This one is hard. I have been putting off writing about this one, because it involves many people that I love, and that I know love me. Although it isn’t pleasant, it really has to be talked about because I know that I am not the only one to experience this, and there will be many more people that will have a similar experience and will like to know that they, too, are not alone.
There are many, many hurdles to overcome when discovering that you have a food allergy or intolerance. Not only do you feel horrible both physically and mentally, but you have to completely change your entire lifestyle to make yourself better despite the pain and difficulty. All of the life changes alone are enough to send someone over the edge, repeatedly. And nothing makes you feel crazier, and more alone in your battle, than having the people closest to you suddenly angry and frustrated with you for trying to make those necessary changes.
My loved ones understandably had a hard time wrapping their heads around the fact that I was allergic to corn. In their minds, this was new and had come out of nowhere, despite my pleading for them to remember various times in my life that it was apparent, we just didn’t know what it was. I struggled almost daily to be able to reach out for help, and a lot of times I was verbally smacked in the face for “acting differently”, even after explaining to them why I was so angry and miserable. In a nutshell I was told: I was a crazy, I had officially lost my mind, I was a lunatic, I had myself up on a pedestal, I needed to stop “self-diagnosing”, was told repeatedly that I needed to see a doctor, I needed therapy, I needed my meds adjusted, it was all in my head, I was being selfish, I was treating everyone like crap, no one was going to want to be around me if I kept acting the way I was, I was going to lose all of my friends, and so on and so forth.
Going to functions that involved food suddenly became terrifying, and not because of the food. I made my own food. What was terrifying was the constant questioning and harassment, and being told repeatedly that “I needed to see the doctor” or “I needed to do this” or “I needed to do that”, although it was already known that I had been to the doctor and talked to an allergist, and there literally was nothing that any of them could do for me. I just wanted to be part of the group and enjoy normal conversation that would allow me to escape from constantly thinking about stupid corn, and not have my new, forced, unwanted lifestyle put in the spotlight for interrogation. I was in constant defense mode, because I had to be. Not because I wanted to be.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind the questions. If someone is genuinely interested without judgment, I have no problem answering any questions about what I am going through. It is when judgement is involved, followed by unwarranted and uneducated advice that gets me going. If you don’t understand something, or simply don’t want to hear it, then leave it alone.
It became so difficult to deal with, that I honestly felt like it would be better to deal with everything by myself and not let anyone in at all. Being alone had to be better than being surrounded by people that didn’t believe me and thought I was crazy. It was an utter disappointment that some of my dearest loved ones could not see the true pain I was dealing with, and seemed more concerned about how my involuntary life changes affected the blips of time that we were together, as opposed to what I was truly going through in my everyday life. If this experience taught me anything, it taught me true empathy toward others, because you never really do know the true pain someone might be going through.
I know now that I definitely need a support system. Trying to navigate these rough waters on my own, while also learning everything I can to prevent my son from becoming terribly ill, is completely overwhelming and impossible. Luckily, the judgment and negativity was relatively short lived, and my allergic reactions have become less “violent” (which helps) and we are on the other side of it now. I am happy to say that I now have that support system I so desperately needed, and I am ever so grateful. To be seen as you truly are is absolutely magnificent.
My advice to those of you going through a similar experience? Hold your head up and stick to your guns, because only you know what is truly going on with your health and your mentality. If the people who are giving you a hard time can’t see you, then step away from them for a little while and let them know that you will be back when they are ready to listen and stop judging. They will come around. All of my loved ones have since realized that I wasn’t kidding, and we are all on great terms now!
My advice to those of you who know someone going through this experience? Listen. Get out of your own head, and listen to what they are trying to tell you, even if it sounds ridiculous. Chances are, they feel ridiculous even saying it out loud, and receiving negative feedback will only make them never want to talk to you about it again. Try to understand, and if you don’t, just leave it at that. Unless that person asks for your advice, keep it to yourself. Or, do some research on the subject and share whatever helpful information you have found. I assure you, they just want you to listen, be there for them, and feel validated. Give them comforting words and tell them that you will be there anytime they need a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. Help them find recipes and foods that they can safely have, because they are going to be completely overwhelmed and have no idea where to start. If you are inviting them over for food, go over every single ingredient with them so they can feel safe eating there. Just try. That is all that you can do.
Like the quote says at the top of this post – “We are, each of us, angels with only one wing; and we can only fly by embracing one another”.