I am 16 years old and through my journey of living with multiple severe allergies, I have experienced many cases of bullying. It is so difficult to get people to understand that those with food allergies are not hypochondriacs, that this is very real. We are not brainwashed by our parents into thinking we can die from our allergies, we can die, plain and simple.
While such deaths are fortunately rare, this is largely because we think ahead and take special precautions, such as avoiding our allergens, reading every food label and carrying epinephrine in case of accidental exposure. Our allergens are all around us every day, so it is these actions that keep us healthy and out of the hospital.
Before I explain about the bullying, let me tell you about my severe allergies and the effect they have had on my life. At 8 years old, I almost died from one of my many allergies (to fish), after suffering a severe reaction and a traumatic secondary (or biphasic) reaction. Later, I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTS) from this experience, as well as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
My mother tried different things to help ease my PTS: I would listen to music, sing, and my mother would massage me and I would make a check list so I could reason with myself. I did and do have a lot to handle: asthma and eczema as well as allergies to tree nuts, peanuts, fish, shellfish, all legumes, bananas, kiwi and spinach. Plus, I also get exercise- and heat-induced reactions.
Bullying from Parents and Peers
With my mother’s help, the OCD improved slowly, but then the bullying began. Some kids would chase me around with their hands up chanting, “I ate peanut butter!” I began to feel anxious and unsafe in my own school.
But peers weren’t the only issue. When I was in Grade 3, the parents of my school community held a meeting. The topic? Whether I should be removed from the school. The parents said my needs, which included avoiding bringing my allergens into the classroom, would inconvenience their children and dip into the school’s funds. Some argued that if I was “that sick” I should be home-schooled.
My mother, Pamela, stood strong in front of the room of angry and confused parents and tried to make them realize that allergies aren’t a lifestyle choice, they are real and very scary. She told them my story, and asked them for their help in keeping me safe, saying that if it were their children in this position, our family would be the first in line to help.
Her words caused several people to stop and think. After the meeting, many of the people apologized to my mother, now understanding a little more about food allergies and anaphylaxis and my situation. However, there were still those who were not happy about me attending their kids’ school.
Next: After the worst, finding strength