Monday, October 17, 2011

Raising a Child with Anxiety

They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over again, while expecting a different result.
Sometimes I wonder what it means when you do the same thing every morning and always experience a different result.  That's what it's like parenting a child with Anxiety.
We never know what will set her off.  Some days are perfectly fine.  Other days?  Other days the wrong person woke her up.  Or I sat on her right side instead of her left.  Or...or we don't know because she can't talk.  She can only gasp for breathe between hysterical sobs and refuses to let me touch her.
She's doing well now.  "What are you doing differently?" her doctor asks.
"Nothing," I tell them, with a helpless shrug.
"There must be something," they tell me.  I think they're trying to be reassuring.  It isn't working.
The best I can tell, there is a cycle to anxiety.  I don't know how it works, exactly.  I'm not sure anyone does.  But as far as I understand she views the world in black and white, there's right and wrong.  She envisions a scenario, works out the kinks and plays it out.  She can adapt some days, when she feels quick on her feet.  And other days?
Other days, she hides under the pillows.
It's enough to drive a parent crazy.  And the worst part?  The worst part is asking for help.  Because there is still a stigma.  You must be doing something wrong.  We go over and over every moment of the day, every reaction, every pitfall.  We stress about every problem in our household.  (Although we realize there is nothing we can do to change the fact that she needs to share her room, or our financial standing, or choices we've made in the past, somehow it doesn't change the guilt) We talk about rewards and punishments, which only work when she decides they will and only bring us all to tears when she's too far gone to care.  (But consistency is key, they tell me.) 
On second thought, the worst part is the toll it takes on the family. Our other child can't help but feel the stress and act out.  I can recognize that she's acting out, but it's hard to convince her of that.
Raising a child with Anxiety isn't for the faint hearted.  It's not about reassurance or being patient.  It's about being ready for anything.  One day I say "Time for shoes," and she laughingly waves her be-shoed feet in the air, proud to have beat me to the punch.  Another day I say "Time for shoes," and she hides under a table.
But there are rewards too.  The snuggles and sweet whispers, the whispered stories, the innocent indignation.  She'll surprise us by washing her own dishes (but only her own, that's only fair) when the dishwasher goes out.  Or put hours of work into a surprise.  
We're proud of who she is, even when we're struggling to help her learn how to function in society.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Little Things

What is it about one small restriction that seems to encompass my life?  It touches everything.  From dinner time, to snack time, to leisure time, to craft time.  It's not just that I can't ingest corn derivatives.  I can't be around them when they are airborne.  And the fact that I have this unique intolerance (which touches all sufferers in unique ways) means that I can not be a pillar.  I can't be in a position of supervision because I can't be reliable.  There are too many variable in life to prevent exposure completely.  Which means reactions are impossible to predict, and just as impossible to ignore.  Which, to put it bluntly, makes me unreliable.  Not irresponsible, mind you, simply unreliable. 

A corn allergy makes me different.  It does separate me from the others.  Go out for coffee?  Sure.  But I won't be drinking any.  And we need to sit outside.  And...hopefully the rest of the group is up for that awkwardness.  Because, right or wrong, there is always some awkwardness. 
Group projects are a challenge too.  It seems like most work done in a group setting convenes around food.  Pizza.  Coffee.  Yoghurt.  Even donuts.  You meet at a restaurant, or in a small room and bring food to break the ice. 
Corn allergy, that sort of puts the chill back in the air.  Sometimes, I get so used to this allergy that I forget that I'm the oddball out.  I simply can't be a part of 'that' group.  I have restrictions. 
It's the simplest little things that fall through the cracks.  And those little things are the ones discussed over popcorn in informal gatherings, or pizza after the official meeting.  Little things that no one thinks are important.  But they're details.  And without those details, it's hard not to feel left out, as friendly and open as everyone else tries to be. 
It's not intentional.  I want to stress that I realize it's not intentional.  (I have to tell myself not to be paranoid when these things come up)  But it's usually an unexpected shock, like someone balanced a bucket of cold water over the front door and I'm the one who opened it. 
Corn allergy so drastically impacts what we eat, our dining options as well as choices, that it carries over into every aspect  of our lives in ways that other food allergies and even Celiac Disease do not.  All food restrictions are hard, but when it comes to corn, that's when I feel really different. 
And when I think about why I missed these little impromptu gatherings where details were addressed and dismissed, it's generally the corn aspect that lies at the root of things.  I know from the outside I look like I'm just not interested.  But the fact is, the risk just doesn't outweigh the potential bonding.  I love chatting informally outdoors where I'm not assaulted by perfume or personal care products, and food fumes disperse quickly.  But it's hard to get motivated to go somewhere to watch people you almost know enjoy a meal. 
And it's hard not to feel like you're in the spotlight when it's the little things you don't do, that make you miss the details. 
It's not a bad thing, necessarily.  It's just different.  Another little quirk.  Quirks can be endearing, they can be overlooked.  It just takes a little work.  And a little more work to keep track of those teensy little details that slip through the coffee-hour cracks.  And, of course, a good sense of humor to avoid letting those details get to you.  (This is the part I'm struggling to keep this weekend) 
Corn.  It doesn't just affect our diet.  It affects our lives. 

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

What I've gained from having a Corn Allergy

When restrictions seem to rule your life, it's hard to keep a positive spin on them.  You go to a party and find yourself turning down delicious dishes, desserts and drinks.  The grocery store is full of off limits food.  You have to call and find out if the school's movie night will be serving popcorn before agreeing to bring your child (or finding someone else to chaperone, so you can continue breathing)
Corn puts specific restraints on life; although it is freeing to know that the rashes and gi symptoms that used to parade as normal aren't something you need to accept and live with the rest of your life, it's also difficult to place restrictions on the air you breathe and the food you consume.
However, when I look back over the past few years since discovering I wasn't suffering from increasingly confusing jumbles of letters that added up to 'just stress', I find that I've learned and gained a lot from living with a corn allergy.
Besides the whole "life really is livable" thing, I think one of the biggest gifts has been learning about our food supply.  It's disturbing, and I'd love to stuff my head back in the sand somedays.  But I've learned a lot about labels and food processing that I otherwise would not have sought out.  I've learned about the plight of small, family farms and a little about political power.  I've discovered that blind trust in earthly matters is generally misplaced.  That's not a bad thing.  It motivates me to feed my family better, to actually make that effort to prepare real meals even if they just consist of organic rice and beans.
I've been forced to re-examine the organic issue.  I've always thought that organic was better, but I didn't really think about why.  Now I know it's much more than a label that I'm concerned about.  Learning about how corn infiltrates our food (thus poisoning my poor digestive tract) led me to an understanding of why there are unknown additions to our food, and why it's so important to support local agriculture.  I've realized that it isn't just organic that I'm looking to support, but foods grown without pesticides or chemicals.  I'm looking for foods that aren't developed in a laboratory. I'm looking for food that is what it looks like, and nothing more.
No compromises.  Everyone says fast food is bad.  But then they get busy and hit the drive through, munching away on those 'paper bag heart attacks'.  I admit, I've fantasized about it myself.  But, with a corn allergy, I can't compromise.  It's poison to me, why would I give it to my kids if it's not even good for them?  Scout night nuggets is not an option, so it's never come up.  I cook.  Maybe not completely from scratch, maybe not gourmet, but still.  It's real food with few preservatives. 
What have I gained from a corn allergy?  A chance to better define my feelings regarding organics and food quality in general.  A better understanding of food politics.  A chance to see how little things that seem insignificant or even wise can really throw a wrench in the bigger picture. 
I have a corn allergy, and it makes me 'that mom'.  A granola mom.  The odd ball out.  But I refuse to do it because I have to.  I'll do it on my terms...I'll define it in ways that make it right for us.  Corn free, naturally.