I’ve been fortunate enough to meet (or more recently, speak to) a lot of people who are affected by food allergies. This has included people with food allergies or a parent, friend, family member, teacher, or caretaker of a food allergic person. Every time I meet a new person and list my allergies, the corners of their mouths start to turn up into a smile and they have a little glimmer in their eyes. That look, I’ve come to realize, is hope.
Some have even verbalized it, referring to me as inspirational and saying it’s a relief to see me like this, at my age, well past kindergarten. I stand there and smile, at first unsure how to take it, and then thanking them, telling them they’re too kind to say that.
Every person I’ve spoken with has talked to me like the journey is over. They look at me like a hero. You’ve made it this far. You’ve won the food allergy battle and you must have all the answers! The thing is, I don't.
The challenges change. I was in the same small school district from Kindergarten through 12th grade. There really wasn’t anything incredibly unexpected that I would have to deal with. If something did come up, I had amazing school nurses, my parents, and a carefully crafted 504 plan on my side. Going to college, and then eventually out into the “real world,” introduces an array of issues. Some that you never see coming.
COVID-19 is exactly that. While I can offer up my experiences living life as we previously knew it, I wonder how I will adapt to a post-COVID world. Just this morning, I was speaking to my mom about the implications of COVID-19 in a school setting.
Would I have returned to elementary school in the Fall? How would we manage students eating in the classroom? What are the realistic options for the school district to be able to accommodate my needs?
All of these questions are extremely stressful and, unfortunately, there is no way to know the answers yet. As I have been waiting and constantly refreshing my email in hopes of finding a Fall plan for my graduate classes, I have realized something. We are being forced to take everything a day at a time. We don't have a choice and nobody has any of the answers. If COVID-19 has taught me anything, it is to live each moment and not waste all my time worrying about the next day, month, or year.
We are all in the dark. Now, I don't know if that makes things better or worse, but I do know that we can't predict the future. This virus is changing things every single day. Open states are closing, closed states are opening, and there is no correct set of rules to follow - other than wearing a mask. By the Fall, everything can change.
Right now, I am trying to take it a day at a time and enjoy the time that I do have at home. Time that I don't need to worry about cross contamination, the food I'm eating, or what I'm touching. As I've continued to speak with many people in the food allergic community, we all agree. This time at home has shown how much anxiety and stress comes from living with food allergies. Managing them in your own home or other safe environment alleviates almost all of the stress.
I'm still deciding if knowing that the anxiety stems from my allergies is a blessing or a curse, but that's a blog post for another day...