I’ve had lots of different experiences in college over my 4 years. I’ve definitely had great experiences. But I’ve definitely had a lot of rough days. I remember one night being so fed up with it all that I went down to the lower level of one building, sat down against the wall right outside the music practice rooms and just cried. More like sobbed. This was when I was just finding out how serious my dairy allergy had become and how the cafeteria was being so unhelpful. And the dean of students refused to let me even try to cook all my own food. I only got by through God’s grace and that there were two close friends who worked in the cafeteria who ‘got it’ and went way out of the way to help me stay fed.
I’ve had friends ask “so what are you allergic to?” Only to have other people answer them before I could and they said, “oh, she’s allergic to everything.” At the time I was only allergic to milk, egg, tree nuts and peanuts. And to hear people carelessly telling others I was allergic to everything really crushed me. They didn’t necessarily mean to hurt me, but they didn’t really care or think about what they were saying.
I think food allergy bullying comes down to quite simply to whether someone cares about keeping you safe, or if they don’t care at all if they hurt you (physically and/or emotionally). Bullying either comes from someone not caring if they hurt you, or purposely trying to hurt you. And both of those basically fit in the same category, they’re just the two different ends of the spectrum, the later being the one that is more openly recognized, but both (as well as the bullying that falls between them on the spectrum) are bullying.
I’ve dealt more with the food allergy bullying on the lower end of the spectrum, but it happens more often than you might think. It’s not limited to just grades K-12. It happens on the college campus too. A lot of students in college seem to have this attitude that they can say whatever they want and get away with it. A lot of it I think is carelessness and ignorance. And while carelessness can hurt, as well as ignorance, it hurts a lot more when you out the two together.
Then there is also the prank-prone-ness you find on a lot of college campuses. There’s the typical one of covering everything in a room with foil or plastic wrap to something. But I could easily see it being peanut butter or something else, or even hiding hiding the student’s allergen(s) under their pillow or blanket or in their backpack or desk. Or even purposely bringing their allergens in the classroom or study room and stubbornly eating it to make the student uncomfortable or even worse, have an allergic reaction.
While I haven’t personally dealt with any of the possible examples I gave in the paragraph above, I have dealt with verbal bullying, the most hurtful was in fact from a professor.
I don’t remember when it was in the semester, but it was pretty early on, likely the first week. I went to find him to explain about my food allergies and told him that I carry an EpiPen and that while I wasn’t expecting to have to use it, since class was usually right after lunch, there definitely was a possibility that I could have to use it in class and told him briefly how to use it and how after using it 911 would need to be called.
He listened, then said something about eating peanuts while he was grading my homework.
I could not believe what he had just said. It felt like someone had just punched me in the stomach.
Completely unsure what to say, I walked off. But I never forgot that encounter. He had probably intended it as something funny. But the truth is, food allergy bullying is not funny. It’s not a joke.
The sad thing is that knowing him, he could have actually been serious about what he said. I’ll never know. And even if he denies the fact that he was serious, I’ll never be sure i can trust him because he could be lying about that.
I’ve had other people on campus seriously hurt my feelings by something careless they said or did. I got pretty protective of my food in the cafeteria and for good reason. One day I saw someone I knew who noticed my coconut milk yogurt on my tray and asked about it, so I told him what it was. He decided that he wanted to get up and go find one to try. Ad he hopped up before I could say anything more. Frustrated, I signed in ASL to his wife that they don’t keep many on hand and I barely have enough food to eat and I have this thing against people eating the only safe food for me when they can eat everything else in the cafeteria and they choose to take the only safe stuff for me because they’re curious what it tastes like. And in typical college student fashion, they usually only eat part of it. It’s a huge pet peeve (but it’s one that the dining staff solved the next week).
His wife told me to not worry about it. And thankfully when he came back to the table, he told me that he didn’t take one because there was only one left. Phew. But, after that, every time we crossed paths (which seemed like every single day at least once) he would always say something about the coconut yogurt and as such, it also always was a very blatant reminder of my food allergies and basically singling me out.
After awhile I tried avoiding him. And ignoring him. Why? Because the way he would ask, while he wasn’t intentionally trying to hurt me or put me on the spot, it was careless and it really did hurt. Finally, after talking about it with some friends who also knew him, and who knew him better, I approached him one morning before lunch, and with tears welling up in my eyes, I explained that the way he had been saying things about the yogurt and consequently, my food allergies , that it really hurt. And even just writing this, a year later, I’m holding back the tears.
He was so surprised. He had no clue. Not a clue. He was genuinely sorry and apologized and after that I never heard another word about it from him and he was great.
But that’s how it often works. The people who hurt you, often don’t have a clue that they’re hurting you. And in these cases, going up to them gently and explaining to them how what they’ve been doing has made you feel, and explaining better about food allergies, is all that’s really needed.
Often, a little education is the cure. At least the cure to keeping them from hurting you further. But education isn’t always the perfect solution. Dealing with it hurts. And you have to learn to not focus on what they said or did because that only gets you down.
Yes, I’m allergic to a bunch of stuff, I’ve been to the ER I don’t know how many times. I’ve been admitted to the ICU twice. And nearly intubated at least once. My airway has swollen completely shut once and Epi got to me just in the nick of time. But that’s not all there is to me. If I focus on just that, the world really does feel like it shrinks and you can easily get paralyzed by fear of what could happen, and especially what could have happened.
But, in addition to my allergies I:
Graduated college with honors
Love to sew
Love to run
Love to bike
Love to rollerblade
Love to jump rope
Love to bake
Love being creative
Love to laugh
Have traveled to France
Want to live there some day
Love to go sledding and play in the snow
Dream every year of having a blizzard like the one we got in ’96
Love to take pictures
Love to make art by melting crayons with a hairdryer
Want to go horseback riding again
Love working with kids at church every week during the school year
Am an introvert except not as much when I’m around Deaf people and sign language
Love reading (though all I’ve had time to read lately it seems were thick textbooks!)
Have a backpack named Turtle
Have a messenger bag named Camel
Hate most candy
Love to help with Operation Child every year and pack shoeboxes full of stuff
Love to fly kites (I’ve even flown one in a thunderstorm when I was 4 or 5, don’t do this!!)
Love dancing in the rain
Love climbing UP poles on the playground at the park
Love doing cartwheels
Have friends who have my back
Have friends who care
Have been to the World Sport Stacking Championship twice & was the junior ambassador for 2 years
Spent 10 years in 4-H
Have a hope that never fades
Have been saved from eternity in he’ll by the redemption through the death and resurrection of Jesus the Son of God
And that’s just a little about me beyond my food allergies. So, why do people need to pick on my food allergies? Or why do they need to single me out for them? Why do they decide they need to focus on how they are an inconvenience? Why do they think that teasing me about them or what I can or can’t eat is funny or even useful?
It comes down to this: I am more than just my food allergies.
Please don’t single me out for how I am different. But instead, get to know who there is beyond just the girl who is extra vigilant about staying safe from dying from food. And with every person who has food allergies, trust me, there’s way more to them than just their food allergies. And none of us want to have our whole life be about our allergies and only that.
Rather, we all just want to have the allergies be something we just keep in the back of our mind (we never really forget about them, we always are on the look out to make sure we stay safe) that rarely come up verbally because everyone around us just so awesome at keeping us safe and included that we never have to really mention them.
But better than that, would be to have a cure. Oh, that would be AWESOME!!!!!! But till then, just get to know the person behind the food allergies. Remember that food allergies are only the tip of the iceberg.
And, speaking of which, can you all help me out by donating to Food Allergy Research and Education so they can help the researchers find that cure? Head on over to my walk page here.