Posted 20th January 2021
Most people are diagnosed with allergies at a very young age, but for some weird reason, my body decided to develop allergies at 16. I suddenly became anaphylactic to nuts and allergic to dairy and gluten. These were foods that I had eaten all my life and had never imagined I would be allergic to. Before I even had time to process this new change in my life, I was thrown into a world of EpiPens, reading food labels and everything else that comes along with having food allergies. Suddenly everyone else around me had finished handing round the share box of sweets before I had time to check if it contained my allergies, or as if the ‘lean in’ for a kiss isn’t awkward enough without me having to say, ‘sorry you haven’t eaten nuts in the lasts 4 hours have you?’ If you had told me a year before a kiss could kill me I would have laughed, suddenly this was my reality.
When starting the sixth form, I wasn’t interested in being different to my friends. I was in denial about having allergies and didn’t want to accept that I had to deal with it. I felt alone and didn’t realise that there were so many other people going through the same thing.In the beginning, I often ate ‘may contains’ because I just wouldn’t take responsibility and face the fact that I had allergies. It wasn’t until I asked myself the question, ‘would you eat food if it said may contain poison?’ that I realised - of course not and this could be no different.
This was when I took control. Through research and support from my friends and family, I was able to adapt to having allergies, I even created my Instagram page @willnutcontain with my mum, to share my journey and hopefully help others. At first, I thought my life would completely change and I wouldn’t be able to do the same things as I had before, but with a little effort and determination, I can! My life is just like all teenagers, I have a job, I’m going to sixth form, parties, festivals, and holidays and arguably eating better than ever!
I have found in school my close friends have become allies in managing my food allergies. Most of my friends have been amazing, to the point that someone in our sixth form opened a Snickers bar, realised about my allergies and legged it to an outside bin, then washed his hands 3 times in a bathroom in a different building before coming back to meet us!
I know it can seem an inconvenience, a want for attention, or for ‘fashion’ but what’s more attention-seeking? - Making people around you aware of the situation or being blue lighted off to A and E after having a reaction?
Your life doesn’t need to change drastically, having food allergies doesn’t mean you are broken; it just means your body is highly intelligent! Here’s how a typical ‘day in the life’ at school goes for me.
When I wake up, the go-to option for any 17 year old is a phone check! I answer any allergy advice questions I’ve got on Instagram overnight and then I get up! Weirdly this part of my day has changed a lot since having allergies, SO many soaps and makeup contains nuts, enough to have a reaction so please check your products before buying - the last thing you want is almond lipstick, lip injection look x100!
I have breakfast and pack my school bag. For breakfast on a school day I normally play it very safe and quick, my go-to is nestle gluten-free range as I know it sits really well for me! I pack my bag with enough safe snacks to open a small convenience store (do you really have allergies if this isn’t relatable?) and make sure I have my medical bag (a cute makeup bag because it's all about style, right?).
It’s vital I have my EpiPens, a pre-measured dose of Piriton, which is easy to shot back in an emergency and more antihistamine to take four hours after a reaction.
At School, your friends are your biggest allies and they must know how to do your adrenaline. I know this can be embarrassing but the worst thing you could do during a reaction is to take yourself off to an isolated place - you could end up on the floor of a locked bathroom in a very dangerous situation! You may think you could easily inject yourself but in the middle of a reaction, when your body is numb and you can’t breathe, for many of us, it’s the last thing we can do!
Once I've got everything, its time to go to school! My sixth form is part of a bigger main school but my peers and I are based in an old flat with a joint kitchen and bathroom - a complete nightmare for cross-contamination! Since having allergies my life at school has consisted of a lot of ‘oh I’m sorry poppy I don't think you can have that’ as a teacher is making neutron diagrams out of flour-coated sweets, or Christmas parties where every cake and biscuit has gluten or dairy or may contain! And then, of course, this is normally followed by the ‘a little won’t hurt will it?’ comment. At which point you take a deep breath, smile and raid your convince store of safe food in your bag! These are the times I've been annoyed at my allergies in school.
At the moment we order our lunch online for school due to the pandemic and this works really well for me. My lunch comes in its own box with the allergens listed on the front, so my stress level is zero when it comes to that! I have found schools to be so accommodating when it comes to their catering, however, it’s very repetitive and boring at the moment due to the pandemic, as the demand for food is greater. This makes options more limited. Lack of understanding seems more common amongst peers and teachers’ rather than the catering staff (even if the lunch ladies know me as the ‘dairy, gluten and nut-free girl’).
After our first few lessons, we have break, this is normally a gossip session over cups of tea and biscuits in the kitchen. Teenagers are not the best at washing spoons and mugs, so I re-wash them before making a cup of tea. Then, instead of helping myself to the group biscuit tin, I’ll have something similar that I've brought, normally a gluten-free biscuit, as this looks the same as what everyone else is eating so I blend in!
Unfortunately, all good gossip sessions come to an end! After break I have a few more hours of clock watching whilst learning about the structure of the brain in Psychology, then it’s lunch… finally! I always make sure I wash my hands before eating, not just because it's good hygiene but also in case of any cross-contamination on my hands! When I developed my allergies I seriously considered bringing in my own lunch but I decided not to. After communication with my school, we came to build trust with the kitchen and the last thing I wanted to do was single my self out, so we spoke to the school and my peers, when the trust and knowledge were there I stayed with school lunches and its worked perfectly. Sometimes the fear of a reaction is so big, you can remove yourself from a situation unnecessarily, but there’s no need. Nuts aren't just going to storm into my salad box like a police drug raid, it may feel weird at first but eventually, you’ll relax and build trust with your friends and school.
School is a safe environment, teachers generally become teachers because they care about their pupils and want to help you, whether in a lesson or other aspects of life. The last thing they’ll want is to cause harm to you! Don’t be shy about what you’re nervous about and I’m sure they’ll help!
After lunch, there are a few more lessons then time to go home! When I get home I normally chill out, do some homework and have supper. We have lots of recipes on our Instagram @willnutcontain, so I normally try and cook something new to put on there and help others! I love to try and have the same as my family. With allergies, you often feel singled out at mealtimes, so in my family, we have really enjoyed finding things we can all eat, even if it’s slightly different variations! For example; a tomato pasta bake, we could all eat that, just cook different pasta, but the end result would all taste and look the same! That way no one feels singled out, and this is something I am hugely grateful to my family for! The rest of my evening is normally spent checking through Instagram, researching new allergy things for @willnutcontain, catching up with friends and watching telly with my family, cuddling our dogs and looking after my hedgehog!
Food allergies can seem isolating, scary and a major inconvenience. But with time, understanding and help from friends, family and the online community it will become your new normal. I am now Poppy, not ‘Poppy with the allergies’, and that’s hugely important! I hope you found this helpful, thank you so much for the opportunity to write this, thanks to The allergy & Free From Show, people like me are able to find a safe, exciting space where there are more ‘yes you can’ than ‘no you can’t’ and we can connect with others in the same situation- something I’m hugely grateful for!
Poppy - WillNutContain