Saturday, December 16, 2006

Its not just food

I have a food allergy. But some days, it feels like food allergy has me. For some, allergies are simple. Avoid the offending food. There are a few (or a multitude of) safe foods readily available. Once the offending food has been identified, you adjust and go on with your life.

But for me, my "allergy" goes beyond the norm. Avoiding the offending food has given me so much...and showed me how much this "allergy" took away. I never realised how much my life changed. 6 years ago, my symptoms began interfering with my life and the Doctors told me to take some time off, get a maid, relax. I was just completeing a college degree, so I did. Take time off that is. The maid was out of the question. I never dreamed that the few weeks I gave myself would turn into years.

I focused on my daughter, and called my spells stress. I quit going to restaurants because I didn't like racing for the bathroom midmeal (or wishing I could). I had spells at home, too, but they didn't make an impact since I could easily deal with them. I would bring a stack of books to bed and curl up with my kids and a heating pad. I encouraged my husband to go out to dinner with friends, and catch a movie afterwards, because I didn't want him to see me like that. (I playacted pretty well, too, he never really "got" what was wrong.) The movie theatre made me nausous, and gave me hot flashes that I attributed to stress or anxiety. I shopped around my body's symptoms. I dreaded appointments of any kind. I avoided eating when I could, or tried to snack all day. I sought the perfect diet, and said I'd feel better tomorrow.

And then, I cut out corn. Which led to cutting out gluten. I finally understood why someone might schedule dinner before the prom started (besides that masochist theory I held in High School) As I spend more pain free, or at least limited pain days, I find my mind clearing. I realise that walking around the block should not be a daunting task. And that I ought to be able to schedule volunteer time, or a birthday party without worrying what my body will do to me. Its not that I don't want to be there...I just don't want to feel my knees buckle beneath me, or the breath squeezed from my chest because I've pushed myself just a little too far. I especially don't want to reach the end of my limited rope in public. Again. And the fear is very real, based in experience. Its always harder to get over a rational fear than an irrational one.

I find myself frustrated with my physical limitations. I can feel energized and excited, but if I inadvertently pass my limits, I'm immediately reprimanded. Whether its nausea or starting to faint, its not pleasant. Yet, still I'm tempted to press my limits. Tempted, and terrified. Every so often, I still have a corn incident and lose half my progress. Some allergens hide, everywhere.

Whats worse, I find that it wasn't just me thats been affected. My family's been hurt. I avoided family celebrations because I was sick...years in a row. When I make it, now, they're surprised to see me. I tried not to let them see how bad I felt, until I collapsed. And its hard for them to understand why I don't just bounce back. I can't explain it, I don't think I understand it myself.

My husband, and our relationship, has suffered the most. As I look at myself through his eyes, I realize that he felt pushed away. To him, I was active as a mother, as a stay at home parent. Now the kids are growing and he doesn't understand why that energy doesn't switch back to other endeavors, the dreams we held in the beginning.

For me, its not just a food allergy. My way of life is different than the average Americans. My food is cooked mostly from scratch, if I'm running late on dinner, there is no drive through or pizza man to the rescue. Fostering friendships is a challenge, since in our society the "norm" is to go for a cup of coffee, or meet up for lunch. I still dread social eating, though if I'm careful it doesn't attack me.

I don't know if its "just" the physical reactions I have to food, my doctors insist they don't know. But I do know that allergies are not something to be blown off. Whether they require an epi pen to ward off fatal reactions or "just" cause symptoms, food allergies are real. And they impact so much more than what you can eat.

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