One phrase has the power to diffuse situations, to make people feel heard, to recognize in them a hurt even though there may be nothing you can do to help.
Ever since we launched the Allergy Law Project, there have been messages, emails, and phone calls from people who are struggling to forge their way in advocacy for themselves and those they care about. A common thread seems to be that they want the dangers of exposure to allergens recognized. Sometimes the desire comes from a place of fear – sometimes from a place of experience – and sometimes from a mixture of both.
As we head into Food Allergy Awareness Week in the United States on the tail end of both Teacher Appreciation Week and Nurse Appreciation Week, it makes me think of how much it has meant to me that the other people in my children’s lives like nurses and teachers understand the preciousness of their charges. Teachers stay up late preparing lesson plans, grade papers on weekends, and support students in extracurricular activities when they probably could use a break instead. School nurses manage medications, histories, and have to know students well enough to tell the difference between the flu and just having a bad day.
My mother is a nurse. My sister in law and mother in law are teachers. I may never have walked in their shoes but I can say to them that I understand the challenges caring brings.
I am able to tell clients that I understand the feelings of frustration that accompany the discovery of false friends, of soured deals, and broken promises. Knowing how nervous I am watching my child eat a new food, or what its like to tell her she can’t have some amazing looking treat just like her peers, my first reaction is one of support when another parent confides in me about their own trials. Maybe they’re worried their child isn’t as tall as the other kids, or that their ADHD gets them into trouble, or any of the other worries we have for those we love.
Sometimes the tables turn and someone understands where I’m coming from and I’m reminded of how important compassion is.
On Sunday I got out on the bike again after a much too long hiatus. I couldn’t keep up well enough with the group so I rode a ways back. But I didn’t ride alone, because someone was willing to ride at my pace and keep me company. When I turned around so as to not overdo my mileage, he volunteered to ride back with me. We had a lovely chat and the 180 mile per week rider told me he understood getting into training all over again. I was beaming, though sore, after the ride – how kind he had been! He made me forget how ashamed I was about all the weight I’ve put on and about the way my fitness has diminished to nonexistence. I promised him I’d come out and ride again and again until my goal race in October.
On another day, one of our librarians at our favorite local library pulled me aside and asked where I get all my cute dresses. She didn’t know I’d been wearing dresses more and more because not much else fits, she didn’t see the “me” that I see in the mirror and it reminded me that we have to get out of our own heads once in a while and see ourselves as others do (unless they don’t have nice things to say, in that case ignore those people of course – I’m no stranger to cutting off contact with toxic relationships!).
Then a friend told me yesterday about a tradition in her home country of Japan for mother’s day – it is not a commercial holiday, but instead red carnations are given to mothers as tokens. White carnations, however, are given to those who have lost their mother so that they might be remembered too. How wonderful to both celebrate and remember at the same time. I think the same should be true for something like Food Allergy Awareness – we can look at how far we’ve come in the food options we have, the awareness, the advocacy…but we also can’t forget the lives lost to anaphylaxis.
The long and short of it is that even when you don’t know what to say, just let someone know you hear them and hope things get better. Life is too precious, depression is too invisible, and self care too absent from frantic days. So my hope for all of you is that you feel heard, that you feel understood, and that you can channel the kindness you receive from others back into your community.
Just to prove how much I mean all this, here’s the very last picture I took with my camera before it was stolen last week. It’s one of the Teal Aprons my mother in law made to help me thank allergy cookbook authors that have helped us make safe food for E. If it feels like an odd juxtaposition, it is, because life is just like that. Take the good with the bad and keep on swimming.