Food allergies can be difficult to manage. They can make life harder than it really has to be.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
However, it's important to embrace your differences and accept yourself for who you are. There's nothing wrong with being different. Don’t be afraid or hesitant to tell your friends about your food allergies. They can help you if you are struggling. Though food allergies can make us feel vulnerable, we overcome these obstacles by speaking up for ourselves. ⠀
Read Jackie's food allergy story about how she developed a positive mindset from managing this intolerance. We are also happy to announce that Jackie will be joining our team as an Alan Ambassador.
I was 13 years old when I was diagnosed with an allergy to cashew nuts. I remember eating a capsicum flavored dip at a friend’s place when I felt an awful, itchy sensation in my mouth. Soon after eating it, I experienced stomach cramping and vomiting. At the time, my family and I had never been exposed to food allergy before, so we thought it was a virus. However, after a similar episode a few months later, my mum (a nurse) considered it could be a food allergy. She identified a potential correlating culprit in the foods reacted adversely to- cashews. I saw an allergist, had a skin prick test, and was prescribed an adrenaline auto-injector. At the time, I did not consider my diagnosis as a burden. I actually felt a sense of relief as I now had an explanation for the uncomfortable episodes I experienced. In my mind, all I had to do was avoid cashews. This should be easy, right?
Yet, in the following years, I found myself with more questions than answers. How do I explain my need to be cautious around food to my friends? How likely is it that I will experience anaphylaxis? What if I have a reaction at school? Can I travel overseas? How do I navigate eating out, dating, going to work, and starting university? I get a similar sensation when I eat honey- am I allergic to that now, too?
When I was 19, I decided to fulfill my dream of traveling around Europe. For the most part, it was an incredible trip. To my naivety, explaining my allergy several times a day for six months was exhausting (albeit, resilience building). Towards the end of my trip, I experienced an anaphylactic reaction. After this event, I endured anxiety around food. This anxiety lingered for the subsequent months, including when I arrived home.
When I settled back into my normal life and routine, I declined invitations to parties, meetups, and celebrations. I even imagined I would never go overseas again and doubted my ability to travel within Australia. While I felt safe avoiding events and experiences where food was involved, I soon felt intensely isolated. While my avoidant behaviors reinforced a sense of safety, they also intensified my fear of eating out. Eventually, I decided I had to change my behavior and perspective- and I haven’t looked back since.
I began to search online for other people experiencing what I was going through. I came across Allergy Anaphylaxis Australia, an advocacy body for people with allergic disease. They were pivotal in my journey of empowering myself and sharing my story to help others in the food allergy community. I started to find a voice and purpose amongst the challenges of allergic disease that consumed my life. I reached out and talked to my local member of parliament, I spoke at events, I seized every opportunity to educate my friends, family, and individuals in the community about food allergy.
Through talking about my experiences and learning about what others go through with their food allergies, my confidence grew. I started eating out again, dating and traveling. Instead of allergies consuming my life and becoming the protagonist, my allergies became a subplot in my life. Instead of standing back and denying myself of opportunities such as travel, I started to ask myself “how can I safely make this work, despite my allergies?” Living with a food allergy means I am always learning and thinking of other ways of approaching experiences. I started to perceive my allergies as an achievable obstacle to manage, rather than an impenetrable wall that denied a fulfilling life.
Having a food allergy has made me more confident, organized, empathetic, patient, accepting, positive, and creative (think of all the new recipes!)
When I was 21, I remember experiencing a momentous moment where I realized that I didn’t feel restricted by my allergies. Instead, I reflected on what I had learned from them. While I don’t associate myself as “an allergic individual”, I also couldn’t imagine my life without my allergies. Having a food allergy has shaped so many aspects of my formative years. Of course, there have been some setbacks. I have read comments under articles on social media which have made horrible statements about individuals with food allergy. I have received eye-rolls when eating out. I have been asked, “why would you travel with that?” (“that” being my food allergy, by the way…). These unfortunate circumstances pose an opportunity for growth. The adverse comments hurt but accepting that not everyone will “get it” is important. You have a choice to change the restaurant you eat at, whom you surround yourself with, and the time you spend thinking about a nasty comment.
Recently, I was out to lunch with my sister and mum just as restrictions lifted from COVID-19 in Sydney. I ordered a simple meal for myself- eggs on toast. I explained my allergy and asked the lovely waitress if she could pass the message on to whoever was preparing my meal. I mentioned checking the bread, too (please). When my meal arrived, she assured me the chef had checked the bread and that my meal was prepared separately and safely. Perfect. My older sister gleamed at me and said, “you were so clear and confident just then…communicating your allergy. Nice job.”
I smiled and responded, “lots of practice.” When being strong and confident is the only choice you have to be involved in and of the world- strong and confident is what you will become.