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  • Alia O'Brien

Advocating: What If I'm Nervous?

Advocating for yourself is one of the most important parts of having food allergies, but it is also one of the hardest. As teenagers with food allergies, we frequently have to talk to teachers, principles, coaches, bosses, and other authority figures about how to keep us safe. As someone who has anxiety, this can be one of the scariest things to do. When I was in kindergarten, we had a substitute teacher who had an activity prepared for us to do that involved using Goldfish. I told him I had a dairy allergy and couldn't participate because I might have an allergic reaction, but he told me I had to do it anyway. When I got home, I told my mom what happened. That was the first time I learned I was allowed to disobey adults if it meant I would be keeping myself safe. It blew my mind. Since then, there have been no more Goldfish incidences (thankfully), but there have been other times I've had to advocate for myself in front of teachers and peers.

One of the most helpful things I've learned is to practice conversations beforehand. While you don't always know exactly what is going to happen or what the other person is going to say, I've found that you can usually imagine what might happen. Talk through the possible situations with a parent, good friend, or other trusted person. Discuss the possible outcomes together, what you might say, and how the other person might respond. I used to do this with my mom a lot when we had conversations about how to advocate for myself, and it has helped a lot.

Another thing I've learned is much easier said then done. Try to appear as calm as possible, even if you're freaking out on the inside. The more composed and friendly you seem, the less people will have a negative reaction. If you're able to calmly and politely state why it's not okay that so-and-so is eating that food now, the more likely the person is to listen and believe you then they would be if you get angry and defensive.

A super useful strategy is also to set up a meeting with the person you want to make aware of your food allergies before you begin spending time together, whether that be on the practice field, at school, or something else. By reaching out ahead of time, you give them advance notice of what's going on, and you can work together to come up with strategies to navigate your allergies during your time together. Setting up meetings is also a good strategy because it gives you time to talk to another person and go over what you want to say and how you want to say it. You can make notecards, outlines, and anything else to help you feel prepared going into the meeting. By reaching out preemptively, adults will likely be impressed by your ability to think ahead and will treat you with respect.

I truly hope this helps some of you! I know advocating can be super scary, but it really is one of those things where the more you do it, the easier it gets. Does anyone else have strategies they use to help keep them calm while advocating? Leave them in the comments!

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