Tag Archives: Arianne K.

C is for Confidence: A Food Allergy Story

Something I know now to be the corner stone of my food allergy identity is confidence. Confidence taught, learned, and exercised at a young age is key to becoming an adult who speaks up about their food allergy in every situation. If your confidence is stolen or stifled, it can cause many kids to become ashamed of their food allergies. Then they may attempt to hide their allergy from others or dismiss the seriousness of it which makes the potential for a reaction so much larger. Instead of fighting for your child to have certain foods in a classroom, we should be explaining the severity and importance of awareness. Confidence can be a shield for ignorance and a tool to help change the perception many have about food allergies.

Confidence is the most important skill you can craft when it comes to having a food allergy and it’s something that I think needs to be instilled at a young age. We as a food allergy community need to be building each other up, and helping to educate those around us so no one feels bad or ashamed on a daily basis. If we understand at a young age that we are all unique and beautiful, then the classroom and world will be a far more accepting place.

There is a saying: It takes a village to raise a child. As a community, we should be working together to help those with food allergies gain a voice that is proud of their food allergy. Confidence in myself and my fellow classmates would have made a world of difference between eating alone and helping everyone understand food allergies at my school. It seems like a small skill, but those little seeds tended to over years in school and into adulthood will create an aware, powerful counterpart in the food allergy community. A community that is dedicated to educating others, but more importantly, confident and proud in themselves.

– Arianne K.

May Contain the Following: Stress

This product may have come into contact with the following: How many times have you been in a grocery store aisle reading an ingredient list of a new product with excitement only to find these words at the very bottom like a disappointing end to a great story. It can hit you like a ton of bricks, or knock the wind right out of you. For lack of a better term, it’s a real bummer.

As you put the item back, it’s easy to get discouraged, angry, or upset. You may curse the product or the company but, in my opinion, I think we should feel the exact opposite. Every time I see this or similar wording I’m happy I live in a time and a place where information is readily available for allergen safety. After all, precautionary labelling is completely voluntary in Canada.

I have vivid memories from when I was young of my mom calling company after company attempting to get information about production lines, products in the vicinity, and other foods that the company made. She spent hours with a house phone (on a cord I might add) pressed against her ear with boxes of food, paper, and permanent markers sprawled out in front of her. Each time she got a complete answer she’d mark a or X on the box and then feverishly write down any other information they would give her. She did this for hours on end just to find out if certain products were safe for me to eat, or because I mentioned I wanted try, for instance, Fruit Roll-Up© (which I couldn’t) or PopTarts© (which I could). She scoured this new frontier called the Internet for any information she could find, from website FAQ’s to small forums made up of other parents. She, just like many others, was desperate for some clarity or visibility to make sure our cupboards and grocery store aisle didn’t become a scary place. She spent hours on hold, getting half-truths, rude comments, or no answers at all just to ensure my childhood was a little bit better. She was a brave explorer in in a time where precautionary labelling was in its infancy – just trying to make sense of it all.

30's woman on a serious phone call.Today, that amount of effort seems daunting and overwhelming. I can only image the anxiety and fear she had each time a new food came into our house. Now, with food allergies being more prevalent, and manufacturers taking more precautions with their products and labelling, more information is at my finger tips from a variety of sources. If I have questions, I can contact a company by email, hotline, or check out reviews from thousands of others in various online media sources like websites, social media, articles, etc. If all that doesn’t satisfy my craving for knowledge I can reach out and read the many online publications dedicated to food allergy safety (and I can do that through social media as well). But my first step will always be reading an ingredient list.

I encourage you to read Health Canada’s interview with Food Allergy Canada where they detail the most recent food allergy labelling guidelines:  http://foodallergycanada.ca/2016/10/5-questions-for-health-canada

The “may contain” label was introduced to warn people about potential allergens not listed in the ingredient list. This was done in case another food product during the production process could have come into contact, fallen into, been on the same production line, or any other incident that could have contaminated your product with an allergen. Although more and more companies are disclosing this information and becoming transparent on the true risks of their products, it is still important to do your research if you are unsure about a new food.

– Arianne K

For more information about food labelling, check out Food Allergy Canada’s website.

A Verbal Stream of Consciousness: My Worst Allergic Reaction

I’ve had two major allergic reactions in my life, well three if you count the initial reaction I had when we discovered my food allergy but I was three years old and I don’t remember it; So let’s rephrase: I’ve had two major reactions in my life that I remember.

My worst reaction had me on the edge of anaphylactic shock if it wasn’t for a handy auto-injector and a thoroughly prepared father. This reaction was to a previously unknown allergen: fish. Fresh water fish to be clear, perch to be precise.

Grilled pikeperch
I couldn’t in my wildest dreams fathom having this allergy. I was around perch a lot as a kid because my family had an annual reunion called “The Fish Fry” where the main dish was – you guessed it: perch. The funny thing is I never ate it, it smelled “gross” to me and I never had any interest. So fast forward a few years in the future to a lazy Saturday dinner. My family was cooking perch and with no other options I decided today was the day I was going to eat perch.

I took a thumbnail sized bite, maybe ever smaller but the second I took that bite I knew immediately something was wrong. From this point on my thought process was more sporadic then a cat chasing after a laser pointer.

Let me break it down for you best I can:

Something is wrong; I need to spit this out, ok now I have to clean out my mouth. I can’t swallow anything, and my lips are swelling. Wait so is my tongue. I need help.

It was at this point my family figured out something was wrong. As mentioned before, my dad sprung into action grabbing an auto-injector and promptly administrating it. My brother called an ambulance, and I sat in the kitchen with my thoughts.

Now those thoughts went into overdrive running off adrenaline and fear.

WHOA! Ok let’s get some medicine to keep it from returning, oh ya I can’t walk, I can’t really breathe, my lips and tongue are swollen- they hurt. I wonder when the ambulance will be here. Ohhh it’s getting better, thanks Epi-Pen®, glad I have you…and extras, oh hey the ambulance, that was quick considering we live in the countryside. Should I bring my purse? I sure hope someone grabs my coat. What are we going to do with the leftover perch?

Now this is where things get a little fuzzy. I remember getting into the ambulance and asking for my brother to come with me, but other than a brief discussion about how my parents would follow us, I don’t remember much. Here are the snippets I do remember in order of importance to me at the time:

  1. I’ve never been in an ambulance before
  2. They’re driving fast.
  3. Where is my purse and coat?
  4. Hey we’re here already.

Main Entrance Of Modern Hospital Building With SignsI’m sure I had plenty more thoughts, but at the time these felt like they were the most important.

After arriving at the hospital, I was seen right away by a doctor who gave me another shot of Epinephrine and hooked me up to some machines to monitor me and to give me medicine if needed, which spoiler alert: I did.

After one tiny piece of perch, almost 18 hours of hospital rooms and IV’s, I left the hospital with a new allergy and a new plan for how to tackle this allergy.

My thought process during my reaction was sporadic, hazy, and random looking back now. I barely had time to figure out what was wrong with me before my symptoms became more than I could bear. My thoughts regarding my reaction afterwards were crystal clear and it’s something that I still think about from time-to-time in no particular order.

 I need to get my allergies checked more often so I know my levels.

 I’m glad I always have an auto-injector with me or around me.

I should always trust my gut, if something doesn’t seem right, or is continuously gross to me or makes me sick, maybe I should stay away from it until I know.

I should continue telling/training people with an auto-injector

Thankfully I have people around me who are trained and can identify an allergic reaction.

I need to trust myself enough to know when I am comfortable and when I am not.

I need to be more comfortable listening to myself, and asking for help.

I love my family for always ensuring my safety.

Our thoughts and inner monologue can sometimes feel like a random strung together process that doesn’t make sense at times. It can seem like an avalanche of ideas ranging from funny, scary, and puzzling that come so fast we can barely keep track. It’s useless to compare your thoughts or ideas to anyone else’s because we’re all unique. However, that should never stop us from expressing ourselves or talking out our feelings and thoughts with others. The best we can do is try and find that little voice of reason and help prepare it with a predetermined list for emergencies so we don’t lose track of what’s important. We have to go with our instincts but also have a plan A, B, C, and Z in case of an accident. We need to trust, forgive, and have faith in ourselves because it is the only way we’ll be comfortable expressing our inner thought processes to others.

– Arianne. K

My 2016: New Places, New People, and New Perspectives on Allergies

Well, it certainly has been a year. 2016 was a year of discovery and new opportunity.

I started 2016 living in Kingston, the city in which I chose to go to school and thankfully received a job in my chosen career. Unfortunately, it was not in the same city where my partner, family, and cat lived, which already had me in a slump, but then I discovered I had a new allergen to raw seeds. Not what I was expecting in my late 20’s and living away from basically everyone I trusted. So my rut had grown bigger.

Girl sitting on floor and wrote in a notebook

I spent my days doing marketing and analysis and my evenings co-running and sitting in on Food Allergy Canada’s mentorship program, Allergy Pals, and researching a newly diagnosed allergy to seeds. I have been involved with the Allergy Pals Program since it’s inception so it is definitely something that is near and dear to my heart. Especially since I grew up with the risk for anaphylaxis and always felt like I was the only one, it gave me an opportunity to help young kids know that there are other people just like them. Allergy Pals is a mentorship program ran by older mentors and junior mentors who have food allergies and are dedicated to helping younger mentees better understand and learn how to deal with different situations regarding food allergies and intolerances. Anything from personal experience to the teachable material provided, this program is most importantly a tool where all participants can share and lean on each other for support. It’s a program I’ve poured my soul into and fully support with my time, suggestions, and efforts. It’s also been a great resource for me as an adult, to learn and talk with other mentors about various food allergies and how to deal with them. After discovering my new allergy and living alone in a different city, it became a great resource for me.

I loved being involved with Allergy Pals in any capacity, whether it had been leading sessions or listening to them. So when I was given the opportunity to become the new Program Coordinator for Allergy Pals, I was ecstatic! It was something new and exciting and something I was passionate about. It was a program I respect and care so much about. I of course accepted and started moving forward to make the program the best possible product I could. It was just the thing I needed to get out of my new allergy/ far away city rut.

My goal and dream for the program is to connect with anyone who wants to learn more about tough situations, feelings, and anything else that may be included in having a food allergy. I’d also love to curate other people’s ideas and feelings to make the best possible program. Being the program coordinator allows me to give back to a program that means so much to not only me, but every other mentor and mentee involved.

It certainly was a year of change, moving, and happiness. I feel like 2016 gave me an opportunity to explore and understand my food allergies through new eyes, whether it be the mentees in Allergy Pals or the new people I surround myself with at home. After obtaining this new position and feeling more comfortable with my new found allergy, I knew it was time to make the move back home and end 2016 in my home town.

I can’t wait until 2017 to watch Allergy Pals grow and explore new opportunities. I also can’t wait to uncover new and interesting things about my food allergies and myself.

If you’re interested in learning more about Allergy Pals check out the link below:

http://foodallergycanada.ca/programs-services/allergy-pals-mentorship/

– Arianne K.

Checking it Twice: Adventures in Dining

It was a beautiful Saturday in July. The sun was shining, there was a breeze in the air, and Ottawa was looking particularly beautiful.

It had started off as a great day, and when a group of friends and I decided to venture down the street to one of my favourite restaurants in the city, I thought nothing of it. I usually call ahead to most places to ensure its safety, but this particular restaurant was consistently safe, I had even had discussions with the owner about allergens, so I felt confident just showing up on a lazy Saturday to have drinks and appetizers.

Business Celebrate Cheerful Enjoyment Festive ConceptAs we were seated I immediately noticed new menus and the twinge of anxiety chimed in; maybe I should have called ahead. As our server took our drink orders my heart sank and my stomach lunged into my throat. Staring me in the face was a burger compiled of pure nuts, cashews, almonds, and pecans encrusted with sesame seeds. Literally a burger constructed of all my worst, most severe allergens. I almost dropped my drink in shock. This was a safe place, my favourite place to eat in the city, literally down the street from my home! it had always been safe and now without warning it all changed. I had several emotions stirring inside me: Guilt because I choose this place. My friends had just ordered their drinks and barely had a second to enjoy them. Fear because of cross-contamination and the idea that those allergens were lurking around so openly. Anger because a place I trusted and felt confident in had let me down. It took my trust and broke it. And lastly, disappointed, not in the restaurant but in myself. I allowed myself to be lulled into a sense of security and familiarity and let my guard down.

Luckily, I was with people I trusted and who knew my food allergies well and noticed the burger a few seconds after me. I asked the server about the food preparation and she informed me that it wasn’t prepped in a special area and cross-contamination was a very real possibility. My friends asked me what I wanted to do, and we collectively paid our bills and left.

I could have let that experience ruin my attitude towards restaurants and new experiences, letting myself become bitter or scared of new things, or even places I felt safe. Instead, I let it be a very stern reminder that it’s okay to have trust, but you constantly have to be vigilant and aware of your surroundings. Even though I may have eaten there a million times or been there before, you always have to ensure it’s still safe. I now try to always call ahead or check their website before going out. It may be tedious but it’s a small task to do to ensure a safe meal.

– Arianne K.

Capes, Tights, and Cowls: My Food Allergy Role Model

She doesn’t wear a cape, she doesn’t have a super power, my food allergy hero doesn’t even have a food allergy. Instead, she has logged countless hours of prep work, baking numerous birthday cakes for kids in classrooms she didn’t know, weekly loaves of bread, and so many cookies you could fill Lake Ontario with them. No, my allergy hero never had to use an auto-injector, but she carried one every day, went to yearly training, and taught others in schools and businesses. She was never at-risk for anaphylaxis but still to this day refuses to eat or keep peanuts or tree nuts in the house. She doesn’t need allergy testing, but she’s never missed an appointment in the past 20 some odd years. My hero then, now, and forever will be my mother, Sharon.

img_0623A woman who, without a second thought, dropped everything, switched gears, and transformed her and our family’s lives (and cupboards) when I was diagnosed allergies to peanuts and tree nuts at age three. She hasn’t looked back since.

Growing up with the risk for anaphylaxis was tough on me, but it started as an unimaginable journey for my mother. Suddenly the grocery store was a nightmare. No food seemed safe and if we didn’t know each and every ingredient of a product, forget about it. No restaurant seemed feasible anymore since we didn’t know what was going on in the kitchen. It looked like we as a family were lost, but not my mom. She took charge and decided that if nothing was safe, she would make it safe. And just like that our house was filled with baked goods, safe meals, and treats that I could reach for anytime and feel safe. To me, it was perfectly normal, I thought every kid had all these homemade foods in their home. I never saw my mother in the kitchen ‘till one in the morning cooking, baking, and worrying. I also assumed most kids had the choice of going home for lunch and that I was just lucky enough that my mom would come pick me up, and let me watch cartoons at home, then drop me back off at school. It never occurred to me that I had to go home because once the lunch boxes came out, our classroom was seen as a dangerous place to my mother.

My childhood for all I knew was normal, I never knew or realized the time, effort, and work my parents put into everyday to make me feel like a normal everyday kid or the tears she shed over the fears she had for me and my childhood. I never knew how special our situation was because she took the brunt of it upon herself and shielded me like a hero from the things that could hurt me, both physically and emotionally. To me it was the best childhood I could ask for, shrouded in a wonderful haze filled with memories of baking, specials meals just for me, and most importantly, love.

It is these reasons, and so many more that my mom is my food allergy hero. She’s brave, and kind, and was willing to give up everything for me so that I could be a normal, happy kid. Most people ask if I would ever give up my food allergies if I had the opportunity, and I always say no. First, they made me who I am today, and second they filled my childhood with so many wonderful, unique memories between me and my mom that I wouldn’t give any of it up for anything.

My food allergy hero may not need tights (unless she’s dressing up) and a cape, but she gives me inspiration every single day to live better, be kinder, and make the smallest differences in people’s lives because in the end, it’s the little things that matter.

-Arianne K

Anxiety and Your Allergies

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, you’re sitting in a restaurant or at a friend’s, or even on a plane. You’re minding your own business, when you see your allergen walk by in the hands of someone you’ve already made aware of your food allergy. You also made sure that any food around you was be allergen-free. But, there it is, walking around within smelling distance or maybe, scarily enough, within touching distance. You start to panic; you watch the food as it travels around the room, it looms closer and closer. You wonder, is that my allergen? Is it coming over here? Am I just imagining it? Do I say something? A million thoughts swirl around your head, you wonder if you should say something or just leave, but you’re stuck, the words form in your mind but can’t seem to make the journey to your mouth. And then it starts, the panic sets in as the food is placed near you, or you watch the same person handle your food with the unwashed hands that touched your allergen. You shrink into your chair, and try to fold into yourself, you can’t make a noise, your breath becomes short, and you’re frozen in that moment.

Portrait of young man suffering for depression

I’ve been in this situation one too many times, and sometimes the feeling of panic still creeps up on me unsuspectingly. You so badly want to speak up for yourself but you feel deflated and beat since they didn’t listen the first time. It’s enough to make you want to never venture out for food again. It can be hard to put into words the panicky feeling you get when your allergen pops up un-expectantly or in a situation you can’t remove yourself from, and even more so to voice that feeling and ask for help. It seems like anxiety and food allergies can sometimes go hand-in-hand, but that doesn’t mean we have to go it alone. It took me a long time to find my voice, and express my concern in risky situations, and yes sometimes its uncomfortable or even awkward but I’ve discovered it’s a fleeting feeling compared to the anxiety and dread of not saying anything or feeling trapped. It takes time and practice but expressing your concerns out loud and making an effort to rectify the situation will leave you with a little more confidence each and every time.

Trust the people around you and the people you care about, practice the situation with them, or have a statement prepared.
Now stop me if you’ve heard this one before, you’re in the same situation, you see your allergen coming close to you. Instead of backing down, you find your voice, confidently express your concerns and instead of dread, you feel happy and satisfied with not only the situation but also yourself.

– Arianne K.