As I pressed the confirm button to purchase Thanksgiving plane tickets for my two young-adult kids, I felt it – a wave of gratitude. They would soon be home, and we would fully celebrate, in a way we haven’t really done since the pandemic hit back in 2020.
Beyond a good time, what I’m really grateful for is the sense of my family’s pandemic stress starting to lift. The sun is peeking out. Many families felt a sense of loss during those long couple of years. While it might not equate to losing someone to the dreaded virus, there was still an unhealthy burden of sadness and anxiety.
A growing chorus of experts say that, while precautions were necessary, COVID-19 took a big toll on mental health. We missed other humans enormously during the lockdown, and some felt alienated or stressed out. The experts note that some kids missed key milestones, like graduations and age-appropriate development of communication skills.
The aha moment for me arrived when I was doing personal coaching work with fellow food allergy parent Aleasa Word. She is a certified executive and life coach and a licensed emotional intelligence (EQ) assessor and practitioner. I sought her help when I realized it was time to emerge from the isolation and I truly didn’t know where to start.
Finding the Way Forward
Aleasa guided me through the opportunity to develop the ability to understand my heavy emotions about the last two years and why I had those feelings.
Once my emotions and feelings were identified, we created a unique plan for moving forward and to help me to get to know myself better – including leveraging my strengths so I could tackle the challenges and pandemic sadness.
Exploring my experiences, fears, sadness and what the time during the pandemic had meant to me turned out to be freeing.
The coaching proved powerful. I was surprised to find it left me marveling at life with fresh eyes. Suddenly, I felt gratitude in new places in my heart and the world. It felt good to be alive and planning the holidays.
Mood Lifters: Shopping and Giving Back
My first brush with feeling ‘normal,’ and celebratory again happened with Halloween.
I discovered store shelves packed again with teal pumpkins and bright colored non-food Halloween-themed toys – all of which tell our food allergy story to the world.
I found my family’s favorite allergy-friendly treats at big box and discount stores instead of having to scour to order online. With the previous years’ shortages over, the joy in shopping for costumed kids was back. It also made me wonder – are retailers finally seeing the power of our food allergy dollars? I stood in the store aisle beaming and taking selfies next to a remarkable abundance of allergy-friendly goodies. Sure I looked silly, but I was … happy!
For Thanksgiving, I do like to share the spirit of gratitude. Packing up holiday care packages with allergy-safe foods has been an unexpected breeze, and my choices have been much more extensive this year.
One recipient is a student at my daughter Leila’s college in California. Leila told me this student was feeling overwhelmed because of a new food allergy diagnosis. Leila wanted to help, and I got on board. I cheerfully sent a box to a student at my daughter’s college I didn’t know. I was grateful to see the food allergy village making room for a new community member through love and support.
Gratitude for Kindness to My Son
Words for the win! My son, who is 24 and has peanut, tree nut and sesame allergies, flew home for a quick visit not long ago. The man sitting next to him on the flight opened a big can of peanuts and started munching. My son was wearing a mask, at this point, mostly as an extra layer of food allergy protection. He asked the passenger if the peanuts could kindly be put away.
My son is studying Chinese medicine and had been dealing with burnout and was exhausted and anxious to get home. Even though my son was not going to have contact with the peanuts directly, he later told me that the presence of them in such close quarters made him nervous. I feel most grateful that the gentleman seated next to my son respected his needs and obliged the request. The kindness of strangers counts.
Speaking of sons, a dear friend’s son had called me to share “news about his life.” In near tears of joy, I explained to my husband that I had just received the best call of 2022, 2021, and 2020 combined. At first, I thought the young man had met someone special. Nope. He had outgrown his food allergy as an adult!
Unbelievable and so hopeful. His allergy had caused multiple visits to the ER, exclusion, and bullying by fellow students and adults. His life has been riddled with challenges. As someone who’d witnessed his hard journey, I was grateful to celebrate his astonishing good news. It also drove home to me: food allergy friends are genuinely for life.
Gratitude for the Allergy Community
As I worked through my emotions, I found myself thanking people who influenced or inspired me. From the OGs of food allergy advocacy to newcomers to the scene bringing tech and new ideas to improve our lives, everyone brings something to the table. Be it an ear to listen to our troubles and offer supportive advice, doctors and researchers burning the midnight oil, or manufacturers creating products to fill our bellies – it’s all appreciated.
This Thanksgiving, I will savor every little nugget of life, slow down, and open my eyes to how beautiful this world and food allergy community has grown. Grieving our losses, challenges, and missed opportunities opens the door to healing and being thankful in profound and meaningful ways.
Life is imperfect, we are imperfect, but we fit perfectly together. Focusing on the wins while honoring the losses, respecting the past, and heading into the future is how I will celebrate this year. This Thanksgiving, my heart is full with gratitude for all that I have, including this beautiful food allergy community.