Tuesday, March 20, 2012

My Perfect Comfort Zone

I'm a bitch. I admit it. (It's right up there in the masthead if you look.)

When it comes to food allergies, I seem to have a little judging voice in the back of my head. The one that says things like:
Are you KIDDING me? The kid has 20 allergies? That cannot be possible.

Four episodes of anaphylaxis this year? Clearly they're using that Epi-Pen for panic attacks.

You're not going to let your kid go to a birthday party? Are you going to keep him away from the supermarket, school and the workplace too?

Anaphylaxis to airborne peanuts on an airplane? Really?

You see, I have a perfect comfort zone. I know everything there is to know about allergies. Don't you?

Some of the cruelest comments I've ever heard about food allergies have come from other mothers with food-allergic children. When our comfort zone is threatened, man, the claws come out! So why do we do it?

I think it's because we believe our comfort zone sits smack between two really untenable options:



We have to believe that our unique set of precautions will be in that magical middle ground. It's also natural that we would defend that middle ground, since the stakes are so high.

To complicate things, there are a LOT of people in the world who think they have an IgE-mediated food allergy, but who do not. There's no gold standard to tease out these people. Even allergists can have difficulty diagnosing some allergies, and cell-mediated intolerances can be very debilitating.

It matters because people take food allergies less seriously when the community is full of perceived "fakers." On the other hand, because we all have different needs, symptoms, triggers and thresholds, we can all look like fakers to someone else whose formative experiences have been different than ours.

In the end, it's easy to end up lonely, even surrounded by other parents of children with allergies. Their flavor of allergic response can be so different that it's hard to find common ground. Contact reactions or just ingestion. Hives or no hives. Single allergens vs. a host of allergens. Exquisite trigger threshold vs. no problem with minor cross-contamination. Each of these responses changes completely the choices we make to deal with our kids and the world around them. There are millions of children with food allergies, yet each of them has a unique condition.

I hope I'm becoming less judgmental as I move through this journey. It's easier to let go of judgment when I acknowledge the fear that's behind it. And, for those days when I run into a parent who's actually bitchier than me, I keep a little sign around:


What's the nastiest thing someone's ever said to you? Add it to the comments!

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