Wednesday, December 16, 2015

I wish I knew then...

When I was just starting out, my allergies were all consuming.  At least, learning to live with these food restrictions felt all consuming.  I had to relearn how to shop, how to cook, how to maneuver social situations.  I had to change my taste buds, adjust what tasted "good" according to what was "safe".  I had to learn self control in ways I'd never really had to learn it before.
And I had to do it all without going crazy.

I started out by apologizing.  A lot.  I felt guilty for turning down food.  I felt guilty for being served a dish of something if I couldn't eat it, knowing it would be thrown away.  I felt guilty when people spent money on gifts like cookies or (evil) popcorn tins that I wouldn't be able to use.  I was so focused on not poisoning myself that it became almost a mantra.
"I can't eat that, or that, or that"  "I have food allergies"  And then the details.  Long explanations about corn and symptoms and weight loss and drs and answers.
It became all about me, when ironically, my goal was to NOT cause a scene.  I never was fond of throwing up in public, even in public restrooms, and avoiding food that triggered that type of behavior seemed like a good way to keep attention off of myself.
And I had to explain why I wasn't eating...didn't I?
I mean, if I didn't apologize and make sure that the host understood just how bad my reactions were, wouldn't they think I was crazy?  Or at the very least, very rude?

Like most of us, I was raised to be polite.  Take a taste.  Take just a little and finish your plate.  You don't want to offend the cook.  In some cultures it's the utmost reproach to turn down food.
But it's pretty rude to empty your stomach midmeal, too.
And it's more than a little distracting to stop breathing in the middle of a party.  Ambulances are known to put a damper on festivities.  Besides, medical attention is expensive.  And whether you eat the food and risk dying, or don't eat the risk offending the host.  So you might as well stay safe.

Like many food allergy sufferers, I let myself over compensate by over explaining.  I didn't realize that no one cared about my stomach, or my symptoms, or why I wasn't at the last few parties.  While people would ask why I wasn't eating, or comment on my weight loss, they didn't really *care*.  (And I mean that in the best possible way)  This was a party, after all.  The comments weren't meant to trigger a heart to heart between strangers.
But, being self conscious, I'd start to explain.  And then I'd clarify.  And when I saw the glazed over look, I explained some more.
I might as well have been screaming "Don't judge me!  Don't think I'm crazy!  Forgive me!  I'm really not crazy!"  Unfortunately, when someone starts claiming they aren't crazy, that's the one word everyone around them latches onto.

I know now that when I was talking frankly about diagnosis and symptoms and our broken food supply, many of those around me were only hearing one thing:  Eating disorder.
I was under a hundred pounds, and refusing to eat, and going off on a tangent about corn in salad greens.  Or whole wheat crackers.  Or candy.  Or whatever was in front of me.  I was poisoned by bottled water once, it didn't make social situations any easier.
But it did make me look...paranoid.

I know now that it doesn't actually matter whether we eat party food or not.  There are a thousand reasons to say "No, thank you." to a meal or a snack.  We don't need excuses to validate our choices.  Our choice is valid in itself.
I know now that it's okay to just not eat something.
It's also okay to change the subject quickly.  We aren't there to eat; we don't need to submit to a third degree.  We're there to enjoy the company.  And we can't do that while we're busy justifying our choice to take care of our bodies and protect our health.

If I had it to do over again, I'd smack myself on the back of the head (not literally...that would get me labeled crazy in a whole different manner), and tell myself to stop talking.  Say "No, thanks," and leave it at that.
People ask questions to be polite, and once they start it's hard to stop.  The idea of food as an enemy is foreign to most people, they can't wrap their brains around it and are stuck asking questions they don't necessarily want more information about.  No one needs a history of health problems, other than your doctor.
No one needs to know exactly why you're saying no to a piece of cake or pizza.  A choice is a valid choice as long as it isn't infringing on someone else's health issues.  And it doesn't hurt anyone when you choose an empty plate.  Social situations are for filling your heart with friends and love.  For building up relationships, not passing judgement.
Forget the guilt, say "no thanks" to allergen-questionable treats, and keep your hands free for the important things, like hugs and high fives.

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