Sunday, September 8, 2013

"Can't You Take a (Food Allergy) Joke?"

Somewhere along the way in this 18 year journey, I lost my sense of humor.

I know this is not news to any of you. After all, the "bitch" is right there in the title.

Still, I'm reminded of the loss every time I look at the web statistics for this blog. The web stats include a list of search terms people use to find my articles. Know what one of my top search phrases is?

"Food allergies are fake."

I also get lots of hits from "food allergies overblown", "food allergies exaggerated", "crazy food allergy moms", "nutty food allergy parent" - you get the idea. Any time I look at my web statistics, I get a little reminder of how much hate is floating around out there for kids with this particular medical condition.

The articles that match those search terms though (like this one) mostly defend food allergy parents. It makes me wonder what the people who find my page that way do next. Do they read the article? Or do they wander off looking for another place on the web where they can hone their hate with other people who believe food allergies are imaginary/a pain in the ass (we know!)/the latest flavor of special snowflake-hood?

If you follow them down the rabbit-hole and challenge them on their hatred, eventually you get some version of "geez, can't you take a joke?" Well, no. Unfortunately, I've forgotten how. Explain to me again how funny it is that my son has to grapple with the logistics and fear that comes from a food allergy...and then, on top of it, has to pretend that the bullying doesn't matter to him.

There are days I think how did we as a community get to this place and I'm absolutely overwhelmed by the thought that it will never get better. Food allergies will be forever polarized and my son will always have to fear that one teacher/waitress/boss who buys into food allergies being fake and therefore is just a little (or a lot) less careful than he or she needs to be to keep my son safe.

Because that's the reality: unless he goes through life eating only food he himself prepares, he will need to trust people. When half the population doesn't believe in food allergies (to the point that people are taking the time to search for phrases like "I HATE FOOD ALLERGY KIDS"), how well-placed is that trust?

There was a great article in Slate a while back about the dangers of loneliness. A phrase jumped out at me:
In terms of human interactions...the key is in the quality, not the quantity of those people. We just need several on whom we can depend and who depend on us in return.
With food allergies, it's all about quantity. It's about every person who touches my son's food, or schedules an event involving food, or who makes a choice to support him (or not). It takes all of them  even the ones who are actively spending their time searching for others who hate food allergy kids as much as they do.

A little further down in the Slate article, I saw this:
When we are lonely, we lose impulse control and engage in what scientists call “social evasion.” We become less concerned with interactions and more concerned with self-preservation. Evolutionary psychologists speculate that loneliness triggers our basic, fight vs. flight survival mechanisms, and we stick to the periphery, away from people we do not know if we can trust.
Ouch. The food allergy periphery. Choosing never to eat out. Choosing to avoid social events that involve food. Choosing not to share information about a food allergy with others because of the fear of ridicule. 

I see the haters. Even when I don't look for them in my blog stats, they're there, in my peripheral vision. Where is the magical line between safety and loneliness? 


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