Living with life-threatening food allergies can be extremely complicated and stressful. As a teenager with severe food allergies to milk, peanuts, raw eggs and some kinds of fish, I understand this all too well. On a daily basis, I examine everything I eat and make sure nothing contains my allergens or has been cross-contaminated.
One of the best ways to alleviate some of this stress is to have a good support system, or what I like to call a Support Squad.
A Support Squad is a team of key people in an food-allergic person’s life who supports them with their allergies. These are the people who have your back. The main purpose of a Support Squad is to have knowledge of your allergies and how to avoid contact with your allergens.
Support Squad members also need to know how to recognize a reaction. Allergic reactions are can vary greatly, so it’s important for Support Squad members to know how to recognize all potential symptoms, and to know which symptoms you’ve be known to get. Finally, a squad offers moral support by always being available to listen to you.
So, who should be on your Support Squad? It’s ideal to include a mix of family members, teachers, coaches, doctors and friends to cover all areas of your life.
My Support Squad includes my parents, my brother Mathias, Aunt Melissa, my English teacher, friends Jonah and Thomas, and my allergist Dr. Juan Sotomayor. Mathias and Thomas both have food allergies, so we understand each other and can discuss many situations.
Jonah doesn’t have allergies but he knows what I’m allergic to and has been trained to administer my auto-injector. My allergist, Dr. Sotomayor, provides me with medical support by informing me about new protocols and treatments.
To assemble your own Support Squad, start by answering these questions:
- Which family members always have your back?
- Of those family members, which ones do you spend the most time with?
- Which teachers or coaches do you feel comfortable talking to?
- Who prepares your food or buys your groceries?
- Who is your closest friend, the one you spend the most time with and knows you the best?
- Which doctor or nurse do you feel most comfortable talking to about your allergies?
- If you’re feeling anxious, is there a counselor you can discuss your allergies with?
The people you listed are all potential members of your Support Squad. After you identify people, have a conversation with them. Remember, the first step in having the support you need is to ask for it!
Another important area of support is the food allergy community. In my case, I am actively involved with FARE, Food Allergy Research & Education, an organization that provides information to people with food allergies. Other food allergy organizations, online groups and social media sites also offer valuable support.
Studies show that people with food allergies often suffer from heightened levels of anxiety compared to people without allergies. Assembling a Support Squad should be one of the first things people do when they are newly diagnosed. It helps people cope with the stress of living with a food allergy and can be critical for a person’s safety.
My Support Squad is invaluable to my health, well-being and outlook on life. The more we spread awareness and talk about our allergies, the less anxiety and fewer reactions we have to live with. Instead of focusing on fear, we can focus on fun and living life to the fullest.
Olivier Deldicque, 16, is the author of the book: When Every Bite Matters: One Teen’s Journey with Food Allergies.