Saturday, May 1, 2010

S t r e s s

I realized recently that it is stressful to have a food allergic child. Now, don’t think me naive, I have known this all along as I pack up food to send to our vacation destination. Or wonder if the class trip will provide refrigeration or whether the new packaging of some item means the recipe has changed.

But I am not the type of person who admits stress easily. Nor am I the type of person to catalog my woes to other people. I blindly go where no man has gone before.

Except there are a lot of people out there who have “gone before.” There are others who are in the same situation, who can give you support and vice versa. Maybe it’s an occasional phone call with a new suggestion for packable lunch. Or a friend who notes she’s heard a particular product is good (thank you Rebecca!).

I will never forget when my son was first diagnosed with food allergies and I was in a state. I was probably in many states: denial, shock, panic, Ohio (just kidding). But I will never forget one friend’s advice. She told me: Make a list of the foods you CAN eat. This advice was golden.

Starting off with a positive plan makes everything else flow more easily. Of course I knew what our family had to avoid, but what could we enjoy? Shifting the focus –widening it really—allows the bigger picture to become clear. I think that stress happens, for me at least, when the focus narrows and all I can see is the one droopy flower and not the whole bouquet.

Back then, after I got off the phone with my friend, I picked up a pen to make the “CAN EAT” list. I immediately felt better: More in control. More able to make everything work. More able to smile. Our list grew from baked chicken and rice to a full-size cookbook of Italian favorites!

That’s not to say that I don’t still freak out sometimes. I do. I still stand in front of the refrigerator, feeling dazed, thinking “now what?” I still get anxious when a school trip looms or a favorite product is taken off the market. Stress happens everywhere, and especially around food allergy where the stakes are so high—even forgetting safety, there’s everyday nourishment, new situations, and the everyday challenges of going out with friends..

So I repeat: It is stressful to have a food allergic child. And I vow I will try to practice what I preach: I will ask for help. I will reach out to others—friends, food allergic pals, brothers and sisters.
Shift your focus. Widen your vision. Open up and let in someone else’s advice and experience.

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