Tag Archives: Guilt

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.

 

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To Epi or not to Epi? Why I Stupidly Delayed Giving Myself Epinephrine

At the Library

I grew into several life-threatening food allergies when I was 19 years old, and learning to manage these allergies has been challenging. Let me tell you a story. I was spending an afternoon in a local library studying for an upcoming university exam and I decided to refuel at the library café. I ordered an iced cappuccino and after drinking a few sips, I could feel something was wrong. I could feel my throat beginning to swell and I began to feel dizzy. I looked to the café and realized that the same blender that was used to make my cappuccino was also being used to make fruit smoothies. Among the long list of allergies that I grew into are raw fruits and raw vegetables.

I was having another reaction. My throat continued to close, I felt more faint, and I was starting to have trouble breathing.

I grabbed my backpack and took out the medications I bring everywhere with me: antihistamines and my EpiPen®. I took the antihistamines, but I was hesitant to take my EpiPen®. I gathered my things, quickly got to my car, and drove to a nearby hospital. I parked my car in the emergency department (ED) parking lot and waited.

I couldn’t swallow, I was having trouble breathing, and I felt really nauseous. I made a deal with myself: if at any time this reaction gets worse, I’ll take my EpiPen®, and go into the ED.
My symptoms remained unchanged for the next half hour, and
then began to resolve over the next few hours.

Looking back, I was extremely lucky.

Double-dose

Now, another story. I was helping move some furniture at a friend’s house two summers ago. After we finished lifting the last bookcase, his father brought us both a glass of wine. After one sip I felt strange. My typical symptoms occurred (throat swelling, difficulty breathing, dizziness, and extreme nausea) but this time they came on like a freight train. I ran to get my EpiPen® and immediately administered it to the outside of my right thigh. Then I took an antihistamine. We alerted 911 and sat on the couch. Minutes after my first EpiPen®, my throat completely closed off. Even as I write this right now, I become very emotional. Those were some very tense minutes that felt like an eternity. My friend’s father was calmly instructing 911 what was happening, and my friend administered a second EpiPen® to my left leg. I was still gasping for air and my swollen throat would not let any air in. The fire fighters burst through the door. I felt a little air pass into my lungs – the second EpiPen® was working. I am so thankful that I did what I did, and that my friend and his family knew what to do too. They saved my life.

In my first story I didn’t take my EpiPen® and I am well aware how lucky I was in that situation. I have had 12 anaphylactic reactions in the past seven years, and in some circumstances, I chose not to take my EpiPen®. In retrospect, I wish I had used it every time. So, why didn’t I? Here are some common themes that I’ve noticed about my decisions:

  • This one won’t be serious, right?

I have had 12 allergic reactions in the past and most of the time I use my EpiPen®. I have never had what’s called a “biphasic” reaction, I have never needed a breathing tube in the emergency department, I have never been admitted to the hospital for my allergies, and before the reaction at my friend’s house, I have never stopped breathing completely. So, why would I have serious complications during this allergic reaction?

  • Guilt

When I administer my EpiPen®, I call 911, go to the hospital, and receive care from nurses and doctors. Usually, by the time I get to the hospital I am stabilizing, I am able to breathe without difficulty, and the swelling in my throat decreases. In the emergency department I look around and see some really sick patients – elderly patients, infants, and those who are not as fortunate as I to be recovering. I feel very guilty that I am taking up a bed. I don’t deserve this.

  • Costly

The ambulance in Ontario will cost a patient under 65 years-of-age $45, and replacement EpiPens® can cost over $100 if you do not have insurance.

  • Waste of time

After using an EpiPen® and calling 911, patients are routinely kept in the ED for 4 hours to see if they will have a biphasic reaction. This is how long it takes the epinephrine to wear off. So after the reaction, the ride to the hospital, and the ride home, at least 6 hours have gone by and it’s often more time than I can afford to give up.

It’s important to understand the difference between the medications that can help us during an allergic reaction. An EpiPen® contains the medication epinephrine (also called adrenaline). Benadryl® and other over the counter allergy medications are commonly referred to as antihistamines. The medication in Benadryl® is called diphenhydramine. It’s not necessarily useful to remember these long names, but it can be important to understand how these medications work in order to avoid making the mistake that I have made – choosing not to take my EpiPen®. Epinephrine does the job of an antihistamine but it helps in more ways, and it works much faster with stronger effects. It is always the medication of choice for life-threatening allergic reactions.

I have to be honest, there is one important reason why I chose not to take my EpiPen® that I haven’t told you yet. Whether we’ve had one happen to us, watched a friend have one, or heard the story of a friend’s reaction, anaphylactic reactions are terrifying.

A man is reacting to something he didn't expect

It’s actually happening…

Sometimes, in the early stages of an allergic reaction, it may be tricky to discern if what is happening actually is a reaction. In a situation where I may not be sure whether I am having a reaction, I used to feel that by administering my EpiPen®, I was confirming that this was, in-fact, a reaction. When people are presented with bad news, a well-known coping mechanism involves going through the Kubler-Ross stages of grieving (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%BCbler-Ross_model):

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

The bad news I was presented with was, “Fraser, you’re having an anaphylactic reaction.” By not administering myself my EpiPen® I was dealing with this bad news by denying it. I have coped with the news of an allergic reaction with other stages in the past as well. When I drove myself from the library and waited in the emergency room parking lot, I was bargaining with myself: “Okay, I’ll wait here and take an antihistamine deal?”. I know it can be difficult to do, but the safest and most effective way to deal with an allergic reaction is to skip right to acceptance.

If my body had reacted more rapidly while I was in the library, I may not have made it to the hospital safely due to the way I handled the reaction. In short, in the future, I will always use my EpiPen®. Unsure? EpiPen®. Scared? EpiPen®. It is impossible to predict how one’s body will react to the same allergen an additional time, so basing what might happen based on my history of reactions is not a good idea. Financial cost and a short stay in the emergency department should never influence my decision to take care of myself. Allergies, whether we like them or not, may be part of our lives and they are of no fault of our own. Accepting them as a part of what makes us special can be difficult, but once this is done, it makes the challenge of having allergies much more manageable.

– Fraser K.

Wine-ing about my Unusual Allergies – Lessons Learned from an Anaphylactic Reaction

Camping tent in the nice yellow dandelion field with mountains on background

My name is Fraser and I am a 26-year-old medical student. Last spring some friends and I planned to go camping in Gravenhurst, Ontario. While my friend Darryl and I were organizing our tents and sleeping bags, his mother offered us each a glass of wine. Our friend Pozz was picking us up so since we weren’t driving, we each indulged in a glass of wine.

I have life-threatening allergies to a long list of unusual allergens. I am allergic to all raw fruits, all raw vegetables, peanuts, tree nuts, raw salmon, and scallops. I grew into these allergies when I was about 18 or 19. I have had 10 anaphylactic reactions and each time, I have had to use my EpiPen®. I went to the hospital each time and on four occasions I needed another injection of epinephrine at the hospital. Thankfully, I have not stopped breathing during any of these reactions.

Darryl’s father handed us a small glass of white wine and we began pretending we were wine aficionados. I have enjoyed wine in the past, having a glass here and there. We swirled the wine around, spoke in British accents about the fruitful bouquet and the sparkling colours, pretending we knew the subtle differences between French and Italian wines. But, when I had a sip I could feel something wasn’t right. My throat was rapidly swelling up, I felt nauseous, and I began to feel dizzy. I had mistakenly left my EpiPen® in my car, so I ran out into the driveway, grabbed it, and administered it myself. Darryl came to the front door, saw what was happening, called for his father to dial 911, and came to help me. Within minutes, we had to administer another EpiPen® because the first had not yet provided effect. This was the first reaction that caused so much swelling in my throat that I was unable to breathe. The second EpiPen® took effect quickly. I was only unable to breathe for a few seconds. Soon, firemen and paramedics flooded the house and I was taken to the hospital.

I began breathing shortly after the second EpiPen® was administered, and my breathing stabilized in the ambulance. By the time I arrived to the hospital my symptoms were beginning to gradually recede. I was set up in a bed in the emergency department and was assessed by medical staff. My friend Darryl had accompanied me in the ambulance and my friend Pozz was on his way to meet us at the hospital. It was there that I began to feel something much different.

I felt guilty. I was going to be in the emergency department for a few hours to receive other medications and to ensure that I didn’t have a ‘bounce-back’ or “biphasic” allergic reaction. This is another reaction that can sometimes occur a few hours after the epinephrine wears off. By having to wait to make sure my symptoms were gone, I had delayed our camping trip. We were going to have to leave later in the evening, it was going to be dark by the time we arrived, we were going to have to set up our island camp site in the dark, my friends had to pay for parking at the hospital, my mother was called and she had to come down to the emergency department to see me, and I was taking up a valuable bed in the hospital. These were all thoughts going through my head. I don’t like being the centre of attention and having an anaphylactic reaction in the suburbs north of Toronto had brought several neighbours onto their porches to watch the commotion of firetrucks rushing with lights and sirens. I felt guilty that Darryl had to use his EpiPen® because mine hadn’t taken effect. I just felt guilty.

I spent four hours in the emergency room, and on the bright side, felt well enough to continue on the camping trip, and had a great weekend in Gravenhurst.

I think it’s very important for me to understand that having food allergies isn’t my fault. I don’t have food allergies because of poor lifestyle choices or because I didn’t study in school. I had enjoyed wine many times in the past and had no reason to believe that it would cause a life-threatening allergic reaction. Feeling guilty might cause people to shy away from help when they think they might be having an anaphylactic reaction. While studying medicine I was chatting with an emergency room physician who has a life-threatening allergy to walnuts. He had a reaction at a social dinner and instead of signalling for help, he ran down to the washroom. Thankfully, someone found him, administered his EpiPen®, and averted what could have been a terrible allergic reaction. I am not weak or defective because I have food allergies and this is important for me to realize. I am not bound by my food allergies and after this scary reaction, I did not let my food allergies define me. They are just one of the aspects of my life that make me unique. For readers who feel guilty about your food allergies and your reactions, I want to assure you that this is a totally normal way to feel. You might feel like a hassle when you and a partner are making a special dinner and they have to remove several ingredients from the meal because of your food allergies. Or, you may not be able to accompany your friends to a restaurant or pub where peanut shells cover the floors. It is normal to feel this way. But, overcoming these feelings is important, because if you don’t, you will experience much more distress than you need.

Thank you for letting me share.

– Fraser K.

Overcoming My Guilt After an Allergic Reaction

Concept of accusation guilty shy person girl. Sad embarrassed upset woman in glasses looking down many fingers pointing at her isolated grey wall background. Human face expression emotion feeling

I think it is common to feel guilt during or after an allergic reaction. I have had allergic reactions that have interrupted special occasions, family BBQ’s, and holidays. My worst anaphylactic reaction to date actually occurred on Christmas morning! I felt a little bad about ‘ruining’ a special moment, but of course if it was up to me, I definitely would have opted out of an allergic reaction altogether.

Additionally, I’ve felt guilty just about having a reaction. My mind automatically enters the ‘should’ve, could’ve’, would’ve mode. It’s important to reflect on each situation individually to see if there are any areas where you could change your management strategy to be more successful. Living life often involves making mistakes, which is important because it is how we learn. Even if a mistake is made (e.g. assuming ingredients were safe) hopefully you won’t repeat that behavior in the future. Of course, keep in mind that allergic reactions can also just happen on a fluke—even if you are very vigilant. Remember that allergic reactions do happen, and that always being prepared is what is most important. I like to think of this quote when I begin to feel guilty about having had a reaction:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”
-Reinhold Niebuhr

Nicole K.

Feeling Guilt over an Allergic Reaction

Young shy woman hiding your face-girl covering her face

Having a food allergy and living safely with one requires a lot of special accommodations. Often times, it is hard not to feel bad for others or guilty when your allergy has an impact on their life.

When I was in high school I went on a date to a Greek restaurant with my boyfriend at the time. I love Greek food so I was really excited for our meal. During our appetizers I was a few bites in and knew something didn’t feel right. I wasn’t having any full blown symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction but I could tell that I was having some mild symptoms. To be safe I took an antihistamine and stopped eating the food we were given. As the meal went on I was afraid to eat anymore food in case it would make my symptoms worse. My boyfriend kept asking why I wasn’t eating anything. I was embarrassed and didn’t want to ruin the dinner by telling him about my symptoms so I just lied and said that I wasn’t hungry. I was trying to take the anti histamine without him noticing as I didn’t want to make a big deal about it or have him panic and tell other people which would have made it a huge scene. I could just picture it in my head, telling a staff person, calling the paramedics, using my auto injector – all things I just did not want to go through!

After we arrived home, I was noticeably drowsy from the medication I had taken so I told him what had happened. He told me that there was nothing to feel bad about if I was having any sort of reaction and that I shouldn’t feel guilty or think that I shouldn’t tell anyone. After that scenario happened I have learned that there is no need to feel any guilt or shame when having an allergic reaction. It is so important for your safety to tell others what is happening in case the situation were to escalate and you needed help. People are more understanding than you may think and when your life is at-risk there is no need to feel bad about being an imposition. Others want to help you and make sure you are okay!

Lindsay S.