HomeMental health and food allergy

Mental health and food allergy

December 11, 2019

“Every day in every way I’m getting better and better.”

-Emile Coue 

I have always been vigilant when it comes to my food allergies; reading ingredient labels, talking to chefs/servers, avoiding allergens, you name it – I’ve done it. I went about 15 years without a severe allergic reaction and then bam out of nowhere, I went into anaphylactic shock from something I didn’t even know I was allergic to. How was I supposed to look out for and avoid something I didn’t even know was a threat?

On a boring Sunday afternoon, in the same kitchen I had been in for 23 years of my life, I made a plate of food like I did every Sunday. What was different that fateful night? What threat made its way into our kitchen and onto my plate? Fish – perch to be exact – a food that had been in our freezer and family gatherings since I was a child. Why, you may wonder, was today of all days the time that I reacted to it? Well this is the first time I actually ate it. Over the years I either pushed my plate away refusing to it eat because it smelled bad, or I wasn’t sure of the spices on it, or where it was prepped. But that day, I decided “to heck with it” let me expand my dining horizons. I already loved fish and chips, so I should love perch, right?

Immediately following my reaction, auto-injectors, a very fast ambulance ride, a hospital bed, and another dose of epinephrine, I sat under observation wondering how on earth this happened. I was scared. How could I be allergic to something and have no idea? This black hole of fear and doubt started to engulf every thought I had. Jumping from one insecurity to another: Maybe I wasn’t as careful as I thought I was. Maybe I didn’t ask the right questions. I should have known about this allergy, obviously it’s my body, how could I be so stupid? These dark thoughts spread like a web affecting every aspect of my life. My confidence in my food allergies disappeared, I was suddenly afraid to eat anything. Things I knew were safe and had eaten a million times before became terrifying. I obsessively read and re-read ingredients to the point where I would eat with the box in front of me. I scrubbed my hands raw whenever I came home thinking I was dragging allergens back in with me. I refused to eat out anywhere, I washed and re-washed dishes obsessively. I was paranoid and would work myself up into panic attacks after eating, more often than not thinking I was having a reaction. I was spiraling and saw no end in sight for this behaviour.

After diagnosing me with a freshwater fish allergy, my allergist suggested I follow-up with my family doctor to observe my new “behaviours.” After one visit she promptly suggested I talk to someone about these feelings and suggested I see a therapist or councilor. I was hesitant at first. I figured I had dealt with my allergies for so long before alone, why do I need to talk to someone now, I’m fine right? …I wasn’t fine and after one visit I was convinced of this. After meetings and talking with this therapist I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I suddenly had a healthy outlet for these feelings, a positive way to cope with tough situations, and a confidential person too confide in. It changed how I viewed myself and my food allergies for the better.

I know mental help has a stigma around it, but the only way we’ll ever break that stigma is by talking openly and positively about things like seeking help. Seeing someone other than my allergist about my food allergies was the best thing I ever did. Getting mental help regarding my anxieties helped me feel normal again and gain new skills for dealing with these unexpected situations. I still continue to see someone to this day and can honestly say I have never felt better or more confident in my allergies.

– Arianne K.

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