Just as with any major change or loss in life, we all go through the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The development and discovery of food allergies can be a big blow to any lifestyle and diet. When we began our adventures with food allergy avoidance, our journey was not smooth, but learning to identify the stage we were in and overcoming the grief was as important as identifying the allergy itself.
Denial: The day we learned of DR’s egg allergy, my stomach dropped. How could he be allergic to eggs? I had never heard of this as an allergen. No one else in our family had this allergy. He had been eating egg products for months. He loved cheesy scrambled eggs. Besides, our pediatrician said his eczema was due to environmental factors like trees, grass, weather, etc. They only reluctantly referred us to the allergen because they did not believe he had a food allergy. I was so confused and just could not believe that this was happening to him, to us, to ME! I loved eggs and could not imagine a world without them. I was pretty much stuck in the stage for a while. Even now I find myself sliding back into the denial mindset at times when all I want to do is order an omelet or a waffle. I am at times tempted to just slip him some benadryl and hand him a cupcake anyway. Once his reaction begins, though, I know without a doubt that this is real. This is his life, our life, MY life.
Anger: Once I realize that this is our life, this anger swells up inside. Why is this happening to my child? Why is this happening to ME? What did I do to deserve this? At times I get trapped in this stage and find myself ranting. I get angry at the world for not being more understanding, angry at family and friends for not being as angry as I am, angry at myself for not being able to end this. The anger eats at me, tearing away any resolve I may have had in order to combat the food allergy. Anger sometimes causes me to make mistakes. For instance, I was so wrapped up in a comment made by a friend about how much my child inconveniences get-togethers, that I was careless in packing my son’s lunch. Had it not been for the careful eye of his teachers my child could have eaten a food item he isn’t allowed. That was a huge wake-up call for me.
Bargaining: As I learn to cope with DR’s food allergies, I find myself slacking at times. During these periods of time, I am over the amount of time that goes into preparing for meals. Typically, a grocery store trip takes me 2-3 hours due to having to read all ingredient list several times. When I’m feeling pressed for time, I sometimes skip reading items I have seen before or getting items that say “May be processed on equipment with peanuts and eggs.” I got lazy and stopped reading the ingredients of some of DR’s favorite Kroger brand fruit bars. I figured this was worth the gamble. It nearly cost us DR. Within a month’s time the company started using eggs in their bars. We were lucky his reaction was only hives, but I have since learned that there is no easy way out of this mess.
Depression: This is probably the most difficult stage for me. I have tangled with this stage many times. I catch myself thinking that this may very well be how our lives are forever: constantly worrying that something will happen, that someone will be careless. In these moments, I want to hug my son closer, never let him go, and stay locked up at home away from everyone. This is craziness, I know, but the dangers lurking around every corner are enough to drive anyone to tears.
Acceptance: This stage has been more difficult for me to grasp. As you will probably learn from other blog posts, I am a fighter and a pusher. I believe in advocating for anyone who cannot do it for himself. I work to protect my son by calling ahead to any restaurant, event, or party we may go to in order to see what options are available. I learned to cook (somewhat) and bake in order to know what he is eating. I prepare all friends, family, teachers, and sitters for what he needs and what responsibilities they have. However, the other stages can bog me down, and I forget everything I’ve already learned. What I have found is that taking care of myself and finding practical strategies to cope will not only help me, but my son as well in the long run. I recently came across an amazing blog post detailing the Top 4 Tips* for coping with food allergy stress. These are simple strategies and take very little time or effort.
As with anything else, life with food allergies is fluid and always changing. Remembering to take care of yourself is important and be the factor you need to turn everything around.
*Permission granted by Emma W. to link to “Feeling Stressed? Top 4 Tips :)”