Food allergies isolate children and their families. That’s the truth. It’s painful, difficult and defeating all in the same moment. Those are pretty powerful emotions for a child or adult to feel in one concentrated burst, often daily. Children with food allergies have a difficult time participating in all the activities that other children take for granted. Fun childhood experiences like trick or treating, birthday parties, summer camps, Easter egg hunts, Vacation Bible School, and pizza parties at school are not carefree fun for children with food allergies.
They always have to be on alert, keeping their guard up for whatever their poison is: peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, egg, soy, fish, shellfish, wheat and a myriad of other foods.
Be aware that what is an American classic treat, ice cream, could be death for some. We consider our allergens poison because we know they can kill us. It’s hard to get excited about an ice cream party when ice cream is your worst nightmare. Seeing your siblings get excited to have the food that could kill you is a lonely place to be.
And it’s not just the person with food allergies that feels isolated. It’s the entire family. It’s the Mom or Dad of a food allergy child that has to be persistent and aggressive to keep her/his child safe, often to the point of losing friends or being shunned because we are a little “crazy about food allergies.” It’s also the brother or sister of a food allergy child that unfortunately has to skip events, sacrificially, because it’s not safe for the entire family. Who wants to leave their sibling behind, sad and left out, while you go enjoy the party? It’s also the grandparents that have to constantly be alert when their food allergic grandchild is around, upsetting some because of the restrictions that must be in place for the child. Traditions sometimes have to be broken: “Sorry, can’t have boiled peanuts this year at our gathering!”
There is a constant, underlying level of anxiety present when you have food allergies. Social norms are not the norm for us. We are different. We are mocked. We are bullied. We are talked about. How could you not have anxiety when the same food that the world is in love with could kill you? The same food that parties are planned around causes a violent reaction in your body with just a trace. You give up so much that others take for granted. There’s no denying the loneliness of food allergies. So many people just don’t understand and don’t even care to.
But don’t give up hope just yet! There are people that care, that want to help. Cherish them, thank them, return their kindness every chance you get. There are angels that were once bound by food allergies that are now free from that pain and are watching over us. Food allergy kids and adults are resilient. They live through tough days and still smile. They appreciate small acts of kindness with more depth than many. When so many people ignore their plight, the one that shows concern erases away the ones that don’t. It’s the kind of “special” one feels when Jesus leaves the 99 to recover you, the one lost sheep.
Loved, important, wanted.