Thursday, February 20, 2014

How to Cope With Allergies Part 1: Coping IS Possible!

I was recently asked, okay BEGGED would be a better term, to do a blog series on how I coped with my children's allergies, in particular how I coped with a garlic allergy as the blog reader who e-mailed me the request, her son was recently diagnosed with one and she was having a hard time with the entire experience.

On the forth e-mail from her, I relented and thought that this would be a good chance to explain, real world style, how I personally coped with allergies and try to help those who are newly diagnosed try to get a little grounding in their shifting universe. 

So, here we go.  How to cope with allergies step one. 

Look! Big Friendly Letters!
 1.  Don't Panic...Okay, Panic, but Not TOO Much!
I know, when you find out your child, or you, are allergic to garlic or corn and you get the handouts from the allergist or the recommendations for dietary changes from your doctor, it can be overwhelming.  And then you start reading through the paperwork and go, "Oh, well this isn't so bad.  I can do this."  Oh, how little we know then.

And then you go home, you sit down at the computer and start looking stuff up or you start reading nutrition labels.  And then you start hyperventilating and feel the room start to swim when you realize that, no, it isn't easy and how in the world are you going to cope with this?

For instance, when my son was diagnosed with the garlic allergy, I thought, "Oh, well this can't be too hard to figure out.  I mean, garlic can't be in too much."  Man, I was so, so wrong.  I never realized that things like spice blends of ANY kind on the market, including chili powder, were now out of bounds. Condiments...just skip that aisle...completely.   Seriously, that isle alone became so frustrating to me for a while I swear I'd start to get a stress headache as soon as I walked nearby it, wondering if someone had come out with a brand of mustard my son could have.  That anything with cheese powder on it was not safe.  That anything marked with, "natural flavorings" was going to be an issue.

I went and searched for garlic free recipes and found nada on Google...even GOOGLE let me down!  I ordered the one garlic free cookbook I could find only to find that after investing 40.00 after shipping on a small cookbook that it wasn't even garlic free...just raw garlic free.  It was beyond frustrating.

 And unlike calling and seeing if there was gluten in an item, like many have to do, calling and asking if there is garlic cross contamination in someone's product?  Yeah, if I heard, "Well, we don't HAVE any garlic flavored so-and-so..." one more time I was going to reach through the phone and throttle someone.  And it wasn't even their fault.  They just didn't know.  There were many, many times where I wished that I DIDN'T need to know.

Between that and the peanut allergy there were many times I thought I was going to lose it.  And the peanut allergy was labeled as one of the top eight food allergens.  And corn?  Forget it.  You're making everything from the ground floor up.  Qualified or not.
Which leads us to step two of dealing with allergies, which I have run by everyone I know who has had to deal with them and they assure me that it IS an actual step...
Fetal Position How To (Just in Case)
 2.  Go.  Curl Yourself Into the Fetal Position in the Corner of a Room.  Suck Your Thumb and Have a Good Cry.
Sucking your thumb is optional here, but seemed to fit the instructions anyway.  Crying is perfectly acceptable to do when the shock of what allergies entail wears off.  Trust me, you've earned it and if this is the only time in your allergic journey that you have to do this, you're doing great.   Anyone who has to deal with allergies does this and there is a good reason.  It's overwhelming and life changing.  But trust me it DOES get easier! 

This step might have to be repeated several times throughout the coping process.  I'll explain that as we get to it, but trust me...this is a necessary step.  Sure, you could cope with a glass of wine, or primal scream therapy in a pillow.  But honestly, nothing beats a good cry as far as I'm concerned.

The next step will make all of this transitioning stuff easier.  Trust me.

This next step I more then recommend.  It is a necessity for survival.
Image Source:
3.  We Get By With a Little Help From Our Friends.  Find Some (Allergic Friends That Is)
I think that when you are diagnosed with allergies, the allergist should give you the name and e-mail of someone (with their consent of course) that has had to cope with the same allergy.  I was lucky when my son and daughter were diagnosed as  I had already reached out to the local gluten free community over the internet because I had tried the gluten free diet on my son to try and help with developmental delays (that we later learned were autism).  I found that gluten free bloggers had to deal with multiple food allergies, on average and were really great when I'd reach out with a certain question on how they coped with them.  Don't believe me?  E-mail some of them and ask for help.  I'm betting they'll help you.

I was also SUPER lucky to have a mom in my daughter's preschool who had to deal with multiple food allergies with her kids (unlucky for her) and one of the allergies she'd had to deal with was garlic.  She managed to give me a few products that got me started on being able to recover a bit of my sanity when it came to the garlic allergy.  We could do "allergy complaining" to each other on a regular basis, which was great.  It's like finding another mom who has an autistic child where I can use "therapy speak" and they get what I'm talking about without me having to explain what things like SPD are.  We exchanged information on new products as we found them and helped each other stay sane.  It was a huge blessing for me in the early days of coping with allergies to have that type of buddy system in place.

I know that locally, at least, we have a food allergy support group that meets about once a month.  Call your local allergist and ask if there is anything like that in your area if you can't find someone to lean on.  Even if it is just once a month, it might just help you cope.
So, find some friends.  Have a garlic allergy and don't know what to do or how to get started?  Hey, e-mail me if you can't find anyone else.  I always have an open shoulder and will help in any way I can.  I've been there and I know it's not easy.
Stay tuned as next time we start getting to the hard part.  How to start cooking with new restrictions and not wanting to repeat step two for the rest of your life.

NOTE:  You can read Part 2 of this series HERE.

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