in that situation again. I started to understand that my allergies were something I struggled with enough without someone constantly manipulating me with them.
Dating is never easy, and sometimes it really sucks. But it didn’t have to be that bad. From that situation I learned that I felt better just embracing every part of me. I started up an allergy instagram and started talking to others with allergies. It felt validating to know that other people understood my struggle. I stopped caring so much about the looks I got when I mentioned my allergies. I reasoned that if I went through this mental struggle of talking about food allergies, there were probably more people like me out there. I saw even more reason to tell my story, to talk about my anxiety, my struggles, and my good days. I learn from stories, and I’m not alone in that.
Now I find myself in a new relationship, with new peers (in college), and an allergy blog. These days, I am much more open about how I feel and what goes on in my head. People can and will still be mean. But now, I try my very best to use each negative response on my allergies as a way to help spread awareness. I believe that if more people see this sort of transparency in me, I might open a few minds.
I want to spread understanding and kindness. I am happy in my relationship, with someone who cares about me a lot. I am learning to manage the anxiety I face with the everyday maintenance of my allergies, but it’s beginning to feel a lot more empowering to talk about what’s going on. I no longer try to be what I consider normal. I don’t try to hide the medications I might have to take, and I don’t shy away from asking for help as much. I’m so proud of the growth that I have had when it comes to all this, and I am looking forward to learning and growing even more with each day.