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  • Alia O'Brien

Food Allergy Awareness Week

Happy Food Allergy Awareness week! In honor of this week, I wanted to take some time and talk about how food allergies have impacted my life. It's definitely altered it from the course that most people would call normal. I was officially diagnosed at six months old because my parents were concerned about how horrible my eczema was, and it was recommended that they visit an allergist. Sure enough, I was diagnosed with allergies to dairy, eggs, peanuts, and tree nuts (though the list is longer now).

School and Extracurriculars

My allergies didn't really impact my school experience until 4th grade, when we moved. My teachers didn't understand my allergies, and unannounced food was brought into the classroom frequently, despite my mom's requests to provide us with 24 hours notice. That year was rough for me, but the next year was better. Until freshman year in high school, I sat at a designated nut free table with my friends. We had a good time together, but there were definitely some lonely days when people were absent. When I started high school, my mom and I had a serious talk about whether or not I wanted a nut free table. Since I can safely be around my food allergens as long as I don't touch them, we decided it wouldn't be necessary. I would have friend who wouldn't pack anything I was allergic to sit next to me, and I had gotten much better about advocating for myself. Since then, I've been fortunate enough not to have many allergy related issues during school hours. I participate in a lot of extracurricular activities outside of school, like marching band, swim team, and STEAM club. Marching band was hard at first, because we have all day competitions throughout the season, and I had to figure out how to carry my epi pen and food at the same time. I was able to get a spy belt to hold my epi pen while we were at competitons, which worked really well. It's elastic instead of a defined shape, so it's less obvious, and I'm able to fasten it around my stomach under my uniform. I also make sure my director, friends, section, and drum majors all know where it is in case something were to happen. Packing food used to be a struggle because the buses like to leave once they've dropped us off, but we have amazing volunteers who hold my food for me when that's the case, I just need to let them know ahead of time when I'm coming to get it. When I was on swim team, the biggest challenge was just team dinners. I have a lot of anxiety about eating in front of people, especially when I have to bring my own food. However, I was able to work it out with my parents so that I ate ahead of time, that way I didn't have to worry but was still able to bond with my team. Whenever I join a new extracurricular activity, I always make sure either the person in charge is aware of my allergy, or a good friend who will be there with me knows.

Friends and Family

My friends and family have been my biggest supporters when it comes to my food allergies. They make sure to look out for me, and always want to make sure I can participate safely in whatever activity is going on. I've had a few rocky instances with people I thought were my friends, though. I was invited to a pizza party for something in 7th grade. I can't have restaurant pizza, so my mom made me one to take. I went up during lunch and was talking to one of my friends when a girl came over to me and told me how gross my pizza looked, and promptly invited everyone else to come see too. That was a hard moment for me, because I thought she was becoming my friend. However, I realized that true friends stick up for you and don't say things like that. It didn't stop what she said from hurting, but I am so much more grateful for my other friends because of what she said that day. My family has also been wonderful. They always make sure family get togethers are safe for me, and try their best to learn about food allergy stuff. I'm really lucky to have them in my lives.

Food Allergy Projects

This is my second year on FARE's Teen Advisory Group, and I am so thankful to be a part of it. I've met amazing people who understand what having food allergies means, and I've gotten to participate in projects dedicated to raising awareness. I also spoke at the 2018 FARECon Featuring Teen Summit about how to handle food allergies and anxiety. I'm excited to continue working for this wonderful community by raising awareness, providing resources, and helping however I can. I hope you all have a wonderful food allergy awareness week. Feel free to share your experience with food allergies in your everyday lives down below!

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