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  • Jacqueline See-Tho

Allergies: Turning Adversity Into Advocacy-Guest Post-Ben See-Tho

Ben is a 21-year-old college student at NYU studying Film and Television. (He is also Jacqueline's older brother!) He has lived with life-threatening food allergies to wheat, soy, dairy, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, legumes, and shellfish since birth. Below he details his personal journey with allergies.

I have severe food allergies. Severe in quality, and several in quantity. My allergies are so lethal that out of fear, my parents conditioned me to recite, “wheatdairysoyeggsnutsbeansandshellfish,” at anyone who attempted to feed me. Nevertheless, But despite my worrisome condition, its effect on my life has been positive. Dealing with allergies is a source of adversity that teaches you self-advocacy.

When I was younger, I didn’t see it as a handicap. My parents always tried to make sure I felt equal to my peers. In kindergarten, my parents and teacher collaborated to institute a “nut-free table” where they knew I could eat my lunch safely. Rather than isolate me socially, the novelty of the new table attracted other kindergarteners to sit with me. Making friends then became easy; to them, my food allergies were a source of intrigue.

Everyone was aware I was “The Allergic Kid”, but I was proud of my allergies. I used to show off my unique Ben-proof lunches, and my friends would wonder how my mom made allergy-free food taste better than normal food. When my peers got candy, I got marshmallows. And through it all, my allergies felt like a negligible part of life.

Pre-adolescent social life didn’t revolve around getting meals with each other- we’d rather scarf our food down and then play soccer. But as I grew older I realized that my allergies became more of a burden. Having to explain my disposition became a source of embarrassment.

Soon, I stopped reciting my list of allergies to people. In middle school, I started to ask my mom to make lunches that resembled the school lunches. If someone offered me food I was allergic to, I would avoid the question instead of saying no. Once I even hid my own reaction from my parents because I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. My self-consciousness got in the way of my self-care.

It was only through years of working against those pressures that I became acclimated to self-advocacy. And it's hard. Being open, standing up for yourself, even asking for help- these are all necessary facets of life that are difficult to learn, allergies or not. I was lucky to have allergies growing up cause they became an everyday adversity- always pushing me out of my comfort zone to grow.

I never would’ve thought something so detrimental to my physical growth would become such an integral part of my emotional growth. But of all the things my allergies taught me, this journey specifically showed me how to self-advocate and create a safe environment for myself, wherever I am. I don’t have to depend on my parents to make the world a “nut-free table” for me. When I confront the world's challenges myself, I ensure my own security and independence.

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