Finding People You Relate to Can Change Your Life
“Being friends with other kids who have allergies brought me more comfort and sense of community than I could have ever imagined.”
Guest post by Teen Advisory Group (TAG) member Cate Weiser
I was diagnosed with food allergies when I was six months old. Eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, dairy, soy and legumes.
In elementary school, I was one of two kids with allergies; in middle school, I was one of three. None of us were very close, and we only discussed our allergies twice, when each of them grew out of something. As a matter of fact, it was a topic I never talked about with anyone (other than to inform them how to keep me safe). Now I recognize that repressive behavior–I was ashamed of my food allergies, so I chose to acknowledge that part of me as little as possible.
I remember the mortification flooding through me as my middle school director proudly showed me the “allergen free” table. I sat down, and watched my friends all take seats at the table next to mine. All of their lunches had allergens in them. The next day, I explained to the director that it was just too isolating, and that I didn’t need something like an allergen free table. Just like that, it was gone and never acknowledged again.
It wasn’t until I attended the FARE Teen Summit in 2019 that I ever had a deep conversation about food allergies with someone other than my allergist. I was dreading the Summit, and even cried in the car on the way to the airport. I couldn’t imagine spending a weekend wallowing in self-pity over our shared afflictions. Little did I know it would be a life-changing event.
We all shared a great commonality: our experiences, hopes and worries caused by our allergies. We spent the weekend learning everything about each other and running around National Harbor, Maryland, where we ate out at restaurants twice and tried to go night swimming in our FARE t-shirts. We bonded not just because of our allergies, but because of the experiences we had after they brought us together.
Almost a year and a half later, the friends I made there are the people I call today. I called them when I had my first kiss, and we made jokes about how unbelievably awkward it was to say, “Hey, have you eaten anything from this long list of foods today?” When someone passes a food challenge, we FaceTime to celebrate and question each other on what the food tastes like. We talk about what to do when our teammates, workplaces or even friends don’t respect our allergies.
Being friends with other kids who have allergies brought me more comfort and sense of community than I could have ever imagined. They helped me accept what is now the biggest part of myself. For the first fifteen years of my life, I missed out on having people who understood what it was like. I am here to remind every person with food allergies that you are not alone, and your allergies are nothing to be ashamed of. Do what you can to find people you can relate to; I promise, it’ll change your life.