Allergic To Everything
AKA- Keep Calm and Don’t Forget Your Epipen
I'm out at a restaurant for my best friend's birthday, and the waiter approaches to take everyone's order. My friends are excited because they get to see me do my "routine," also known as the monologue I give every waiter about my many, many allergies.
It's my turn to order. I take a deep breath, big smile. "Hi... so I have a ton of severe food allergies. I'm wondering if I can order this (insert generic fish and vegetable dish)? I'm anaphylactic to dairy, eggs, nuts and shellfish, so I'm just wondering how the dish is prepared... what's in the sauce? Is it cooked on the grill with anything else? Can I see an ingredient list?" And so on. I'm pretty well rehearsed by now. It's a bit, keeps the dinner entertaining.
I think this is the conventional view of the allergic life- the high maintenance restaurant orders and the occasional use of a puffer. I won the allergy lottery, so to speak, in that I have numerous severe food and environmental allergies and several other co-morbid conditions- asthma, eczema, and alopecia. Get at me, boys.
I’m anaphylactic to dairy, eggs, nuts and shellfish (my allergist once told me I have the worst dairy allergy she had ever seen). Essentially this means if I ingest any of these foods I’ll break out in full body hives and swelling, I experience breathing problems, and my throat begins to close. I carry an Epipen with me at all times, and all of my coat pockets have a few Benadryl rolling around in them, just in case. I’m also allergic to animals, dust, and latex, but these aren’t as life threatening.
In terms of other health conditions, my asthma basically means that sometimes my lungs aren’t that great at being lungs. I also have incredibly dry skin and extremely small hands and feet as a result of childhood steroid medications. Oh, yeah, andthen there’s the bald spots.
When I was in the second grade, my mom noticed a round bald spot on the top of my head. I was diagnosed with alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease where you immune system attacks healthy hair follicles. It can co-occur with allergies. It got wild when I hit puberty-- I lost about a quarter of the hair on my head, which I attempted to cover with scarves and by colouring them in with eyeshadow. The spots are about the size of a toonie, and to this day, I lose patches of hair at random or after stressful events.
I grew up very conscientious- I think you kind of have to be when the world is kind of trying to kill you. I've had people make jokes about how ugly my hands are, jokingly try to feed me dairy, talk about how gross my food looks- allergies set you up for a weird life because I'm a healthy gal except sometimes my body decides to atomic bomb itself.
When you have as many allergies as I do, you start to think of life as an iceberg- there’s the parts of life that people see, but there’s also a huge amount of health management that goes on under the surface. For example ,throughout my childhood, I was responsible for sorting and counting my pills every Sunday night. I still take drugs twice daily. Growing up, I could only eat at two restaurants, McDonald's and Swiss Chalet (shout-out to the Quarter Chicken Dinner), and I didn't stay in a hotel until I was seventeen years old.
Every stage of life has had new challenges and things I’ve had to learn. When I went to university, I was super nervous about how I was ever going to get laid. find true love with all my allergies. Who was going to want to date the weird allergic girl with all the bald spots? Would I be able to use latex condoms? How do I tell a guy that he needs to brush his teeth before we kiss? I remember sitting in my family doctor's office trying to get birth control pills for the first time and watching him flip through his drug encyclopedia saying, "this one has dairy, this one has dairy, this one has dairy..." Plot twist: they all had dairy in them, which means I’d never be able to use birth control pills.
For a long time, I felt wholly defined and constricted by my allergies. I was bitter about things I couldn’t do and things I’ve had to give up. These days, I consider them a part of me, but they’re not the most important thing about me. They’ve shaped me in important ways- I tend to look on the humorous side of life, which you kind of have to do when your ass gets covered in hives on a semi-regular basis. I’ve also had to face a lot of my ownbullshit- I’ve had to choose whether I’m going to accept who I am and live the best possible life, or whether I’m going to use my allergies as an excuse for not pursuing my dreams. I think everyone has their challenges in life and I’ve been pretty lucky to learn so much from mine.