Category Archives: Communication

Tips for Dealing with Online Food Allergy Bullying

We all expect as adults that the days of being bullied or pushed around by someone were over, right? We’ve left the playground behind, we no longer worry about being invited to the popular kid’s birthday and we can simply walk away and never see that person again. We’ve spent years cultivating a group of friends from all walks of life that lift us up when we’re down, support us in our endeavours, and have even helped move us a couch or two.

But bullying may still occur as adults, especially as new Internet platforms arise and new forms of communication are born. We have to face it, people may use these platforms for bullying. For us as adults, instead of taking place in the school yard or lunch room bullying takes place in the seedy under belly of the internet and comment sections on social media. Written and expressed by people we’ve never met before but have plenty of opinions on our lifestyles. It’s simple to say ignore it, stay away and don’t engage with “trolls,” but this is easier said than done; especially when these types of situations creep up into our feeds and news stories grabbing our attention and prying at our curiosity to know how the general public thinks about food allergies.

Whether it’s stories about passengers being taken off flights for a food allergy, patrons having their allergies dismissed by restaurants, or parents being villainized in schools, bullying can still happen: Vile comments and cruel statements made from behind a keyboard in the shadows of anonymity are bound to pop up be shared and commented on. It’s a seemingly endless cycle. It’s an odd feeling, being attacked or bullied at our age especially within the confines of our own home and from someone behind a computer screen far away. How can you fight against a bully you’ve never met; how can you speak up for yourself when the comments are shared online repeatedly by thousands of people? This kind of bullying is magnified when anyone, anywhere can partake in these conversations with no evident real-world repercussions. There are important things to remember in any bullying situation:

Talk to someone: The internet is a big place, and even though there are people who disagree with you there are even more people who agree (especially when it comes to food allergies). Find a community who understands what you’re going through whether it be social media groups, webpages or likeminded comments. Talk to these people about how these situations make you feel. You’d be surprised how a simple kind gesture or comment can change your perspective.

It’s not your fault: We’re all brought up differently, have different perspectives, life experiences and outlooks; no two people are exactly alike. Just because someone doesn’t understand airborne allergens or cross-contamination doesn’t mean they’re evil or dumb, it just means they don’t live with it or have any frame of reference. Enlightening someone who isn’t aware can be a great thing to do. Being bullied is never your fault and it certainly isn’t right to hone in on a single feature you possess, like an allergy, and no one deserves to feel bad about a medical condition.

Don’t engage. But if you do, respond intelligently, not rapidly: If you feel up to responding to a negative comment, don’t stoop to their level. Never insult or sling mud; you’re just adding gas to a fire. Take a breath, do some research and respond maturely with facts and always keep a level head. Try inputting positive remarks and creating a dialogue where you can explore the topic together and find common ground, otherwise we’re no better.

And if all else fails…

Stop and Drop: If the comments and bullying is truly insulting or degrading and becomes harmful: Stop, save the evidence, then remove yourself from the situation, block the person or if it is really out of line, report them.

Bullying is never right or a good idea and it isn’t funny or fair. You should never be made to feel bad about your food allergies or anything else for that matter. The internet is a big place, you’re bound to encounter people or groups who will disagree with you, but you can always find people who will support you, have healthy discussions with, and give you a different perspective.  Social media and mass communication has brought us closer together and allowed us to share across the planet; let’s not let it tear us apart.

-Arianne K.

Advertisements

A Reservation for Confidence – Getting over the Feeling of Guilt with Food Allergies

I once partook in a workplace analysis about myself. It was a team building exercise that determined our profile and how we would react to certain situations. The overall outcome: I tend to handle stressful situations in a calm, steady and secure way with minimal stress. I can problem solve with the best of them and handle things in a rapid, rational way almost analytically. Looking back on that, I owe these skills (and a lot more) to growing up with severe food allergies. Living with such a serious thing every day makes you methodical about everything. From handwashing, packing, to even dating, you quickly learn how to handle yourself in any situation and how to respond to an allergic reaction. Basically, I owe a lot of my confidence and critical thinking to my food allergies, but this kind of confidence isn’t just bequeathed on you after your initial allergy test or when you get your first auto-injector. It’s something you constantly work towards, break a sweat for and may even cry many tears over. It’s a constant internal struggle between your inner extrovert and introvert.  So how do you work through an internal struggle you’ve carried around with you for your whole life? How can you speak confidently about something when it fills your brain with words but when you try speaking it all comes out at the same time causing you to get tongue tied? Well, it’s not easy and it takes time. Maybe even a lifetime, but speaking confidently about your food allergies doesn’t have to be all or nothing. We can take small steps by choosing situations we want to be more vocal in so we can become more confident and less embarrassed.

One area where I began to speak more confidently about my food allergies came from a place of annoyance and embarrassment. It’s a situation we’ve all been in: choosing a place to eat. I hate the pressure of always choosing the restaurant or having to prepare a list of safe places on the spot when I have no idea what/where to go. It’s hard to please everyone, with my limited options and anxiety about trying new places without proper preparation time, it doesn’t make the situation easy. It always seems that the choice of restaurant falls on me and when I can’t go somewhere people get frustrated and in turn I get frustrated with myself. Situations like this are frustrating, embarrassing and complicated. Trying to get people organized and choosing one dining option should never fall on a single person’s shoulders. It took a while, but I finally built up the confidence to speak up about the situation. I spoke about how uncomfortable it made me, and how the pressure made me feel guilty about my food allergies. Finally getting over my embarrassment and speaking confidently about my food allergies gave me the opportunity to explore new options and teach my friends and family about safe dining etiquette. It was this small step that lead to more personal confidence and a healthier attitude towards my allergies.

Situations like these taught me to be patient and speak confidently about my allergies. As I took a step back and thought of the situation from someone else’s perspective I began to understand that their true intention was to keep me safe. Knowing this allowed me to speak more freely and without limitations.  Being confident doesn’t come all at once, it’s something that takes time and effort. The important thing to remember is to never be embarrassed or ashamed of your allergies. Confidence begins with a positive self-image. Working on skills like problem solving, critical thinking and handling stress in a healthy way is a great way to start the path to confidence.

 

-Arianne K.

 

Magic words to get anyone to take your allergies seriously

In relation to my peanut and tree nut allergy

I am a 27-year-old adult with life threatening allergies and I carry my epinephrine auto-injector everywhere I go. When I’m out with friends or family at restaurants it is very important that I communicate the severity of my allergies to servers and to the chef(s) or management. It is more and more common that restaurants and pubs ask about food allergies before patrons need to mention them, which is accommodating and proactive. Still, it is vital to impress upon the wait staff the severity of the allergies, so the chef can comment on whether or not various meals or parts of the kitchen are allergen friendly. As well, it is not only when I am out on the town when I find the need to mention the seriousness of my allergies; it can also be when I am at a friend’s house for dinner, or even at my own house with my family.

It was not easy learning how to broach the subject of my allergies. I recall visiting a friend who had put out a vegetable platter to which I had to politely refuse. She asked why, and I explained my allergy. Following up, she asked what happens when I eat raw fruits and vegetables, to which I said “I die”. The whole room fell silent, and I realized that everyone either thought I was being over dramatic or that my allergy was so severe that I couldn’t even be in the same area code as an allergen. I then explained that my body may go into what is called “anaphylactic shock”, and helped them understand the severity of my allergy better. This was when I learned that there is a fine line between over-dramatizing allergies and downplaying them. At a restaurant or a friend’s house it is important not to scare people with the thought of a life-threatening allergy, but it could even be less effective to undercut their severity.

I have learned that there are two or three phrases, which I commonly use now, that portray the quality of my allergies without creating a panicked environment: “life-threatening”, “anaphylactic”, and “serious” allergies.

Surprisingly, another method that has worked effectively to communicate the danger of my allergies is simply having my auto-injector visible on the table. It is nearly a habit of mine that when I sit down at a desk or at a restaurant table, I empty my pockets of my wallet, cell phone, keys, and auto-injector. I do this for comfort and to avoid losing one of these valuable items in the crack of a seat or onto the floor. One time at a restaurant a server noticed this ritual, and immediately asked me what I was allergic to. They seemed concerned to obtain accurate information too. This method worked unusually well, but personally I don’t like being the centre of attention, so I have stopped doing this as often.

In relation to my other allergies

I have found different experiences with my common allergies compared to my uncommon allergies. I have a severe form of what’s called “Oral Allergy Syndrome”, where my body confuses fruits and vegetables with tree pollen. Many people have an allergy to one or two fruits or vegetables and when they eat these, they experience a mild throat irritation or scratching. I have a severe form of oral allergy syndrome and when my mouth and throat are exposed to any raw fruit and any raw vegetables, there is profound swelling which can lead to airway compromise. Peanut, tree nut, gluten, and milk allergies are fairly well publicized in the media, and I find restaurants usually understand that these are serious. Raw fruits and vegetables on the other hand are less commonly life-threatening allergies, so it always comes as a surprise to my server. I usually avoid fruit and vegetables in a restaurant because servers invariably mention, “How cooked do they have to be.” Since this is so often subjectively interpreted, I don’t risk it. It is not always known whether or not they understand the severity of these more uncommon allergies. I’m sure this is not limited to my allergies, but other adults with other less common allergies as well. It is important to approach these allergens as you would any common allergens when communicating them to others and understand that there may be some surprise and discussion about these allergens.

Overall, a useful method to ensure the severity of an allergen is communicated effectively, I remember to use a calm demeanor, language such as “serious” or “life-threatening”, and avoid dramatizing or underplaying an allergy.

– Fraser K.

(Backcountry) Camping with Allergies

Route planning

I recently returned from a ten-day, 85-km hiking and backcountry camping trip in the Canadian Rockies, about 90 minutes southwest of Calgary. It was so enjoyable and the views were so magnificent! I went with three friends, one of which like myself, has life-threatening food allergies. We camped in the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, about 30 minutes from any cell phone service so needless to say, the trip took a lot of preparation. We had to select our routes, campsites, gear, and safe food. I found that meal planning was surprisingly the most time-consuming part of the trip, especially for an adult with allergies. I have life-threatening allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, and all raw fruits and vegetables, so here’s a glimpse into my camping preparations:

Exit strategy

I am a very pragmatic individual, and since I have food allergies, I planned for the worst-case scenario. If I had an allergic reaction in the wilderness, I need to know how far I was from the nearest ambulance and hospital. This was important for our trip because we were so secluded, but I think it’s an important part of weekend camping as well. With appropriate meal planning and proper meal preparation hygiene, it is unlikely that an adult with an allergy will experience a reaction while camping, but knowing the closest healthcare facility is important because it can put one’s mind at ease. Before leaving on the trip we found that our furthest point from the trail head was 21-km and from the trail head we were 95-km from the Canmore General Hospital. We were also able to determine how many epinephrine auto-injectors to bring. Since we were quite far from healthcare services, we chose to bring a satellite phone as well, which gave us the flexibility to call for emergency services if the worst-case scenario occurred.

Overcoming previous fears

Mental preparation for this camping trip was especially difficult for myself because of a previous camping experience. In the summer of 2016, I was camping with two friends in Northern Ontario when we encountered a very large black bear. It was moving away from us into the woods, but was directly between us and the trail head. Minutes later I realized that I was having an allergic reaction. We had to get to the trail head to get to the car, but there was a bear in between us and our goal. I administered my auto-injector and we proceeded with caution towards the car, making as much noise as we possibly could to deter the bear. We made it to the car and arrived at the hospital nearly 45 minutes after my initial reaction, but not without tremendous anxiety. So the thoughts going through my head leading up to this big trip was…what if something like this happened in the Rockies?

New food exploration

I discovered my allergies in my early 20’s. I have a severe form of what’s called Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS) and with this type of allergy, skin testing is not effective at elucidating allergens. I kept having allergic reactions to food I previously ate without concern. This method of uncovering allergens can be stressful because I felt that nothing was safe. Since discovering my allergies, exploring new foods has always been difficult. I used to avoid new foods altogether, but honestly that’s quite a boring way to live. So, I began incorporating new foods into my diet, trying them in safe places (in a doctor’s office, or at a hospital, or if you have easy access, at the allergist’s office), and now I try them at home with my epinephrine auto-injector in-hand. I felt that in the wilderness camping, I would be alright with my prepared food as long as I had my emergency plans in place (auto injector, satellite phone, and an escape route) since I only brought food that I was comfortable eating and 100% sure about.

Medication preparation

So, now that I had my escape route planned and the information about the closest healthcare facilities noted, I knew that the furthest I would be away from medical services at minimum was 12 hours hiking and 90 minutes driving. To be safe, I doubled this estimate, and I brought enough allergy medication for just over 24 hours. As well, we made sure that not only was each member of the group aware of my allergies, but each member knew what to do in case of an emergency.

Having fun

Once all the preparation had been complete, it was time to explore the Canadian Rockies. This trip was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life! I swam in glacier waters, I saw many different kinds of wildlife including a grizzly bear and a large buck, I experienced some of the most glorious views from mountain tops, and really learned what it takes to hike and camp in the mountains. I spent 10 days with my closest friends, experienced highs and lows (literally and figuratively), and learned to work together. With the right preparation, weekend camping and backcountry camping can be very, very enjoyable experiences, even as an adult with allergies.

– Fraser K.

Open Sesame: Why I Decided to Tell my Employer About my Food Allergy

It started with a bagel; a sesame bagel someone around me was eating at a brunch. I’ve always had an intolerance to sesame seeds, nothing to fret about as it had remained an intolerance my entire allergy life so I never worried too much about it, considering I had bigger, more serious allergies. I wasn’t afraid or concerned around them as long as I wasn’t ingesting them. That was until a bagel at a brunch spot in Ottawa ruined that idea. A little back-story: A year ago I was living in Kingston, Ontario during the week and Ottawa, Ontario on weekends. My Sundays usually consisted of brunch then hitting the 401 for a two-hour drive. I travelled back and forth so often I spent a lot of time alone in my car with my thoughts and a good audiobook. On this one specific drive in late May, I started to feel sick and uncomfortable, but I passed off the feeling as tiredness and anxiety about driving back to Kingston. I figured my eyes were red from over focusing and the hives were caused by stress. I pushed aside any seed of thought about a reaction… but then it happened again.  It was a little more serious; my breathing was heavy and my hives were unmistakable. Those little seeds of doubt started to bloom into full-blown panic. Fast forward a few weeks later my allergist confirmed that my intolerance had upgraded to a full-blown allergy.

Following this diagnosis, I really needed to take stock of the one place where I was around food the most: my workplace. I was suddenly very aware of my work surroundings and where my new allergen may lurk; the old toaster in our office with crumbs in the bottom, knifes in the drawer were questionable as well as specs on the communal tables. The lunchroom suddenly became an area of anxiety and insecurity.

When I first mentioned my new allergy to my co-workers, I received a bit of a negative response about this “weird” allergy. This made me hesitant to talk to them about creating a safe space for me to eat in. I then internalized my allergies, trying to brush them off as not serious or a big deal even though they were causing my anxiety to go through the roof. I felt like I was back in grade school, surrounded by kids who didn’t understand my allergies or care because they wanted to be able to eat whatever they want. I began to eat at my desk or left completely to eat outside the office.  I knew something had to be done.

I started with a frank and honest discussion with my bosses about the severity of my new allergy. I expressed my worries, concerns and fears about the uncertainty surrounding the situation. I got an allergy alert plan outlining: Identifying a reaction, steps to take, where my auto-injector is, and what my allergens are. I put it up in a central spot to alert others to the seriousness of my food allergies. These actions may seem easy but it proved difficult for me personally; I hate talking about myself, making inconveniences for anyone or putting a spotlight on me at all. It makes me feel uncomfortable and awkward but those of us who have food allergies need to push those stage-fright feelings aside and make sure we’re heard.

It may be difficult to tell someone in an authority position about your food allergies. Even worse, it’s always challenging to explain allergies to someone who doesn’t get it or hasn’t been around it before. It’s easy to close off, shrink back and avoid the situation, or lash out and get angry. Both of which put you in a dangerous position, leaving everyone unsatisfied. Don’t let ignorance or misjudgment deter you from keeping yourself safe or speaking up. Telling your employer about your food allergies can keep you safe and create a friendly and informed workplace. Having a plan and being prepared for anything is the best possible way to tackle any situation. Most problems start with one tiny seed, and if we ignore them they can grow into a full-blown complication. We can’t ignore our intuition, or push aside out feelings, we have to be strategic and confident and find new and creative solutions whether it be allergy related, work related, or both.

-Arianne K.

Why Aren’t People More Allergy Aware?

Help me, Help you.

It’s important to take a step back from our daily lives and gain some perspective. Whether it’s to gain a new respect for your surroundings, or a better understanding of someone else’s life choices, it makes us all a better, well-rounded society that appreciates the differences we all possess.

I’m well aware that the severity of food allergies is not something most people deal with on a daily basis. The reality that a trace amount of food or sheer inhalation can affect someone so physically is a reality many live with, but not all. Over 2.5 million Canadians self-report having at least one food allergy. Yet, there sometimes seems to be an overwhelming lack of allergy awareness or compassion in society today. I usually try to brush this off, with fleeting thoughts circling the idea of “you don’t live with it every day, so of course you don’t know”; but the more I am exposed to people who aren’t aware of allergies, the more I realize it’s not necessarily that they are unaware. It may be that they are simply misinformed on the subject.

I truly believe the road to knowledge is paved with curiosity and an open mind. In order to help people who aren’t allergy aware better understand our food allergies, we need to squash three common misconceptions surrounding them. I summarize these below.

  1. Cross-contamin… what?
  2. In my opinion, the biggest misconception hindering allergy awareness is the use of the term cross contamination. The main point being:

    Cross-contamination is when “a small amount of a food allergen gets into another food accidentally, or when it is present in saliva, on a surface or on an object.”

    For example, when a knife is used to cut an egg and is only wiped off, rather than cleaned with soap, the use of this knife on something else could cause a reaction to someone with an egg allergy. Personally, cross-contamination is the scariest aspect of my food allergy. It pulls me into the depths of anxiety and has me second-guessing everything on my fork.

    Someone else’s kitchen can be a scary place. I rarely eat food when I don’t know how or where it’s prepared. If someone is prepping food for me, I urge them to ensure no cross-contamination happens from using the same utensils or bowls. I do my best to express the dangers of foods touching other foods but one thing that is completely out my control is the cross-contamination of utensils and objects around me. Doorknobs, handrails, etc. anything you touch I may also touch; and that is something I don’t think many people are aware of. My suggestion is a simple one: just be aware of your surroundings. Whether you’re in public, at a dinner party, or at a friend’s house; be aware of what you’ve eaten and what you’re touching. If you’re not sure, the safe bet is to wash your hands or even your mouth. Trust me, your food allergy friends will thank you! Plus it‘s an overall healthy and good hygiene practice.

    1. False news about allergies:

    I always tell anyone prepping my food about my allergies in great detail, whether it be in someone’s home or at a restaurant. I stress the severity of them and ensure I talk to those in charge. It’s these steps that help me feel safe when dining out. I think when it comes to the misconception or lack of awareness with food allergies, it is people abusing the word allergen. I can’t express the importance of telling others about your food allergy. However, disliking a food, hating a certain taste, or not wanting a certain food on your plate does not qualify as an allergy. By creating a misconception about food allergies, preparations, or brushing off the severity of it causes a miscommunication and could lead to a potentially fatal mistake for those who actually have a food allergy. I understand not liking food (I hate cauliflower) but calling it an allergen isn’t fair to your friend who deals with a food allergy every day. You can ask for substitutes, exclude things, or choose not to get a dish, just please don’t mislead people about your reasons why.

    1. This week in the movies…

    The last reason I think there isn’t more allergy awareness, is the portrayal of food allergies in movies and in pop culture. It often shows sensationalized medical measures like swelling up like a blowfish, “funny” hives, awkward situations, or misrepresentation of administering an auto-injector, it’s hard for those not living with a food allergy to spot a reaction in real life. The truth is, allergic reactions come in many forms and being able to identify and react to those symptoms is important.  An allergic reaction can affect several areas of the body and can present itself in many forms(3). Helping those around us understand how to identify and treat an allergic reaction helps everyone gain some perspective and respect for the severity of food allergies. If you’re unsure, it’s simple- just ask. Ask your friend or family member to explain their signs and symptoms. Come up with a plan of action, and make sure you know where there auto-injector is. Everyone likes the good-guy-hero in the movies. If you train hard and learn the signs, symptoms, and emergency protocol, that could be you!

-Arianne K

University/College Top 3 Tips Series: Going out with New Friends

One of the best parts of going to school is that you will have the opportunity to make lots of new friends. However, with any situation of making new friends, breaking the ice about your allergies can be difficult. Below are my top 3 tips to how to best manage going out with new friends while being safe with your allergies.

  1. Tell them in advance

It is always a lot easier for both yourself and your friends to talk about your food allergies in advance of going out. It can be a fun fact you bring up about yourself when meeting people for the first time. I always find it easiest to introduce when I’m going out to eat with people. Usually if they ask what I want I’ll say, “Anything without nuts because I’m allergic to them!” I try to keep it casual and not make a big deal about it because I don’t want to make anybody afraid to eat with me.

  1. Come up with activities that don’t involve food

It’s always a good plan to have some ideas of activities to do with your friends when you go out that doesn’t involve food. Look up different things to do in the new city or town. For most people, the city will probably be quite new to them so exploring the place you will be living for the next little while is always a fun idea!

  1. Find some places that are safe for you to eat

A lot of the time when going out, people will default to food-related activities. Make sure you have restaurant options that you know are safe for you to eat at. That way when you say that you have an allergy you can offer a list of choices for your new friends to choose from. This helps makes accommodating your allergy easier for others and ensures you will be comfortable when eating out as well.

Making new friends can be difficult – especially when you have a food allergy. It is always best to tell them when you first meet them so everybody is well aware and can ensure that your allergies are accommodated for when you go out! It is also a good idea to let people know where your auto-injector is and how to use it in case of an emergency! If you have any other tips when going out with new friends, I’d love to hear about it in a comment below!

– Lindsay S.