Recently, one of my friends in the food allergy community asked how I go about setting boundaries with people when it came to my allergies. I struggled to answer because I realized that boundary-setting is something that terrifies me. Although I have managed to set basic boundaries when it comes to my allergies with the people in my life, it is still difficult for me. I feel the anxiety rise in my chest and my heart beat faster when people around me do something that makes me feel unsafe. I know that they don't mean any harm and it is my job to educate and establish a boundary with them, but it is a constant struggle for me. I constantly worry about being seen as a burden or not taken seriously.
Like many other food allergy kids, my mom was extremely attentive and hyper-vigilant when it came to keeping me safe. My mom was constantly packing me lunches, researching, reading ingredient labels, calling companies to ask about their cross-contamination protocols, and speaking with the waitstaff at restaurants. Both of my parents advocated for me, time after time, and showed me how to speak firmly about my allergies and explain their severity. I am extremely grateful for them and all of the sacrifices they made for me.
But even though I have parents who are both fierce food allergy advocates, I find that being my own advocate is one of my biggest struggles. I think in part because they were both so great at speaking up for me and making me feel safe that now as an adult, I often feel too intimidated to speak up for myself. I worry about what others will think, if the waiter will take me seriously, or if people will think that I am an inconvenience because of my allergies. Once I graduated high school, I struggled to adjust to university because suddenly, I didn't have my parents to advocate for me and my allergies. I suffered in silence for many months at a dining hall that did not have safe food for me with a chef that would not accommodate my needs until my parents finally stepped in and helped me get a refund for my mandatory meal plan from the school. The situation left me frustrated and feeling like people will never take me seriously, but will take my parents seriously. I'm saying all of this not to complain, but to help someone else feel less alone because I know other people with food allergies out there also struggle to advocate for themselves.
I have many food allergy moms who follow me which makes me so happy. I love connecting with other members of the food allergy community and seeing all of the amazing recipes and tips that we all share with each other. And obviously, I am not a mother, but I hope that all of the food allergy moms reading this know that the transition from adolescence to adulthood is clearly difficult for everyone, but can present even more challenges for those with severe allergies. For me, the transition has been abrupt and more difficult than I expected because of my allergies. I think that as a kid and teen, I needed to practice standing up for myself more. I needed to order for myself at restaurants more, I needed to practice speaking with waitstaff, and I needed to foster a sense of confidence in myself that overcame any fears I would have about speaking to others about my allergies.
There isn't an easy way to find your own voice, but I hope that by doing small things each day, it will get easier for me. This blog, for example, has been a great way for me to become more of an advocate for myself and others by sharing my experiences and fostering my passions of food and mental health. I also try to give myself challenges every few weeks or so, whether that means going to a new restaurant and speaking with the staff in depth about my allergy or communicating a boundary to a friend. Whenever I feel the anxiety kick in as someone crosses a boundary of mine or I am in an unsafe situation, I try to pause and let myself breathe through the discomfort rather than run from it and stay silent. With time, I know it'll get easier.