Okay, just gonna put this out there: this was not an easy post for me to write. I feel like these topics NEED to be written about and talked about, though, so even if my words resonate with one person, it’s worth posting this. Without further ado, let’s talk about my anxiety (and if you agree or disagree, have something to add, or want to talk about your experiences, feel free to comment or get in touch with me!).
I’ve probably had anxiety for a really long time, I just didn’t know it. And I think that’s the case with a lot of people — there’s such a silencing of these topics that it’s hard to even recognize anxiety when it stares you in the face. Anxiety can be deceiving, too; when it hit me, I remained at the top of my class, kept playing sports, continued to enjoy social interaction, and didn’t feel much different. There were a few exceptions: my weight dropped, I stopped trying new foods, and what were previously fleeting worries became a constant, ever-present reel of thoughts and situations that terrified me. I had a hard time recognizing what I was up against for another reason, too; these worries have always had a presence in my mind because I can’t remember a day without worrying about my life-threatening food allergies. Some days my allergies remain in the backdrop, but other times – in a lunchroom filled with kids eating peanut butter and jelly, for instance – they’re at the front of the stage, unwilling to take a seat at the back of my mind’s theater. The bottom line is that worrying about food allergies is normal, but it’s when the worrying became out of control that it became anxiety.
While my anxiety was in full swing after a traumatic experience on a plane, my anxiousness manifested itself both mentally and physically. I couldn’t try new foods because it felt like everything was affecting my allergies, so I went on a quest to eliminate foods from my diet that I thought bothered me at all, which at the time was quite a bit. My anxiety spawned from very real, normal fears about a very scary disease, and it took a long time for me to learn coping mechanisms to get my anxiety in check.
In fact, I’m still dealing with anxiety. And, you know what, that’s totally okay. There’s nothing wrong with having it, but managing it is absolutely key. Being able to watch a mindless television show, think positive thoughts, or even talk on the phone in order to alleviate the worries has been central to finding balance, and discovering these methods for yourself is key to living a normal life, even if you struggle with anxiety.
For me, I don’t often talk about my food allergy-related anxiety, not because I’m ashamed or scared, but because I know that it doesn’t affect who I am, the true Elizabeth. Though I need to remove myself from situations on occasion and may not dine out as often as most people, I have never and will never let myself be defined by my allergies (and, therefore, anxiety). I am a lot of things, but I am not “that allergy kid” or “awkward” for having to speak up about allergy-related situations. It may take time, patience, and a strong will to retain my sense of identity, but I think that’s something that a lot of people deal with while they’re growing up.
To conclude, I want to mention that I largely worked through my anxiety myself, with the loving support of my close family. “Talk therapy,” or seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist, didn’t work for me — I’ve just never felt comfortable talking about myself and my thoughts with a total stranger, especially when I was in seventh grade (also, many of them didn’t understand the intricacies of managing food allergies + anxiety). “Talk therapy” doesn’t work for everyone, and that’s why there are other ways to manage anxiety. As you can probably tell by now, writing is one of the main ways that I work through problems, but I think a lot of methods of self-expression (painting, singing, playing an instrument, etc.) are useful in dealing with – and overcoming – anxiety.