Just shy of my 17th birthday, I was in my car with my mother drinking yogurt peanuts that were sold everywhere as a "healthier" alternative to chocolate. We were eager to swallow a quarter of the pack when I started to cough from nowhere. I felt I had to clear my throat, but I could not; it became itchy, tight and sore. My face and throat also began to swell; I felt bad and shuddering. Fortunately, after taking the antihistamine my mother advised, the symptoms started to slow down slowly. At that time I did not know it, but I had my first very allergic reactions. After the reaction, I was shocked and confused. I have always ate peanuts and never had a problem ̵
The doctor called me to explain my diagnosis and anaphylaxis, and he prescribed a set of two epinephrine pens (EpiPens). I had not suggested any advice on the psychological impact of this type of diagnosis or how and when to use EpiPens. It was as if someone had thrown me to the deep end of the local pool without first asking if I could swim instead of expecting to know how to stay on the surface and survive alone. The diagnosis was extremely difficult. It even took me years to turn to an allergist, despite the severity of my allergy.
Even so, initially I was pretty weak for my condition. I naively thought this would not change my life. I never figured out how far the consequences of this diagnosis are. But things slowly changed. When I was 19, I had a bad reaction to food that had to be safe for me to eat – a chocolate cake I ordered from a café. A 21-year mark I trusted for had to recall the product because it accidentally contained peanut butter and did not list it on the packaging. It shook me in my heart, for I had not even realized that such mistakes could occur.
I began to see the food as a fear of this monster. The thought that I can take a bite of food and as a result I have a fatal allergic reaction is chasing me.
As a result of these two factors, my diet became extremely limited. I was worrying about food more and I began to see food as a fear of this monster. The thought that I can eat meals, and as a result I have a fatal allergic reaction, chased me. I began to develop the onset of an eating disorder. I was terrified to eat. When I sought support from a dietitian, I was told that this type of anxiety is extremely common in people with food allergies, as well as fear of food and limited diets.
First, only when I ate dinner, my anxiety really took control, which made me afraid to eat. Over time this anxiety grew and reached the point where I did not even drink a cup of coffee while I was in horror of cross-contamination. When I order in a restaurant, I will say that I have an allergy, but even so, I will sit there and become more anxious as I wait for my order. It was hard for me to trust restaurants and cafes when they said food was safe for me.
For the outside world it probably did not seem like something was wrong, but my food allergy had a serious impact on my mental health.
And my anxiety only worsened. I found it extremely difficult to eat food that other people prepared for me to the point where I did not even like to eat in my own parents' house. This also burdened my relationship with them and my friends, because the anxiety I suffered from meant that I was confined to my social activities.
For the outside world, it probably did not seem like something was wrong, but my food allergy had a serious impact on my mental health.
If my girlfriends were having dinner at home, I'd be too eager to go. Or if I had planned a lunch, I would have been desperate to go see them, but for fear of having an allergic reaction, I would not have eaten. This overwhelms my relationship with them. They felt I was too worried and felt they did not understand.
I knew I had a problem, but I did not know how to fix it. The point was that my anxiety was based on a very real concern – an allergic reaction – and I could not see the past. The algal with peanuts and walnuts can be extremely dangerous – a bite of food with traces of nuts in it or the use of a product containing walnut oil can lead to anaphylaxis which, if not treated promptly, can be fatal. My allergist told me he can not tell how severe the allergy is, but it is crucial to know that each reaction is different. A reaction may simply lead to the need for antihistamines, while another may lead to anaphylaxis and travel to the hospital. Although most of my reactions did not require hospitalization, it can not be said whether the next allergic reaction can. I carry EpiPens, inhaler and strong antihistamines as prescribed by my allergist; I also have a medical note and an anaphylaxis warning card. My allergy is life-threatening, but not every reaction will be, and it's hard to understand.
One area that can be difficult to navigate is the workplace. I am lucky to work remotely from home – partly because of the career I chose to go down and partly because remote work makes it easier to manage my allergies. If you do not live with a life-threatening food allergy, you do not understand how easily a reaction can occur.
My allergy is life-threatening, but not every reaction will be, and that's hard to understand.
I heard terrible stories about colleagues who brought nuts to work as a healthy breakfast, eat them, not wash their hands, and then scatter walnut particles all over the office. Leaders can ask team members to remember their colleague with an allergy, but the reality is that it's easy to forget to wash your hands or eat certain foods while you're at work. The same applies to the educational environment. Only during the last six months I had two allergic reactions during my studies at the Master's degree campus. One of these reactions was a sandwich, which in my opinion was crossed with loose nuts in the kitchen handles, and I still do not know the reason for the other.
Dating is another area I've fought before. For almost seven years I have been dealing with my current partner and fortunately he's fantastic with my allergy. He is understood, caring and just as revealed as I am. However, before I met him, I met other people, and that could sometimes be complicated due to my allergy. My dates for dating were before my extreme allergic anxiety, which made things a little easier. However, there is nothing more uncomfortable than having a first date and having to look at the topic of kissing early so that your date can not order the food to which you are allergic. This is something I have always found difficult and difficult to navigate.
At 22, after four years of living with my allergy, I found a network of people in an online support group with which I can share my concerns. Finding people who understand what I'm experiencing was crucial to my recovery. These groups have slowly reshaped my mental health and helped me to learn how to deal with my food allergy. What I found when I joined these groups was that the food allergy worry was extremely common and how I felt perfectly normal. Though this fact did not determine my mental health, it reinforced the fact that it is good to be afraid. While I was thinking of seeking help from a mental health professional, nobody at the local level has supported food allergy anxiety until my allergist and nutritionist has been able to provide this support. you need to talk about kissing early so you do not order food to which you are allergic.
Nine years have passed since my diagnosis and I am currently under the care of an allergist and dietitian. I see them twice a year for examinations, skin tests and blood tests. They provide me with information about any allergic issues I have, discuss new management techniques, and make sure I feel comfortable using EpiPens and other medicines. The availability of this support system helps. However, I still navigate how to fight my daily anxiety.
I learned to rule it by remembering where and what I eat. I do not eat things they say "may contain", on the advice of my allergist. I always call restaurants before I eat there to make sure they can safely feed me. I realize that the people I am with are aware of my allergy and where my medication is behaving and what to do in case of an allergic reaction. When I feel like I'm worried when I eat, I try to get along.
I learned to be more relaxed when I was out and after running a successful blog that covered local restaurant and bar reviews, I was often invited to visit a restaurant and bar or browse new menus. I was able to see how extremely fitting are most places. I got tours with a kitchen and showed how allergens are being run in the commercial kitchens, which helped to fight my fears further.
I'm grateful that my life is no longer dictated by my allergy. Of course, I still struggle sometimes, but now I'm in a much better place and I want to help others get to this place. I hope to continue to connect with other people with food allergies who fight mental health while learning more about anxiety management and awareness raising.
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