by Amanda Painter, South Chapter Coordinator
Why do you need a support group?
There is a bit of a stigma associated with support groups. The thought of attending a meeting full of strangers can make an already anxious person feel incredibly uncomfortable. Some may question what happens behind these closed doors. Will I be put on the spot? Do I have to share? I'm not comfortable talking in front of others.
Let me give you a glimpse into what happens behind those doors and why you should join us.
You'll learn something. The topic of food allergies is ever-changing. Join us to stay up to date on research, products, trends and more. We share recommendations for restaurants, recipes, epinephrine holders, vacation spots and favorite products.
You'll make friends. And the best thing about these friends is that they "get it". No having to explain how grocery shopping is difficult or why large family potlucks stress you out. They already understand. Exhausted from staying up all night trying to make the cake perfect? They have been there and can share some tips to make it easier next time. These friendships will move beyond the meetings. You'll have play dates, send messages with recipes and share encouragement.
Meetings are a safe place. You can complain about your extended family that doesn't get it. You have the freedom to say whatever is on your mind.
We want you to talk about food allergies. Sometimes those around us may think food allergies are always our conversation topic. Sometimes we feel that we are overburdening others with our food allergy anxieties and fears. Being able to be in a room where food allergies are the discussion topic will help you direct your food allergy questions/concerns. Of course, you are also welcome to just sit and listen. Sharing is not required.
You're not alone. Food allergies are isolating. When we come together as a group, we decrease the sense of isolation. Participating in a group allows us to see and talk to others, so we know we are not completely alone.
Empower yourself to manage confidently. Learn practical management tips for how to communicate with your child's school and how to teach your child to self-manage. Increase your skill set for problem-solving and coping.
I hear from many people "I don't need a support group. We've been managing for a long time, and we're fine." Guess what? The support group needs you.
Why does the support group need you?
Do you remember that ton of bricks that hit you with your/your child's diagnosis?
Recall the confusion leaving the allergist office with a prescription for epinephrine?
Can you still feel the fear and the tears that came after grocery shopping and being scared that you will purchase something that could harm your child?
Someone else feels that way. Help them stand confidently. Reassure them that they can manage this.
Were you ever alone in this journey? Did you need someone just to listen? Be that for someone else. Make this journey a little easier for them.
Think about all of the challenges you've already faced and conquered. Someone in your local support group will encounter them soon and needs your encouragement to do so.
When you help someone else manage food allergies, you realize how far you have come.
As a support group facilitator, I get more out of these meetings than I ever thought I would. Listening and helping others continues to help me in my family's food allergy journey.
Join us for a meeting. We share our frustrations and tears. We share our successes and laughter. The most important thing is that we do it together.
by Amanda Painter, South Chapter Coordinator
The job of caring for a child with food allergies is stressful. Researching food, driving to 3 different grocery stores to find safe brands, extra meetings at school to ensure safe accommodations, phone calls about what snacks will be served after soccer practice…the list is endless.
Then add the anxiety. The what-ifs. The worry of what could happen if the wrong food is eaten. Will you be confident enough to treat when needed? What if a reaction occurs and you aren’t there to treat your child? Is your child being socially isolated, teased or bullied?
Managing food allergies is a heavy load.
As caregivers, we have to remember to stop and care for ourselves as well. This is incredibly difficult for some to do. You must protect your own health - mental, physical and emotional health.
You are important.
You must nourish yourself on a regular basis. Developing a self-care routine takes effort. I suggest you start by setting small goals. Just take a moment to relax and breathe. Find 5 minutes each day and a place of peace or stillness. Unplug from technology and social media. Too much time online (reading scary anaphylaxis stories, for example) can cause unnecessary anxiety. Let go of the thoughts of navigating birthday parties, the items you forgot to buy at the grocery store and all of the what-ifs that cross your mind. Yes, all of those thoughts are important, but so is your health.
Search for something that allows you to turn off the worries in your head. It could be going for a walk, enjoying a cup of coffee while reading a book, meet a friend for lunch. Once you have established something small, build on it. Schedule a monthly mom’s night out, join a gym or find a yoga class (and attend regularly), plant a garden, take painting classes. Find something that you enjoy and give yourself permission to enjoy it without feeling guilty.
Ensure that you get enough sleep and have a healthy diet. We often focus so much on what goes in (or doesn’t go in) our children’s bodies that we neglect our own intake.
Ask for help.
Trusting others is often a struggle for parents of kids with food allergies. I have heard many mothers state that they trust no one to watch their child. In some cases, that even includes her spouse and extended family. I highly encourage you to find a way to do it though. Who else is capable of caring for your child or preparing food for him or her? This trust isn’t something that should be given lightly, so start small. It could be watching your child for an hour, and then build on it.
Kids need to feel safe with more than one person. While we need to teach our children to not be too trusting, we also need to work to establish a circle of support around them (and us). This circle should include those that know how and when to administer their epinephrine, what brands of food are safe and how to prepare a safe meal. It can be detrimental to your child’s mental health to think that only one person is capable of caring for them properly. What if something happened to you tomorrow? Do you have a plan in place for your child's care? (Read more here about preparing for those "what if" moments).
You are setting an example.
When you practice self-care you are setting a healthy example for your child. You are showing him or her the importance of caring for him/herself and that good health is essential.
Parents of kids with food allergies often say that we do not want our child’s identity to be defined by food allergies. We also need to take this lesson for ourselves and not allow our identities to be defined by our child’s food allergies. We are moms and dads, but we also have needs and wants in our lives.
Yes, as a caregiver we often have to put the needs of others before our own. It’s important that we find a healthy balance with this. In order to be an excellent caregiver, you must also care for yourself.
I encourage you to look at your own state of self-care and see where you could improve the quality of your own life. Improvement in your wellness will be reflected in the care you are able to provide your child.
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