Raising a child with a severe food allergy has its challenges. Nobody can possibly understand the extent of those challenges except a parent who, is, raising a child with severe food allergies. The challenges we face every day affects every area of our lives - physically, emotionally, socially, mentally, financially and spiritually. The stress of seeing your child in anaphylactic shock attaches itself to your memory. Every day the possibility of re-living that memory arises. The accompanying fear of a not so positive outcome can be difficult to shake. This all comes at a price.
Often parents, mums especially, pay the price of these continual challenges, worries and fears. On the outside we may appear to have it altogether and be managing really well, then all of a sudden, out of the blue, the stress takes its toll in one way or another. For too long we keep it altogether, cope, manage and do what needs to be done, with little regard to our own personal needs or wants.
I must say that I have been surprised and impressed with my coping skills and achievements over the years, I didn't know how strong I was. But its time to take better care of me, as my health is suffering. You could say I've recently had a recent wake up call and I realise how fragile I am on the inside. The stress I've been holding in for years has had its toll on me. It's time to really start looking after myself and be more selfish (as my hubby always tell me to ). This is an area that I don't think is covered nearly enough, when it comes to raising a child with severe allergies. But, when you look at the dynamics, for a child to be properly cared for, they need a healthy support network. Without a healthy happy mum, the child, and in fact the whole family suffers.
My eyes were really opened recently during a conversation with another mum. Before I go on, I do want to make it clear that I believe people are put into our life for different reasons. Each person is unique and we are all going through our own challenges and fighting our own demons. We all choose how we are going to handle those challenges and whether or not we are going to fight our demons or let them walk over us. This mum is no different and it appeared that her continual negativity about her situation was overbearing the conversation again. I could see that she was on a downward spiral unable to see anybody else's problems but her own. In an attempt to pull her out of her own self absorbed situation I mentioned that I was feeling the stress of having a child with so many allergies. I was absolutely gobsmacked when she asked "Why?, What have YOU got to be stressed about?"
I guess I'm telling you all this because sometimes we just go along with whatever is thrown at us. It's as if we are continually living in survival mode. Just getting through another day avoiding potential allergens and keeping our child safe. Surviving another birthday party or getting through another family outing is a regular occurance. Living with severe food allergies is our life, like it or not. We often lose ourselves in our own life. We need to acknowledge what we face each day and be aware of how it affects us.
Sometimes, living on the edge as we do is like living on a constant adrenaline rush. For whatever reason, we have been given a child with special needs. Keeping our child safe is our number one priority. I put it to you though, that living on the edge of continual adrenaline and the fear of what may happen has a deeper affect on our lives than we realise.... Stress can have subtle symptoms that we don't even notice. Long-term stress can cause detrimental problems to our health.
The effect that consistent stress has on our bodies manifests itself in many different ways. The human body is really quite remarkable. The busy lives we live in our modern society are stressful in itself. When you add the stresses and daily struggles we face as parents raising children who face potential life threatening situations daily, well it can be all encompassing. I think it's so important to be aware of the stress we are dealing with on a daily, weekly and yearly basis.
Think of the extra time you spend avoiding allergic food involves constantly reading every food
label we come across, cross examining anyone who potentially may give
food to our child, the many long hours in the kitchen experimenting and
creating safe and healthy food for our child. Then there is the
time spent searching and possibly travelling to gather allergy friendly
food. Time spent online researching alternatives and substitutes for
otherwise basic ingredients. Time and money spent online shopping for
allergy friendly foods and products. Time spent attending medical appointments. And time spent finding the epipen after your child has taken it off and put it somewhere!
When was the last time you attended a social event without analysing potential dangers of food and catering for your allergic child? Remember when the biggest concern you has was what you were going to wear? When you have a child with potentially life threatening food allergies, every social engagement needs to be thought through with regards to how you will keep your child safe. You need to know what food will be there and what will be safe for your child, sometimes you need to call ahead to find out. Often, it involves taking your own allergy friendly food anyway, to ensure there is no risk. Then there's the issue of offending people by saying you'll take your own food. Some people are thoughtful enough to offer to make food without the allergic food. However, as a parent who understands the risk of cross contamination, many of us prefer to provide our own food. This will offend some people, and if it does well , that's life isn't it. You soon learn that whatever you do, people will get offended, and that is the lesser of the two evils. the main priority is to ensure the safety of your child.
Even if its an adult get together, there's the issue of childcare and knowing whoever is looking after your child is trustworthy and can think quickly and is confident and competent enough to not only recognise the symptoms of anaphylaxis but to act and administer the adrenaline adequately.
I think the picture above says a lot about a woman's mind. How many tabs do you think the mum of an allergic child has open? Too many, I would think. If you're like me, you are continually thinking and usually worrying. Worrying when you see your child chewing and you know you haven't given them something to eat, worrying when they are at school, worrying when they have a tickle in their throat.
This is a typical example of what I mean...This week, Mr 6 has had a frog in his throat each evening. He makes this noise as if he's trying to clear his throat. With this perhaps being one of the early symptoms of anaphylaxis, I am of course concerned, so I immediately start asking questions and checking for other symptoms. He seems okay but of course I am on full alert and constantly listening and checking on him. Once he is in bed, snuggled up, he sleeps peacefully through the night. The logical explanation is that it is getting colder and the cooler evening air is affecting his throat.
My logical mind is of course silenced by my worried mummy head full of 'what if's'. So, I spend my night restless as ever, concerned that he is having an anaphylactic episode and I'm not there for him. I check on him about 8 times during the night. When I'm not checking on him, I'm lying awake listening for his cry for help, which don't come. I have this ongoing battle in my head between my logical mind and my 'scared out of my brain mind'' and I eventually get about 3 hours sleep. I wake up in the morning looking and feeling like I've done 3 rounds with a professional boxer. Mr 6 wakes up bright eyed and bushy tailed raring to go for the day.
It's stressful raising a child with food allergies. Nobody truly understands how hard it can be, because we just get the job done. We don't have the privilege of sitting down feeling sorry for ourselves, we just keep going. We don't want to show our stress or worry because we know our kids will pick up on it and that's not fair to them. If they really knew how worried we were they would develop anxieties and be lead by fear. So, we internalise our own fear contributing to stress and affecting our health.
I think it's so important to look after ourselves as mums. The lesson that has come from the conversation I have had with my friend, is that I need to take better care of myself. I know it won't just happen. I have to consciously make the time to plan some self care. Not just to plan it, but to implement it and make it a part of my lifestyle. What about you? What are YOU doing to TAKE CARE OF YOU????