This October will mark a decade of having lived gluten free for my son and me. This November will be 11 years of being a vegetarian - not by choice, but because of increased sensitivities & allergies to meat. I have had allergies and sensitivities to artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives ALL my life. That's not to mention my allergies to medications, the sun, (yes - the sun) and irritants like pollens & dust.
Some people tell me they could never live with allergies. I laugh, because when there are no alternatives - apparently you live with the impossible. Others try to tell me that I should feel lucky now that it's popular to avoid certain foods. This frustrates me, because there's nothing lucky about constantly having to worry about whether you're going to be sick for daring to do something as risky as... eating food. Still others ask me what it's like to have an allergy, because they can't imagine what it's like.
This post is for that third group.
What is it like to live with allergies? Let's talk about something every girl should be able to relate to.
On the left is my wedding ring. My husband chose it for me while I was still in high school. I think most girls would agree that their wedding ring is the one piece of jewelry they treasure above everything else. The piece they would NEVER take off, for absolutely any reason short of life-or-limb emergency. So why then, is THIS the ring I have worn for the past 17 years on the right? A simple, unadorned platinum band?
You see, shortly after my first anniversary, I developed an allergy to gold. It developed slowly; first it was a tiny rash and some itching, but over the next year it went from a rash, to an enormous welty mess of infected blisters, swelling, and worn-away flesh. I hid it from my husband, because I didn't want to admit that there was a problem. This was my wedding ring after all; my one piece of never-take-it-off jewelry. I knew there was no easy solution, and it was easier to avoid the problem - for awhile.
Most of the time, allergies are like that. They start out small, and slowly build until you can't possibly do anything but address them and avoid the particular food/prescription/irritant. Sure, you can avoid them for awhile. So what if hambuger gives you a tummyache? And a little rash isn't TOO much of an inconvenience - when it's for an amazing slice of cheesecake! But when that tummyache lasts for six weeks, or the rash starts causing your throat to close, it's time to give up and admit there's a problem.
In this case, after a full year of hiding my hand from my husband, my rings were cut from my hand on our third anniversary. That's what it feels like to be allergic. It feels like having something cut from you. There's no feeling lucky because at least there are substitutes, and there's no way to tell yourself you could never live with it - there's just the cold, hard reality that you MUST change. And even then, it takes awhile until you start feeling better. With my rings, it was a full nine months before my hand was healed enough for me to wear even a simple band. And just as my ring now is nothing like what I had before, food substitutes are never quite the same either. You can still eat them, and they're "okay" - heck, some are even good. But they're never quite the same... and you KNOW they're not as good.
My rings will someday have a happy ending. My grandmother left her rings to me - because she too, had hers cut from her hand. SOME day, we will reset my grandmother's stone into a ring I can wear. And on that day, I will have a bigger, better ring than I had before. But for most allergies? There is only living without what you once were able to enjoy, knowing that you can never have that again.
What does it feel like to be allergic to something?
Quite frankly, it sucks.