Tuesday, September 23, 2014

When the Food Allergy Lifestyle Gets Old

If you are managing food allergies, you know that it gets old rather quickly. It is so tiresome to constantly evaluate every situation for an allergen and read every label for safety. I often confess to my husband that I'm tired-tired of eating this way, tired of living this way, tired of explaining the allergies, and tired of being so stand-out different. I just want to go out to restaurants whenever we want. I want to go to that birthday party and not worry about food. I'd like to go to someone's house even though they have cats and dogs and there are peanut butter cracker crumbs on the floor.

But in the times that the food allergy life gets old to me, I realize that I'm not being vigilant. Usually I'm able to remind myself that I have to be always aware in order to keep Bee safe. I must refuse to give up even though I'm tired. Other times I find myself being less careful or even entertaining the thought that she has grown out of an allergy. Most of the allergic reactions and ER visits that we've experienced have been in these times when I was feeling less alert in monitoring the allergies.

Yes, I get so very tired of living this way, but it's no excuse for forgetting to read every label and not taking the time to call every event ahead of time to discuss the allergy safety protocol. Despite the mundane moments in this allergy life, I have to choose to persevere and continue to advocate for Bee.

If I get tired of the allergy life, how much more so do those around me? I've noticed a trend in friendships.

In the beginning, I explain the food allergies and am usually met with faces of fear and awe. They are terrified to be around my children and amazed at what our family has to manage. I try to impress the seriousness of the allergies upon them so that they will be alert and aware when around our family. This helps keep Bee safe when we are with friends. I need everyone working together to insure that Bee's environment is safe.

It becomes more routine after we've known people for a little while. They easily remember that we are "the weird allergy family" and so they always remember to wash their hands and do things differently around us. They don't need me to remind them that they can't eat certain food around us. They know that we can't attend certain events - like that ice cream sundae party. So, they know that when we decline invitations that we're not being rude or ungrateful, we're just being safe.

Over time though, I've seen that some friends tend to forget the allergy situation or at least diminish the seriousness of the allergies that we manage. They ask if they can bring certain foods to our house. They ask if they can eat something around us. They question why we don't get out more and they wonder why we live so differently.

I've learned that this is not because they are insensitive and inconsiderate. It's just because our allergy lifestyle gets old to us and to everyone around us. They get tired of taking the precautions all the time. The seriousness of the food allergies gets tiresome and they can become forgetful. They don't intend to cause us to be in an unsafe situation, but they can overlook what we cannot - that Bee's life is at stake and we won't compromise her safety.

So, what do you do? I remind myself that they don't have to think of food allergies daily. When the newness of our friendship starts to wear off, so does their awareness of our allergies. They can become forgetful. They have good intentions but they simply don't live in this state of awareness that we do.

I have to extend them some grace. The same grace that I have to give to myself when I am feeling less than eager to read another label or cook another new meal. I understand that I can get tired of being different. It's to be expected really. Others will feel the same way. They will be tired of having to be alert and aware around us. They will accidentally forget certain things about our medical issues. And in those moments, I can respond in grace and provide gentle reminders.

There are going to be times when I feel less alert and when others experience forgetfulness. A food allergy parent must continue to persevere even when it's tiresome and it just gets so very old to live this way. In those moments I have to look at Bee and I'm quickly reminded that it's all worth it.

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