Food Allergy 101: He wants me to fail.
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...
Throughout the first month of the Food Allergy School CANpaign, I took a break from having my weekly talks with Mr. A., my allergy. As many of you know, on my blog each Thursday, I have an honest talk with an imaginary Mr. A. We usually talk about what I’ve learned from having an allergy over the years. Today, I am supposed to meet with him again. In fact, here he comes now.
“Where have you been?” Mr. A. says as he walks into the coffee shop. “I’ve been coming here each week, and you haven’t been around.”
“I’ve been busy,” I say. “We have our Food Allergy School CANpaign underway, It’s been taking up a ton of time.”
“Oh, that’s right. You’re trying to get that little book of yours into 1,000 elementary schools,” he says rolling his eyes. “How’s that working for you?”
“We still have October,” I say. “It will happen.”
“It won’t,” he says matter of factly.
It’s what I would expect from him. Mr. A. doesn’t want me to succeed, of course. He wants to silence my voice. He wants to dismiss me. He wants me to quit. I’m not having it.
“We will transform schools,” I say. “The more schools we reach, the more kids with food allergies we strengthen. The more schools we reach, the more kids who don’t have food allergies and their teachers we educate. And the more we strengthen and educate, the healthier we are as a food allergy community.”
“If it meant that much, you would have already been in 1,000 schools,” he says “Heck if it was that important, you’d have been in 10,000 schools or even more. But you’re not. Your voice doesn’t matter.”
His tone hurts. But when you have an allergy, you’re used to it. People are constantly minimizing what you have and how you feel. People are constantly dismissing your allergy as a preference or as something that will give you a rash or a tummy ache. People are constantly dismissing your concerns and your anxieties, especially if you’re younger.
“I’m not going to quit,” I say. “I feel the importance of this CANpaign. Every single time I see a headline of a young person dying or being bullied or simply being scared to go to school, it’s as if the world is screaming we have to do more. We must educate ourselves. We must educate others.”
Mr. A is shaking his head side to side. He looks like he isn’t interested, but I know he’s listening. If we succeed, he’s done.
I continue: “And the earlier we reach the kids and their friends and their teachers, the better chance we have at success,” I say. “The more empowered our kids with allergies are, they more successful they will be.”
He keeps laughing at me. I stand up.
“Hey, where are you going?” he asks, his tone becoming serious.
“I have more important people to talk to today,” I say. “A couple of school nurses reached out to me yesterday. I have to respond to their messages.”
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.