Stress of a Food Allergy Journey
I never would have imagined that just a lick of ice cream would affect our lives so much. I soon found out though, not long after my then 8-month-old son could hardly indulge into his first bite. His high pitch screech accompanied with red-blistered cheeks, quickly alerted me that we had intruded into uncharted territory. I became frantic as I watched my precious baby boy flail his arms helplessly in the air. This was Chop’s first noted allergic reaction, but it would not be his last. As parents, we have the important charge of nurturing and maintaining our children’s health well-being. At the time, I felt I had failed my son. In those moments of what felt like defeat, I questioned my own parenting abilities to make proper judgments. I was overcome with negative thoughts and emotions; “I could have killed my child.” “Why had I not recognized that he was allergic before now?” “What if this had happened away from me?”
Prior to that initial traumatic experience, I had heard many things about food allergies and how they directly affected those living with them. Still, none of what I had heard was enough to prepare me for that day. A few weeks later, an allergy test proved that we needed to brace ourselves for our new normal. The anxiety I felt coupled with frustrations of my child dealing with anaphylactic allergies were emotions that I had never considered in the past. “Oh, poor baby. He can’t eat anything.” “I know how you feel, my neighbor’s daughter is lactose intolerant.” Comments such as these further heighten my stress and overwhelmed me. I was not ok with being labeled as being difficult because our son’s safety was a priority. Or thought of as an inconvenience when I asked to read food labels before agreeing to shared meals. Many individuals were compassionate towards us as we learned to navigate this new world, we were living in. Some pitied us. Some avoided playdates altogether. There were even some who believed that we were overreacting. “Just one bite won’t hurt him.” We desperately needed support. We needed our circle to be just as informed as we were to ensure that Chop would live a full life beyond limits. It was important to us that our son not be isolated and treated differently because of his diet.
Supporting Someone with a Food Allergy
It can be difficult knowing how to support a family who experience stress due to food allergies. It is important to try and not avoid engaging a child with a food allergy for fear of making a mistake or saying the wrong things. Withdrawing and avoiding can be hurtful, make them feel isolated, and are not supportive strategies. Denial of an allergy family’s experiences and realities might also be a costly mistake. These kinds of approaches can leave lasting negative mental impacts. Ask specifically how you can be supportive and listen to feedback is always helpful. Every allergy family manages differently, and their needs are unique. Do not compare and assume that you have all the answers. Supporting someone with a food allergy can be frightening, especially if you lack the proper education and training and should not be taken lightly. But rest assured, there are several ways that you can support someone managing food allergies.
Here are a few:
- Take your friend or family’s allergy seriously.
- Ask how you can assist.
- Don’t share your food without permission first
- Know what to do in case of an emergency
- Always wash your hands after handling food
- Offer non-food treats at parties and celebrations
You are Not Alone
Many parents of children experience stress due to food allergy diagnoses and navigating them. You are not alone and there are resources available to you, your child and for those who wish to support you. Don’t be afraid to seek professional assistance if needed as well. NAMI, an affiliate organization for mental health, offers free assistance to help you locate emotional support by your area code. Remember, you are not alone!
For help coping with food allergies, visit these resources:
Chop Friendly is excited to announce that it will be introducing a children’s book series that focuses on food allergy support this month. We are also hosting a FREE interactive panel discussion for caregivers and those interested in supporting adults and children with food allergies. Email [email protected] to join our panel discussion via Zoom on Friday May 28 at 12 pm and Saturday May 29 at 10a.m. Also sign up for our Quarterly Newsletter!