Why I am Attempting to Tame the Wild Immune System in Me
I miss being the girl with the peanut allergy...and that’s something I never imagined I would think, back then. But quite frankly, I do. As I continue to navigate my food allergy life I find myself going back to the time when my answer to, “what are you allergic to?” was simply “peanuts.” That’s not to say that a peanut allergy isn’t difficult. All food allergies come with their own challenges, and the social aspect of being left out has always been hard for me, no matter how small my allergen list was. But today, I find myself overwhelmed with an evergrowing, ongoing, and seemingly endless list of allergens. I find myself going back and forth during meal times - from the pantry to the fridge - just trying to figure out what to eat. It’s a constant struggle between what sounds good and what I can actually eat (and still feel okay after eating).
People often don’t understand that for me, there is no real sense of "safe" food.
I look at the shelves I used to once eat freely from, and usually realize, with disappointment, that so many of these options are not suitable for me anymore. People often don’t understand that for me, there is no real sense of "safe" food. I’ve gone from being a girl who only had a peanut allergy to having a peanut, tree nut, coconut, mango, pineapple, pea, chickpea, lentil, seed (especially mustard, sunflower, flax, and pumpkin seed), and wheat allergy. I also have issues with most fruit and might be developing an allergy to soy. My immune system started going crazy when I was 11 and it continues to do so as time moves on.
At this point, I realize that I could develop a new allergy at any given point. It’s frustrating and makes me question myself constantly.
This process of continuously developing allergies has made me see food differently. Any random itch could be from anything. It’s no longer a question of “is it something that is on my list of current allergens that has made contact with my food?” And instead, it is more like, “Is this from my allergen list, or am I reacting to something new?” At this point, I realize that I could develop a new allergy at any given point. It’s frustrating and makes me question myself constantly. Why is my body like this? Did I do something to make this happen? Did I do something wrong?
No one can tell me why this is happening. Some people might say it is because I didn’t eat enough of the foods I am now allergic to. Some people might say it is because I had too much of the foods I am now allergic to. I used to eat some tree nuts when I was younger, yet now I’m allergic. I used to eat fruit all the time, and now I am allergic to a ton of fruit. I hardly ate seeds when I was younger, and now I am allergic. There’s no real answer.
As someone who is active in the food allergy community, I find myself looking at what is on other’s people’s plates, and thinking, “wow I wish I could eat that.” It can be especially disheartening when it feels like the people who also have food allergies don't have the same history of developing allergies the way I do. It also makes me wonder what sparked my immune system to be as sensitive as it is when that's not necessarily a common thing. I want to include more variety in my diet but find myself so nervous to even try new foods or foods I haven’t had in a while. Every reaction, big or small, is just another flashback to when I had my worse reactions ever. And I’m scared of that. I’m almost as scared to remember it as I am to relive it.
Each time I've developed more allergies I have gone through a little phase of mourning, thinking about the former favorites of mine that are no longer safe.
Wheat is the thing that I have had to cut out of my diet most recently, and boy has that been something. Each time I've developed more allergies I have gone through a little phase of mourning, thinking about the former favorites of mine that are no longer safe. I remember being really sad when it came to me developing tree nuts because cross-contamination was a concern for so many things. When I lost coconut, I had to say goodbye to all my fancy Bath and Body Works soaps and lotions that I loved. I had to give up most store-bought ice cream and all my lip glosses that I adored.
And now with wheat I find myself just feeling lost. While coconut is really hard to avoid in everyday products, coconut and nuts were easier to avoid in the sense that they were not typically major structural elements of recipes the way wheat is. I'm mourning bread and butter, simple baking, and feeling like I have a ton of junk food snack options. Eventually, I'll figure out gluten-free baking but it is discouraging when many products that are for those with wheat allergies and gluten intolerances/ sensitivities have ingredients like sunflower, chickpea, or pea. All of which I am allergic to.
I’m taking part in hopes that one day I may be able to go back to being the girl with the peanut allergy...or dare I say, the girl without the allergies?
I don’t see many foods as truly “safe” right now. And I’m afraid my limited selection will one day be even smaller. At the beginning of the year, I decided to take part in a program called TIP at the Southern California Food Allergy Institute. While many think I’m crazy - honestly sometimes I think I’m crazy lol - I’m taking part in hopes that one day I may be able to go back to being the girl with the peanut allergy...or dare I say, the girl without the allergies? The recovered allergy girl? I do this program the best I can, with a mix of caution and faith in the program and myself.
SCFAI is a great place, and so far they are taking such good care of me. My biggest dream in life is to go a day eating more freely again, even if it’s not 100% free. The idea that the rest of my life might go on looking like this, being allergic to so much, and maybe being limited forever is a heavy weight to bear. The process of dosing with coconut so far has been somewhat rocky for me so far, but the thoughts I have shared with you here are largely what keeps me going on with the program when the going is rough. Honestly, I'm not sure if I would have the guts to do this if it weren't for the fact my immune system is so unpredictable these days.
So the question remains:
Can the girl who just keeps developing allergies, really get food freedom?
Time will tell, but I think it’s worth a shot...