I am absolutely terrified of being in water. Specifically, lakes, rivers, and the ocean. I’m mostly okay with pools. Mostly.
And for anyone wondering, I do promise I shower and practice healthy hygiene habits. Mostly. 😉
Kidding aside, why this fear? Well, there are many reasons. Murky waters, creepy looking fish, things with teeth, and clingy plant life do nothing but give me nightmares. Throw in a slithering creature or two and I’ll practically crawl out of my skin.
However, there is one reason above all others that has contributed to my fear of water. It is one of the very first times in my life that I found myself in a truly dangerous situation.
When I was 17 years old, my friends wanted to go water tubing down Clear Creek in Golden, Colorado. It was a body of water that was known for it’s dangerous undercurrents, rocks, and high waters.
So, of course, I definitely went. *Sigh.*
Within the first few minutes of being on the water, I was sucked through the middle of my tube.
Due to the strength of the current, my body was in a perpetual summersault. I lost track of how many times I hit a rock or swallowed down water.
At one point, my head broke through surface long enough for me to hear my friends screaming my name. But in an instant, the water pulled me back under and my foot caught between two rocks.
I really don’t know how long I was trapped, but it felt like forever. As the current held my head down, I clawed at my foot. My lungs were burning and I couldn’t see anything in the muddy water.
The panic felt all encompassing.
Miraculously, I was able to free my foot, but not without losing a few toenails in the process. Sore, bloodied, and exhausted, I grabbed onto some low hanging tree branches. I hung there until my friends could pull me to safety.
Needless to say, I haven’t ventured into the water very often since then.
Becoming a Parent
Since that time, I have had many more experiences in my life that again thrust me into moments of sheer panic and loss of control. Many were brief, but others did leave a lasting impact in one way or another.
After thinking through many of those experiences, I believe becoming a parent has been the pivotal journey that tested my resolve and my character the most.
Parenting is undoubtedly a beautiful blessing, but also breathtakingly humbling.
My parents used to tell me that when I had children, it would feel like my heart was living outside of my chest. And it is so true.
My husband and I were over the moon excited to become parents. Before our oldest was born, we had set up her crib in our room and collected probably close to a hundred little adorable baby outfits.
We had every tool, toy, and piece of furniture a new set of parents could have. Clearly, it was going to be a walk in the park, right?
I am a type-A person. I am organized, clean, and punctual. Trust me, I had planned out every single detail about how I wanted to give birth and what to do in the days following.
Armed with my organizational skills and all my parenting books, I marched confidently into parenthood.
Ha! If I had only known what was in store.
The first few weeks of our parenthood experience can best be described as a dumpster fire being tossed around inside a tornado, which was swirling inside of a crashing plane.
It was a hot mess.
My daughter aspirated on meconium during her birth and fought to live in a NICU for almost 2 weeks. It was absolutely terrifying.
To read more about that story, click HERE.
We were so thankful that our daughter recovered well in the NICU, but we were warned that many unforeseen medical issues could, and most likely would, arise out of her harrowing NICU experience.
And the doctors were not wrong.
Over the course of my daughter’s first year of life, she was diagnosed with eczema, a peanut allergy, a sesame allergy, and dermatographia.
Then, when my son came along a few years later, he also was diagnosed with a food allergy. He has also needed several cardiology appointments for blood circulation concerns.
Each and every one of those medical experiences felt like someone was cutting me open from the inside out.
Naively, I used to believe that almost drowning in that river as a teenager was the scariest thing that could ever happen to me.
Now, every medical scare or medical diagnosis since having children feels a thousand times more horrifying and painful than being tossed around in the raging water of that river.
I’d gladly relive that experience day-after-day if it meant I could somehow alleviate the seriousness and toll of my children’s medical needs.
Our 3 Pillars of Needs
Needless to say, our family has been walking this journey of food allergies and medical needs for four years now.
I won’t lie. It has often felt overwhelming, painful, and debilitating. We’ve grieved, rejoiced, and learned so much in that time.
Obviously, there were countless people that crossed our path, many who were very life-giving, and many that were not.
After taking the time to really examine our experiences, I have come to identify three things that I believe helped us to get through those hard seasons of life.
I like to think of it as our family’s “Three Pillars of Needs.”
Not everyone that is in our extended family unit, friend group, or coworker circle can actually meet these needs.
Sometimes, certain people meet just one need really well, but not the other two. Other times, certain people meet a particular need for just one stretch of our journey.
Conversely, there are those people that have been running the marathon with us since the start.
All of these varying situations are okay.
However, having these 3 guidelines helps our family in deciding who we choose to continue to allow into the vulnerable parts of our lives.
We make time to invest in relationships with people that continually demonstrate that they are safe and willing to help.
1. Authentic Validation
As I grow older and more mentally mature, I continue to learn more about the importance of emotional health and the importance of not letting the occasional harshness of the world and others define how I view myself.
I used to believe that validation was positive recognition from others in how many people wanted to be my friend, promotions in the workplace, or how many people interacted well with me on social media.
That could not be farther from the truth.
The way I viewed validation in the past was very immature. And that’s okay! I’m learning. Validation is not when someone agrees with you or even likes you as a person.
Actually, true and authentic validation is when another human being looks at you and can see the situation in which you find yourself.
They render your feelings, experience, and emotions as valid.
Not only do they see you, but they act in a way that conveys that your experience is a serious matter. They are physically and emotionally present.
Additionally, they recognize that what you might be feeling, experiencing, seeing, hearing, and living as a genuine and impacting occurrence. Kind and empathetic words are used.
Below are some examples of how validation might look like (and sound like) for food allergy families walking this difficult journey.
- Making eye contact with someone and listening intently. Making sure to not be distracted by phones, tv, work, etc.
- Saying things like, “Thank you for talking to me about this. Your thoughts and feelings matter to me.”
- “You are right. This sounds incredibly difficult.”
- “To me, it sounds like you might be feeling __________ (grieving/hurting/struggling/overwhelmed). Is that accurate?”
- “Everything that you are experiencing is real and valid. You are not crazy for feeling this way.”
Validation is NOT:
- Giving one’s opinion
- Offering advice
- Suggesting how to look at the situation differently
- Saying things that belittle someone’s thoughts:
- “Lighten up. It could be worse.”
- “I don’t get it. Just don’t feed them that food.”
- “You are too sensitive. You need to chill-out.”
Engaging in these non-validating actions or words only devalues and dismisses someone’s legitimate experience.
For more information on what validation actually is, check out THIS article from Psychology Today.
2. Compassionate Encouragement
Unlike validation, which is the act of genuine recognition of someone’s pain, compassionate encouragement is when we feel emotionally moved by their pain and desire to help them. Here is a clear definition.
The action of giving someone support, confidence, or hope.– Oxford Languages
I just love that definition. Did you catch the last word?
The foundation of compassionate encouragement is to desire to give someone hope.
If there has been one thing that has become abundantly clear to me on this food allergy journey, it is the fact that there are people in this world that will be compassionate towards us.
On the flip side, it is also quite clear that there will always be people that choose to speak harsh words and treat us in ways that are definitely not even in the same hemisphere as compassion.
Their behavior is not okay, but I also do not need to invest my time and energy trying to force those people to see us and recognize our experience.
Despite that, I’ll continue to advocate, educate, and heal my wounds from those types of people. Furthermore, I’ll also use wise discernment in recognizing people that are not uplifting and maintain appropriate physical and emotional boundaries with them.
These are examples of how some people compassionately encouraged my family:
- Recognized that they did not know what we were going through exactly, but voiced a clear desire to help us.
- Asked where they could find information, data, and research about food allergies.
- Ordered allergy free cookbooks and gifted them to us.
- Went the extra mile to provide safe food for my family.
- Extensively planned out a playdate or birthday party with me to help keep my children safe.
- Rid their home of our food allergens to protect our kids. (Note: We did not ask for this and would not ask this of someone. A person did this on their own to demonstrate their desire to care for our kids.)
- Continually communicating with my family to make sure we feel comfortable at an event.
All of these compassionate actions greatly encouraged my food allergy family. It gives me hope for our future. Hope for my children’s futures.
3. Strong Support
Having strong support is more than having someone validate your experience or encourage you. It’s the final piece of the pillar trio, and arguably, much more important than we give it credit for.
Support literally means to keep something, or someone, from falling.
Whoa. Read that again and think about that for a moment.
We have heard time and time again that many food allergy families feel moments, or seasons, of despair. There is so much to learn, manage, and take care of on a daily basis.
What supports do you have in your life that keep you from “falling” into hopelessness?
Here are examples of my strong supports:
- Counseling – using a licensed therapist to assist me with food allergy anxiety and life issues
- Family – the ones that I know will come running with hugs, helpful hands, and silent opinions that won’t be spoken
- Friends – the ones that will sit with me in the hospital or watch my other child in the event of an emergency (Seriously, I wish everyone had a friend like Lauren)
- My Spouse – knowing that my husband has my back and can be my strength when I can no longer lift my head is beyond precious
I realize that not all of us have people in our lives that we can count on. That’s not our fault. BUT we can take action. We can do everything in our power to find strong supports.
More Examples of Strong Supports:
- Life Coaches – A life coach can help you evaluate where you are in life and assist you in making life changes. Life Coach Spotter has a great article about this. Read it HERE.
- Support Groups – Finding like minded people walking a similar journey can be life giving. FARE is the trusted source of allergy information and you can find their link to local support groups HERE.
- Allergy Counselor – Another fantastic resource. These are counselors who specialize in working with families living with food allergies. Check them out HERE.
Food Allergy Parents, We See You
If you are in the trenches like us, I hope that this blog post leaves you with a bit of each pillar; validation, encouragement, and support.
Remember, you do not walk this road alone. There are literally millions of other families with food allergies and other medical issues that walk alongside us.
The people you meet will vary. Some individuals will feel like precious gifts created specifically for you, while others might feel more like hardened obstacles.
But no matter what, don’t stop searching. Keep reaching out. Find those people that can validate, encourage, and support you and your loved ones when it feels like you are drowning.
Keep looking for them. Don’t stop. They might just be looking for you too. <3