There are many challenges I have had to face when dealing with my food allergy. One of the toughest challenges for me is saying no. It sounds like it should be so easy. If someone offers you food that is not safe, just say no. Easy, right? Not always. To me, it’s much more complicated than a simple no. If I had to break it down as to why it’s so hard, this is what I would say.
Any person, whether it’s a family member, friend, or even someone you don’t know very well, who offers you food is showing you kindness. It could be someone inviting you over to their house who wants to cook for you their favorite recipe so that you feel happy and welcome. It could be a friend who brought some cookies to school and wants to share them with you because they know you’ll love them. It could be a family member who wants to cheer you up after a bad day and brings you a box of chocolates or some ice cream. These are all gestures of love and kindness. Gestures that are meant to make you feel good, but they don’t feel good to someone like me with a food allergy. Actually, they make me feel bad because I have to say “no thanks,” and that person who was showing me love and kindness now feels rejected, and I am left feeling bad about it.
As I have gotten older, I have realized that I’ve put a lot of time and energy into the wrong things. Instead of trying to avoid the uncomfortable situations that come along with having a food allergy, I should redirect that energy into communication and education. I understand now that the more I talk about my allergy, the safer I am. Food allergies and anaphylaxis are real, serious, and can be fatal. It should not be something that is swept under a rug to tiptoe around in fear of hurting someone’s feelings. How can anyone who has no experience with or has limited knowledge of food allergies be expected to truly understand what it’s like for someone with a food allergy unless you tell them about it? This is why advocacy and awareness are so important. The word “no” does not have to be viewed as negative or something to be apologetic about. It’s a word that has and continues to keep me safe. It’s a word that opens the lines of communication. Of course, there are still days when I’m annoyed, embarrassed, or tired of always having to explain the same story over and over again. Then I remember all the times someone has said to me, “Oh, I didn’t realize that!” or “I hadn’t thought about it like that!” or a simple “thank you for explaining it to me.” It’s during those times that I remind myself how important it is to keep communicating.