By: Kaitlin McKay
Allie the Allergic Elephant has been a friend of mine for many years. As a child, I grew up watching Allie the Allergic Elephant to understand what a peanut allergy is and how to deal with it. It was scary having to practice using my EpiPen on an orange and watching it turn a sickly green.
Growing up with allergies has not only been an obstacle, but it has become a part of who I am. At a young age, my parents found out I was allergic to peanuts and at about the age of four, they found out I was allergic to latex. I have many other non-food related allergies, but peanuts and latex are the most severe. Going to birthday parties has always been a struggle. I had to bring my own cupcakes because the cake being served was probably processed on the same equipment as peanut and tree nut products. I would also have to be very careful if there were balloons present at the party. It felt as if I was being singled out because I could never eat the birthday cake or paly with the balloons.
As I grew up I found ways to get around having these allergies. I decided to go to Eastern New Mexico University because I was fond of Portales, a small town, after growing up in Albuquerque.
In the summer of 2015, it hit me that I had been living in a town that produces something that could kill me. Had I really been living in a town that produces peanuts all along? After finding this out, I was warier of my surroundings. I felt the need to constantly wash my hands, I stopped going to community and sports events because they sold bags of peanuts, and I didn’t want to risk an allergic reaction.
The past year has been a learning process all over again. I had to teach myself not to be afraid of everything but still be aware of my surroundings, and ALWAYS carry my EpiPen with me. To this day I still live in Portales, and the production of peanuts does not seem to affect me.
In the summer of 2014, I had my annual allergy test to see if I developed any new allergies, or if my latex and peanut allergy had become less severe. They hadn’t, but, we found out that I had developed Celiac disease, an auto-immune disease. This broke my heart. I did not want to have to deal with another food allergy. That night I went home and did my research on what exactly Celiac disease was. I couldn’t have any wheat or gluten! I only had a few weeks to adjust to this before I went off to college.
When I got to college I had to live in the dorms and eat at the dining hall. The head chef was very kind and walked me through the dining hall and showed me what I would be able to eat.
“Okay, this might not be so bad after all,” I thought. Boy, was I wrong. Every day it felt like I was eating the same food. Sometimes I would go to the pasta bar and ask for gluten-free pasta only to find out they had forgotten to make some that morning. It was back to the salad bar again.
After a semester of eating at the dining hall, I decided to move off campus and live in an apartment where I could cook my own food. It has gotten easier but it is still a struggle when eating out.
My advice: don’t run from your allergies, embrace them. This has taken me a long time to learn and accept. There is nothing I can do to change them; I can only make it better. Do research on your allergies. Find out what you can and can’t eat. There are a lot of restaurants that are very good with allergies. Living on campus with food allergies can be quite difficult. Talk to the head chef and don’t be afraid to ask questions; they are there to help you. This doesn’t have to define you.