Finding friends who understand your food allergy is every bit as hard as explaining it to those who don’t. It’s also just as important.
I was sitting among friends at my church youth group. The lesson was starting and the leader speaking that night wanted to demonstrate a point in the subject by using fortune cookies. I saw everyone taking one from the box and handing them down the line. I instantly tensed up, my internal gluten alert/wheat alert blaring like a siren.
The box of fortune cookies reached the student sitting to my left, and she handed it to me. I told her I couldn’t take one because of my food allergies. She told me simply that I didn’t have to eat it. Of course, if that had been the only issue, I wouldn’t be writing this, but I had to tell her my allergies were so serious I couldn’t unwrap the fortune cookie.
So the box went to the next person.
And she offered to unwrap it for me. ❤️
For a moment, I was so taken aback I didn’t say anything. No one – and I mean no one, outside my immediate family – had ever been sensitive enough to my food allergies to offer something like that. Right then, it was the kindest thing a friend had ever done for me.
(P.S. I washed my hands after the lesson anyway. 😉)
End of story? Well, no. Because it helped me realize a critical truth in learning to thrive with food allergies. A support group is necessary. Because of that instance, I now have a friend in that circle who knows, at least for the most part, the seriousness of my allergy. Also in that group is a friend who has to avoid gluten completely. That may be only two people, but it’s still a support group. And it still helps me to feel a little less isolated.
That’s the driving force of what I want to do. As a teen, I know how isolating food allergies can be. I also know it affects others even more than it affects me. One study showed that teens with food allergies are more likely to suffer depression.
It’s possible to thrive with allergies. It may not be easy, and it may pull us out of our comfort zone to educate people, but it’s possible, and that’s what counts.
HOW TO FIND A SUPPORT GROUP
I was fortunate enough to get involved with a group of mostly homeschooled teens through my youth group. They’ve been my biggest source of support, not because they all understand severe food allergies, but because they help me to get out, make friends, and feel like I’m involved in something good and exciting. And the structure of the group is such that I’ve been able to stay safe. However, there are other ways to find (or form) a support group.
One way is online, through places like this. I would encourage you to share your story on this blog, as much as you are comfortable with. Link arms with people going through the same thing you are. Feeling alone is the fastest way to depression.
You’re not alone. And someone doesn’t have to suffer from food allergies to be able to support you, as I learned from that one act of unexpected kindness.
I can’t stress the importance of a support structure, outside your family at that. No matter where you are, or how much you learn to thrive, food allergies will always limit you. Surround yourself with people who understand that and the sting of those restrictions will hurt a little less.
Family should be your biggest support group, but not your only one. You’re going to be entering situations your whole life that require you to protect yourself, and there’s no better time to raise awareness for serious allergies. But there are times you want to be able to talk to someone who just gets it. Whether from personal experience or not, you know they understand what you go through. And that’s a valuable source of support.