We’re at the end of Food Allergy Awareness Week 2017; I’ve found myself both thankful for the media coverage and increasingly aggravated by it. As someone dedicated to educating and advocating, I love knowing that the general population – those untouched by food allergies – is learning about them through this news coverage. However, I have a grown weary of the use of these phrases in the majority of news reports about food allergies:
Food allergy sufferers
Those who suffer from food allergies
Why? Because in my forty-mumble-years of living on this earth, ten of them post-massive-reaction just shy of my son’s first birthday, I’ve learned something that I think is at once incredibly simplistic and profound. It is this: How we frame our words – whether written, spoken, or simply thought – dictates how we respond to any given situation. I’ve seen through the past ten years of living with multiple life-threatening allergies how true this is.
Let me be clear. Food allergies have caused me anxiety, fearful moments, and moments of near-panic. They have caused my son to experience exclusion and eating mainly at home – when we do eat out at one of the handful of “safe places” his menu choices are limited, but he is “used to it, Mom,” and I know that while he’s “used to it,” it still feels restrictive and yucky for his eleven year-old self.
Those things, though, are the exceptions rather than the rule, and to be honest, I just don’t see that this kind of living would require the heavy label of suffering. I refuse to let my son know that he “suffers from food allergies” for fear he would carry that label with him and allow himself to be victimized.
It’s taken me a long time to get to this point, but I would love to reframe this conversation into one that talks about “living with food allergies,” or labels “allergic individuals” (see also: Why I don’t call my son an allergy kid). Despite my own hesitance, I want desperately to teach my son to LIVE a full life with these food allergies knowing they are often restrictive and can be an inconvenience, but it’s a medical diagnosis that rarely causes true suffering.
For Food Allergy Awareness Week 2017, I have determined to commit myself again to frame my words that help me model a positive, full life for my son who happens to have food allergies. Here are the lessons I want him to learn from watching me as I help him frame his perspective of life with – or without – food allergies:
Never take things for granted.
Embrace life and live it to its fullest.
Always read labels and ask questions whether at home, a friend’s house, or a restaurant.
Be prepared to provide safe food for himself knowing that someone else may not be able to do so … and that is okay.
Be his own advocate.
Take all precautions necessary to minimize risk of accidental exposure.
Express gratitude, especially when someone is trying to accommodate his allergies.
Treat others as he wants others to treat him.
Do all of this, and more, with a good (and grateful) attitude.
Food allergies don’t have to be a lifelong sentence for suffering. But they can be a valuable vehicle to learn how to be aware – for yourself and others – and that can make all the difference in the world for living a full life. This is my commitment. Life is too short to live any other way.