Food allergies are not a disease.
Some days, I get frustrated. Living with a food allergy is not akin to being permanently ill. I'm not on death's door. Food allergies are not a life sentence. And yet, as a chronic medical condition, it's hard to stay out of patient mentality.
Earlier, someone told my daughter that it must be hard to have her mom so sick all the time. Immediately, I fell into the trap. Other food allergy sufferers, especially those with a corn allergy, may know the trap I mean. The one where you flash, quickly, on evenings when you really wished you could have gone out to dinner. Or birthday parties where you had to abstain from cake. Or that awesome gingerbread house that you didn't dare let get through the front door. You're assailed by memories of the days when you gave in and paid for it, the nausea and cramping, the sound of kids voices in another room as you curl up in bed biting your lip to avoid groaning. This is accompanied by guilt, and a knife like shame. Yes, I'm sick all the time. Head down. It's hard. Half smile, shrug. We survive.
Today, I read this article on Facebook and thought 'that's great'. A cure? More money for drug and vaccine research? Wait a moment. Food allergies are not an illness.
We don't need another medical condition treated with more drugs. We don't need more vaccines to try and combat the damage we're doing to our bodies and the environment with our questionable diets and pesticide and herbicide use (both on farms and around our homes) We need to take action. We need to do something. We need prevention.
I'm not saying I don't want to cure anaphylaxis. Peanut allergies terrify me. Even as a food allergy parent, I'm more than a little nervous inviting a nut allergic child over. Not that I don't want to include them, I just don't want to be responsible for harming them with the jar of peanut butter I've kept in the fridge since Bumblebee passed her challenge. But combating allergies and anaphylaxis with more new innovative treatments just makes food allergy into another illness we need to cure. It removes the focus from prevention and understanding. (What's wrong with our environment? How can we avoid triggering them in the first place?)
The earlier comment was followed by a discourse on time in the doctors office where both my daughter and I shifted uncomfortably before changing the subject. We don't spend much time with a doctor now that I'm diagnosed, now that her sister is diagnosed. There's just no point. As a food allergy sufferer, I simply live a different kind of norm. As a corn allergic individual, my life tends to be even more limited. That doesn't mean I'm sick all the time, just that I'm less reliable than many. I'm more susceptible to environmental issues like popcorn and cleaners. It's a frustrating theory to relate. I missed a large portion of my life to 'being sick'. Ironically back then, prediagnosis, I didn't have a label so I was just...spending a lot of time in bed and in the restroom. Now that I have a label and am managing symptoms...I have the reputation of being always sick. It makes me forget that other parents get tired sometimes. Other parents get headaches, or come down with the flu. Just because I don't feel up to inviting someone home doesn't mean that I'm 'sick all the time'. But somehow, because allergies lead to that patient mentality, I feel a sense of guilt.
We need to do something. Not just research for cures, I'm not looking for more medications. We need to find the root cause so we can address it as a society. Food allergies aren't just something that affects someone else. The first reaction can occur any time during one's lifetime. Between 2% and 10% of the population suffer from allergies; and the CDC reports that the number of children affected has risen 18% between 1997 and 2007. Food allergies aren't the only childhood condition on the rise. Asthma, autism, ADHD, and diabetes are just a few of the new childhood conditions frequently seen by pediatricians.
That tells me that food allergies aren't a new illness to treat, they're a symptom of something bigger. With all the additives and preservatives in our food supply, and the GMO's that aren't currently labeled , and the lack of open space for kids to run wild in and the multitude of vaccines given before the third birthday and...well, the list gets pretty long. Which is causing the problems, or is it a combination? Food allergies are a lifelong condition; a symptom of something wrong in our environment or our lifestyle. There isn't a simple cause and effect to track. The cure is to find out what the overall trigger is. Looking for new ways to simply overcome our immune system pushes us back to a sense of victimization. Searching for a cure puts the power in the hands of drug companies, when in fact we need to be united. Food allergies aren't a disease. They're a reason to eat healthier, to be more informed and to take control of our lives (and our health) again.