Food Allergy 101: Let's talk about our anxieties
This post originally appeared in May.
What if my food allergy was a real, live person? And what if I could talk to him about what he's taught me over the years? Every Thursday, I get that chance...
I’m sitting at the table when Mr. A., my allergy, approaches. He's smiling.
“Why the smile?” I ask.
“I’m just thinking about the Good Ole days,” he says.
I scrunch my face. “The Good Ole days?"
“Yes, when you were little. All the fun I had at your expense," he says. "Do you remember that time in middle school you went out for the football team?”
I look at him. “No. I never played football growing up,” I say. “You know I didn’t play, and you know why."
“Oh. That’s right. You were scared your allergy would 'tackle' you. What was it, the water bottles?"
I look away. He was referring to when I made the decision that I wouldn't join team sports. The reason? It had nothing to do with actually playing the sport. I was concerned more about the water bottles that the trainers might squeeze into the players’ mouths. I remember watching the NFL one Sunday and seeing players on the sidelines sharing water bottles. I knew that if voiced this concern, my mom would request they have a special bottle of water for me and... Anyway, I decided then that football wasn’t for me.
“A water bottle sidelined your NFL career,” he says as he lets out a laugh. “And remember you didn’t take Greek language lessons at your church either because they had REALLY FUN PIZZA PARTIES.”
“Yep. There were pizzas everywhere.”
Another laugh. “Your anxieties controlled you sometimes," Mr. A says.
"There were times when I was younger when I didn’t have a healthy balance," I say. "But that’s OK because once my parents realized it, they made a conscious effort to tackle it head on. And that's how the Land of Can was born."
I continue: "And that's why it's cool today. Because now we ARE talking about the psychological and emotional impacts of allergies. We are being honest. Just yesterday, for example, on Twitter one of my favorite bloggers, Dr. Dave Stukus (@allergykidsdoc), posted about it."
I quickly call up Dr. Stukus' post on my phone and read it to him: "Anxiety can help remind 'xxx' to read labels, communicate w food handlers & have epinephrine available. However, if anxiety prevents them from attending/enjoying events, a psychologist can help develop coping strategies.”
Mr. A. shakes his head in disbelief. “Wait... Doctors are now starting to talk about this?”
I nod. “Lots of people are. That’s why we’re telling our stories.”
He looks down.
“So keep enjoying those passed moments of my past because they are in the past," I say. "We have an army of people making sure that kids with food allergies are free to voice their fears and are empowered to access the tools and resources to live fully!"
I stand from the table, grab my backpack, and head for the door. As I walk by, I look at Mr. A. His smile is gone and he is shaking his head. He's lost somewhere between the past and the present.
JJ Vulopas is a senior at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. An advocate for young people, JJ has lived with food allergies his entire life. He is the author of the children's book, Land of Not. You can read his daily blog at www.thelandofcan.com. Follow him on Instagram & Twitter @thelandofcan.