Could even our biggest challenges like food allergies and anxiety spin into something positive? Could our greatest hurdles turn into the type of strength and perseverance that can be used for future races, experience and life?
“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Like Colossians 3:2 states, perspective is a major key to one’s happiness. Life was never promised to be easy, but also can see in scripture the promise of “beauty for ashes.” This was the promise for God’s people to be delivered from their plight. Though it was promised way back when, it can still give us hope and encouragement during the most difficult times and situations we experience now. Therefore, we must remember to embrace and accept the challenge as an opportunity to learn, to grow, to change, to be ultimately blessed for the troubles and pains. Like John Wooden’s quote, “Things turn out best for the people who make the best out of the way things turn out,” take the bad and find the good. We must teach ourselves to find the positive spin.
Since May is food allergy awareness month, let’s use our experience with food allergies as an example. So, let’s go back to that first reaction, an experience no one should have to experience…
Saturday, December 13 was a typical snowy evening. As I was setting up my son’s dinner, I was excited because it would be his first taste of yogurt. After two small spoonfuls, the verdict was in: he seemed to love it!
However, within a minute it all changed.
He started to fuss and rub at his face. Turning red, his lips and mouth swelled up as huge blotches formed all over his face, neck and chest. Although just an infant, fear was written all across his face. After calling 911, an ambulance arrived after what felt like a lifetime. In the ambulance, his state continued to get worse. I held an oxygen mask over his now slightly-blue lips. As he started to zone out, I prayed that he did not lose his breath. Every time he cried, I felt a second of relief for he was breathing.
Asking the EMT repeatedly about his state, I now know that she too was worried. Her silence spoke louder than any words could have. They did not have an EpiPen with them in the ambulance and called to meet up with another team on the way to the hospital. However, due to the snow, that did not happen. As the doors to the ambulance opened, they sprinted in holding my son as I ran behind them, helpless.
The hospital staff administered epinephrine, Benadryl, and a steroid then reassured me that everything would be okay. It was 40 minutes after ingesting that tiny amount of yogurt and I now know that we were beyond lucky. Not everyone gets those 40 minutes.
A moment of relief soon turned into the reality of what had happened. It mixed with guilt, throwing me into the most difficult place I had seen. That night, I slept on the floor next to his crib waking up every hour to check for breathing. Yet, even in his sleep, TJ smiled on…
We soon learned that TJ was allergic to and needed to avoid milk, eggs, wheat, oats, barley, rye, peanuts, tree nuts, coconut, sesame, soy, peas, and tomatoes. At first, I spent those early months trying to defend myself to others as a good person who did not eat too many or too little peanuts or eggs during my pregnancy. Or, explaining why I chose to continue breastfeeding despite these allergies. I was explaining myself to everyone to try to prove that I did not cause this and I was not an awful mom. However, I had no one to prove myself to. It was not my fault. I did not need to sit with the guilt either. It was unhealthy and I needed to shift my focus to best help myself so that I could best help TJ.
What I did not know at the time was that I was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder afterwards as well. It was a time of great fear and challenges. Not only did he have these food allergies, he had also developed viral-induced asthma and seemed to be sick all the time, needing breathing treatments daily. Events with family and friends became difficult for so many reasons so I just avoided them. It appeared to be one hurdle after another during that time. Then, mix in a miscarriage, the loss of my close friend’s baby, postpartum anxiety and some medical issues plus a lifetime of anxiety… those mountains seemed way too high to climb.
That’s where the spin comes in… I seemed to be spinning out of control but that did not mean I could not learn to spin it the other way. My perspective had to change before my situation did.
Therefore against the intense anxiety, guilt, exhaustion and pain, I turned to reading scripture, praying and writing. I had always been good at seeing the good in other people but it was a challenge to do this for myself, my own experiences, my own life. I had to teach myself to find the positive or else I would never break the cycle… I had to reverse the spin.
Despite the fact that food allergies, anxiety and health issues are all incredible challenges, there is also a lot of good all around, waiting to be discovered or even seen through these rocky journeys.
Spinning forward and ahead…
1) Allergies have taught us to eat much healthier. It has opened our eyes and thus our mouths to a much more nutritious, organic and wholesome cuisine. It shined light on many misconceptions regarding health, food sources and fat, by allowing us to find great resources like Robin O’Brien. I still remember how I was pumping breast milk during my break at work when I got the message from an amazing nurse Kathy who sent me a video on her. I have not stopped following her since. Through the years, we have also found many companies and brands to trust. We have learned a lot.
2) Companies aren’t the only sources of great information. We have also met and/or spoken to so many other allergy families. We have shared ideas, joys and challenges. A support system is key and food allergies have allowed for that. They are all around. Sign up, join or boldly start your own.
3) We have been given a platform to teach to the ignorance and shine empathy on so many. In being able to educate others even our own family members and friends, relationships have taken on a whole new perspective and level.
4) Thinking outside the box – Having food allergies has really allowed us to get creative and go beyond the typical to ensure TJ, Madison and all of those with allergies are included. Why cry over the spilled milk and sheet cakes you can’t buy for birthday parties, when you have so many great alternative milks out there to purchase and so many cakes and recipes to experiment with and love! As we continue to add to our allergy-safe cookbook, we have fun with it.
5) It continues to teach us to appreciate the little things in life a bit more. We celebrate and praise God at the alter every time another food item is added back into our diets. Heck, we have even celebrated peas … shhh don’t tell my kids I’m not really a fan. Still, we are grateful for each blessing.
6) It develops self advocacy in children at a young age. A few weeks ago at a church class, teachers were switched without us knowing and the message about TJ’s allergies was not relayed. However, TJ spoke up for himself when they tried to give him goldfish which have dairy. Strong advocates with brave hearts will continue to make a difference in this world. I know I want to raise that type of child.
7) And the greatest blessing of all is the testimonies we have of God’s work. We were told TJ would have asthma until at least eight if not his whole life. – TJ no longer has asthma. He stopped daily treatments before he was 2.5. He hasn’t needed a breathing treatment since before he was 4. At 5 now, he is allergic to only dairy, eggs, and peanuts. Three allergies is a huge improvement from 21! While he used to be sick a lot, he has barely been sick this entire year and doesn’t even need an asthma care plan for kindergarten. We have a lot to be thankful for.
And when you ask TJ who took away the stomach bug he had in December, the breathing treatments, the other 18 allergies… His testimony is simply perfect. God!
Since beginning this journey, I have already learned to smile differently because:
1) Special kinds of people wear these shoes. Wear the label often thrown at you with pride. For you are special.
2) Make the most of it, don’t let challenges like food allergies define you. Only YOU can define yourself.
3) Ignorance is not bliss and needs to be educated. Let’s help share awareness with an open mind and heart.
4) Let your faith be bigger than your fear. Two thoughts cannot exist at the same time. A fearful one cannot remain when a faith-filled one butts in and takes charge. Trust your instinct but always be prepared and hopeful.
5) Educating means advocating. Never apologize for it. Your child’s life, your life never requires an apology.
Last, but definitely not least, people with food allergies, old and young, continue to inspire us each and every day. They radiate so much strength, courage, and goodness. Don’t get me wrong, food allergies stink. However, we must keep focusing on the blessings while we keep safe, praying and believing God is continuing to use all of this as a testimony of his amazing love and healing power.
So if it means having a house that’s a little messier and some challenges we know we will rise above, we’ll take it. We’ll use it all to continue to do our part to teach the merry-go-round of life to see the good all around and learn to spin the other way.