Sunday, September 6, 2009

Being Allergic Makes Me Sad

There is one thing about having all these problems that I never see much written about. Depression. There have been studies, but it's certainly not something my dermatologist, allergist or family physician ever talked about as being normal or expected.

It should be.

Every time you eat in public, either at a restaurant or even a party, you have to speak up and draw attention to yourself. If you're shy, this is made worse by the fact that something you don't want to share with everyone is suddenly out in the open. Everyone feels they get to share their opinion, or limited knowledge, or just crack insensitive jokes to lighten the mood. "So, I guess a peanut butter milkshake with an egg would kill you? Ha-ha-ha." Most people just want to be normal and not being able to eat a slice of cake or pizza doesn't feel normal.

Now imagine eczema. Your skin is your very own portable torture chamber. It's itchy, it burns, swells, cracks and bleeds for no reason you can fathom sometimes. To have times when you can't show your face or have to wear long sleeve shirts and pants to hide your scars or rashes is horrendous at best. For children, it is even worse. To paraphrase an old saying, "children are evil". Whether by nature or nuture, they are able to identify all imperfections and ways of torturing children deemed as imperfect.

So, it's no wonder that children, teenagers and adults with these conditions get depressed sometimes.

I would imagine parents of a child with allergies/eczema (from now on, I'll just blanketly refer to us as "atopic") feels anguish at the thought of what the child goes through and wants only to help.

Here's what doesn't help:

1. Don't tell your child that his/her condition hurts you as much as it does them. Believe me, it doesn't. If you don't have it, you can't know and you're diminishing their suffering by thinking you do.

2. Don't tell your child s/he'll outgrow it. If your physician tells them this, I would have a private conversation with them to let them know you would not like them to utter these well-meaning but false hopes in future. I waited in vain when I turned 6, then 9, then 12, 13 and finally 16 and on none of my birthdays did my allergies or eczema magically vanish at the stroke of midnight. In some cases, it is life long and it doesn't do children any good to believe the impossible.

3. Don't listen to your doctor "blindly". She or he does know best, but they don't know all. If you feel like something isn't quite right, seek a second opinion. Research what they're telling you. Make every effort to educate yourself on the available options.

4. Don't drag your atopic child to every doctor, naturopath and quack on the planet in search of some magical cure. I've gone to naturopaths (note the plural), some who were good and one who negligently told me I could eat at least an egg a week. (I'm sure I could have, though it would have been my last. At the very least, I would have made great friends at the local ER and bankrupted my parents with EpiPen purchases in the process). I even went to an acupuncturist, which did nothing, except to remove thousands of dollars from my parents' bank accounts and my life long fear of needles. You can stick me with practically anything now and I don't care. I've even been to useless dermatologists who are too busy to actually look at my skin and mean-spirited allergists who disparage anything not made with a steroid. Use common sense and don't waste your time.

5. Try your very best to make sure your child doesn't feel responsible for any issues you have in your family. Having an ill child of any sort is bound to put pressures on a family. Parents are stressed because they don't know what to do and hate to see their child in pain. Sibilings feel neglected. You need to keep your sanity and be a cohesive family unit, no matter what.

6. If you have any doubts about your child's emotional state, don't be afraid to seek out a child psychiatrist. If they prescribe medications, do your research and get a second opinion. Sometimes, just talking is the best thing for a child.

7. Lastly, if you're religious, that's fine. But, please don't make your child think that this is a punishment for something or that if they pray hard enough God or Jesus will cure them. It is not a punishment and frankly, if God or Jesus are in the habit of acting on prayers, I would rather they eliminated world hunger before worrying about me.

So, that's all the things to not do. I'm sure there are more, but that will do for now. My future posts will be more about products and at home treatments that have worked for me and even restaurants or cookbooks I've found useful. Much more fun, I promise.

See below for disclaimer.

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