Last Thursday, I took my eldest to dinner at a Japanese restaurant to celebrate her 19th birthday. We're the only two members of the family who like Japanese food, so it was a real treat for both of us.
On Saturday, I had a huge toothache in my hip. I was entertaining that day, so I tried to focus on walking without limping. On Sunday, my face exploded. My nose turned bright red and was covered with rosacea spots, and I had a huge red raspberry on one cheek.
My food allergies had come home to roost. Something I ate, either at the Japanese restaurant or some other time that week, led to the swelling in my hip and the rash on my face.
For years, I lived like this. I dragged a useless right leg around with me, enduring substantial pain in my hip and back as cheerfully as I could. My face was a series of rash explosions -- bright red, dark purplish red, or pink and scaly. Headaches came and went. I felt exhausted most of the time, barely able to get through the things I must do.
In 2005, I went through a series of tests for food allergies. Within 2 weeks of learning the results, my skin cleared up and my hip pain lessened considerably. After years of being partially disabled, I had days and even weeks without pain.
It was like magic. When people asked me whether I minded giving up dairy, eggs, almonds, soy, corn, green beans, or most other legumes, I told them that I didn't care what I had to eat if I could live without pain.
And I don't. I'll quite happily give up pizza, lasagne, green beans almondine, macaroni and cheese, almond tarts, banana cream pie, butter, mayonnaise, salad dressing, cornbread, refried beans, baked beans, tofu, and much else in exchange for clear skin, a strong body, and a clear head.
Sometimes, however, I wish that it didn't make me so afraid of food. I have to check the contents on everything I eat. If someone offers me something, I have to question them closely. Does it contain eggs or milk? What about mayonnaise or butter? Is there any corn starch or corn syrup in it?
People almost always say, "No, I don't think so." Most of the time, when I check the label, the food contains something that I can't eat.
These people don't wish me pain. They simply don't know what it's like to live with food allergies. I can't ever cheat, not even a little bit. A single tortilla chip makes my face explode. The slightest bit of butter on vegetables sets my hip off. A hint of egg triggers a migraine.
Quite often, people don't tell me the truth about the contents of the food. They don't mention the butter on the vegetables or the mayonnaise in the sauce. They must think that it can't possibly matter, but my body adds up the bill and exacts its toll. For a week or two, depending on how much of the offending food I ate, I move back into food allergy hell.
All this fussiness about food makes me something of a social pariah. I tend to avoid potlucks, dinner parties, and events at restaurants. I pack my own food and eat before gatherings.
Occasionally, someone will say, "No, Heather, I really want you to be able to join us for this event. I'll be happy to prepare food you can eat. Give me your list and I'll plan the menu around that."
I am incredibly touched when people do this. It leaves me free to be part of the group, to eat as freely as other people.