If it were up to me, I'd rather not talk about my food allergies. It didn't used to be that way. When I was first diagnosed, I was happy to explain all the time. I finally felt some relief from the pain I had been in for so long, and discovered freedom to at least eat some delicious things, so I was happy to relay my story.
But the longer I went along not eating the foods everybody else was eating at the table, the less I felt like talking. The more Christmases I enjoyed without Christmas cookies, or the more Novembers that passed without pumpkin pie, the more reluctant I became to say anything at all.
I figured if I could just fly under the radar, maybe nobody would notice how outside of the group I actually was.
Food is not just food, after all, and the fact that I wasn't able to share a normal meal with those who mattered most to me made me feel isolated and alone.
The most awkward time was meeting new people. I traveled often, and it seemed like I was meeting new people every week. When I did, I would try not to make a big deal out of things. I would do my best to order off the menu, making substitutions if necessary, but not asking too many annoying questions (because who wants to eat with that girl?). But every so often the meal would be delivered and there would be something I didn't anticipate, and I would either have to send it back -- or eat it.
Often, I chose to eat it (and of course, suffer for it).
Recently I decided I wasn't going to do this anymore. What was the point? I was salvaging my pride at the expense of my body and it wasn't worth it.
So I made the decision to start talking about my allergies, as often as I needed.
The worst part about being honest about my food allergies is that it's incredibly depressing. We'll be in a group of people, for example, and everyone will decide they want to make cookies. The conversation usually includes several exclamation points (like, cookies!!) because hello, who doesn't want to talk about cookies? Well, I'll tell you who: people with food allergies.
Consider the possible allergens involved: eggs, dairy, gluten and sugar.
In the past, what I would have said in response to the cookie exclamation was, "yeah, let's do it!" just so I wouldn't be a downer. But then when the actual cookies arrived, my choices would be limited. I could pretend to eat them, pretend to not like cookies (which would be confusing since I already expressed by cookie exclamation earlier), actually eat them (and suffer), or fake an illness and go home.
Not a stellar list of choices, if you ask me.
You know what it reminds me of? Junior high. See, when I was in junior high, my parents seemed to be more strict than all the other parents. I don't know if that was actually true, but it sure felt like it was. My friends were always listening to new albums or watching new movies, and it always seemed like they were albums and movies I wasn't allowed to watch or listen to. So, as a result, I did what any intelligent middle schooler would do. I got really good at faking it.
When one of my friends would start talking about a new movie, or a new album, I would be all like, "Oh yeah, I looove that one. Especially track four. Isn't that the greatest?"
Meanwhile, I had no idea what I was talking about.
And the fact that I felt like I had to lie about myself and my interests in order to make friends seems totally ludicrous when I think about it now, but it shouldn't seem that way. It's the same thing I do with my food allergies -- hiding part of my experience because I worry what people will say. I worry I'll be considered an outsider or an inconvenience.
These days, I'm practicing honesty in this area. What that means is, when cookies come up, I try to bring myself to say:
"That sounds delicious. I can't have cookies."
People always ask why. After all, people are so much kinder that I give them credit for. They care about me much more than I realized before. In fact, recently this happened, and one of my friends, who is a professional chef, manufactured a way to make cookies without any of the things I'm allergic to. He made a batch for me, and then a "normal" batch for everybody else. I ate my entire batch in 24 hours. It was amazing.
But it isn't always this easy. There are times when I'm traveling, or times when I am eating at someone else's house that explaining my food allergies feels like the most incredible inconvenience, like a conversation on repeat. People will ask, "so, what are you allergic to?" or "What does it do to you?"
I'll respond: "Do you really want to know? Because this could turn into a twenty minute conversation where I try not to use the words: bowel movement."
It can be truly awful.
But every once and awhile I'll take the time to explain my food allergies and something really magical will happen. Maybe, for example, someone at the table will say "me too," and we'll both breathe easy for a minute. In a space where both of us felt like outsiders, now we've found a place to connect. Or, perhaps someone at the table will know someone who has suffered similar symptoms -- or perhaps they have themselves -- and suddenly now, they know why. As I share my story, they'll realize relief is possible, that healing could be around the corner.
Or finally (and I'm not sure why I save this for last), sometimes when I share about my food allergies, I discover I'm not as "outside" of the group as I once thought I was. I don't have to lie. I don't have to hide myself. I don't have to pretend to know about an album I've never heard about. I can talk about my real experience, my real feelings -- taking up just as much (although not more) space as everyone else.
And when I show up like -- when I choose to exist -- healing happens. I still can't have cookies, but maybe someday I will. It's coming from the inside out.
This story is part of HuffPost Healing, a HuffPost series about physical, mental and emotional healing. Have you had an experience with healing? If so, we'd love to hear it. For Allison, it was food allergies. What is it for you? Reach out by emailing email@example.com.
Follow Allison Vesterfelt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/allyvest