Food Allergy: Teens Talk About It
GS: How have allergies affected the person you are?
Gardner: They’ve made me more responsible. I always describe it as
the Grim Reaper hanging over my shoulder; that’s ironic and dark, I
guess, but they’ve made me more responsible, staying away from
alcohol and drugs, knowing that that stuff can take you out of your
mind, make you more of a daredevil. I could have seen myself being
more of a crazy kid, even though I’m a bit of a nerd in school.
Julia: It’s made me more outgoing – because I have to tell people I’m
allergic. I have to tell them properly, and not be mean about it. I
know better than to say, “I could die, don’t eat that!” Usually it
starts if someone asks if I want something, and I’ll just say, ‘I’m
allergic to milk’. They’ll ask: ‘What happens?” I’ll tell them the
symptoms, that I could die, and mention all the stuff with milk in
it. They’re really blown away that – chocolate, ice cream – I can’t
eat any of it.
Dylan: I’m definitely more cautious about what I eat.
David: That’s a given, but you are more aware of other people who not
only have allergies, but other diseases, issues. You can be more
empathetic. So – ‘I have an allergy, I can understand what you’re
going through with diabetes’ – that type of thing. But I don’t really
see myself as very different from anyone who doesn’t have allergies.
Gardner: I just wanted to add another effect on me: A lot of kids
used to try to pick on me. I had enough one day, probably about Grade
2, so I just beat the crap out of some kid who was older than me.
Someone else was trying that again two years later, and I beat the
crap out of him. It also happened at lacrosse camp, some kid yelled
something at me, so I knocked him. I became a little tyrant from
about Grades 1 to 5 and then cooled down once I hit Grade 7.
GS: Were you angry because people teased you about your allergies?
Gardner: Yeah. I felt, ‘I’ve never done anything to you to deserve
this, so what gives you the right to do this to me?’ I just sort of
lashed back in the only way that I knew how. Of course, I got
detentions for about two weeks for each one. But they never bothered
DEALING WITH FRIENDS
AM: You all say that your close friends know about allergies. Do they
Gardner: I’ve explained it to a few people, but a lot of people just
don’t get the concept.
Jason: I’ve tried to explain that I could shake your hand and later,
eating something on my own, have a reaction. But I’m not sure they
Pat: This is related: Jason and I have been good friends since we
were little. I’ve always known about his allergies so I rarely eat
peanuts, and I never, ever make a peanut butter sandwich.
GS: Interesting. Jason, are your friends protective of you?
Jason: Oh yeah. Because I don’t get along with everybody. I’ve had a
person say, ‘I’m going to go buy a peanut butter sandwich right now,
so I can rub it in your face’. In elementary school, that happened on
the bus and that kid was suspended. In high school, a similar
situation happened. And I didn’t even know that, after it happened,
three of my friends found this guy in the parking lot and, uh, there
was an exchange of words. He’s never done it since.
GS: Was the threat serious?
Jason: The guy’s kind of weird, I wouldn’t have put it past him. But
I think he was just trying to get attention. So my friends did stand
up for me.
AM: Dylan, what’s the extent of your friends’ knowledge about your allergies?
Dylan: This year, the majority of my friends know. They’ll ask: ‘this
may contain peanuts’, and I’ll say, ‘just eat it away from me’ and
wash your hands. That’s how it goes.
David: I’m fortunate to be in a program where there are only 60 kids
I hang out with, and it’s for the next four years. They all know
about my allergies. Most of them are pretty inquisitive – What is
anaphylaxis? What can happen, what can they do? A lot of my friends
abstain from eating peanuts. Soy is another issue, though. The
concept is beyond them.
[Mentions that soy is ubiquitous as a food filler.]
AM: You’ve had reactions?
David: I had one when I was 2 and another when I was 6 or 7, both of
which I remember vividly. Both to peanuts. Then in Grade 3, I drank a
whole glass of soy milk – I got severe asthma, started to get hives,
starting to lose consciousness. It was pretty bad.”
AM: Julia, do you get annoyed with people who keep asking, what do you eat?
Julia: I do sometimes because I’ll get it from my really good
friends. And I always get: ‘I feel bad for you.’ And I hate that.
It’s my problem, and I don’t want to seem mean, but it’s so annoying
to get – ‘I feel bad for you.’
Jason: I can see how it gets annoying. I don’t really mind when
people are asking me about it [allergies] because I’d rather they
know. But if everyone just starts panicking about, ‘ohmigod, Jason’s
gonna die,’ it’s kind of the wrong attitude.
Gardner: Friends are probably just being over-careful. I know that if
it was one of my friends [with anaphylaxis], I’d probably feel pretty
bad if I had to put him in the hospital.