Thursday, November 24, 2011

Eczema Awareness Month

That's me and I wear make-up
So, in case you didn't know, November is Eczema Awareness Month in Canada. There aren't a lot of events planned; so, there's little to cover on that front. Plus, I'm late on my entry, but I'd like to start with a (brief) explanation as to why the Awareness part of the title is so important.

Unlike allergies, asthma and depression, eczema is not invisible. It's pretty much out there whether or not you like it and unless you're on organ-destroying meds, nothing can make it go away. Unless you're lucky enough to outgrow it, which I wasn't. Watch television for about five minutes and it's very difficult to miss the stress put on having perfect skin. From Photoshop to light-reflecting make-up and razors with five blades, the emphasis is on smooth, flawless skin.

So, I hate to break it to anyone who's seen a picture of me or met me in person, but my skin isn't actually flawless. I didn't magically escape the toll of eczema, though it has improved greatly over the years. In some ways, I still hide it. I no longer wear long-sleeved shirts in the height of summer (like I did when I was a child), but I do wear make-up to even out my skin tone, which suffers simply from the trauma of eczema.

So, where the awareness part comes in is that I was bullied as a child because I was different. My skin was my enemy - it was brown and it was patchy. Both didn't go over well at my school. But, kids today shouldn't have to be bullied, just because they've got eczema, something completely out of their control. Teachers didn't understand the physical and emotional toll having eczema took on me. I don't know that anyone did. It's yet another condition that a lot of people don't understand and because it's visible, you can't pretend you don't have it. And, you shouldn't.

But, as usual, it takes a lot of work to make people understand. So, here's my proposition. I encourage parents who have children with atopic conditions, like eczema and asthma to be as active as you are with food allergies. Talk to your child's school and teachers. Ask to schedule a quick talk to the class or the entire school. Making people aware of this condition is the first step to normalizing it. Children are taught not to judge people on the colour of their skin. It's time they were taught not to judge them on their skin at all.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Why We Need to Read Carefully - My Response to the Backlash Against "The Peanut Problem"

A father with a picky-eater for a daughter finds out that he can no longer send the trusty ol' peanut butter sandwich to school. Instead of asking what his options are, his first instinct is that his civil liberties have been violated, because he can't feed his daughter the easiest thing around.

In the article, "The Peanut Problem", the father provides his vision of an appropriate environment for school-aged children with food allergies.

"Take the children with allergies out of the school. Open a school where they can be really safe – everyone will wear one-piece coveralls, the air will be filtered, and all food will be controlled by the school. Then they will be really safe – and everyone else can go to school with peanut butter sandwiches."

Danielle McLaughlin, the author and director of education at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and Education Trust, then goes on to say that while the father's suggestion might seem discriminatory, it raises some great questions, like if the peanut ban is really necessary and does it work. The point of the article comes in the last little bit:

"We want our children to think critically and to consider the needs and rights of people who may differ from them. Children who learn more than just a rule will understand they have a responsibility to others. Thinking about peanut butter can help them practise the habits of democracy."

Unfortunately, I'll admit it took a second reading for me to get this. I even had to remove my backlash tweet, because I was wrong.

McLaughlin is not agreeing with the father. What she's saying is that the rule alone isn't enough. All parents and kids get from a rule is that they can't do something they want to do, but they don't understand why. They don't understand that it's about being a responsible citizen. You don't smoke in cars with children and you don't bring peanut butter to school.

Sadly, what is a great message got lost when she decided to use an incredibly ignorant person as an example. For the record, his suggestion doesn't just "look absurd or discriminatory". It is definitely both. However, this should be a lesson for everyone to read more carefully in case Rick Perry's recent gaffe wasn't reason enough.

Note: I posted this as a result of a post by Allergic Living on its Facebook site on November 2, 2011.