Throughout my life, there has been one question that I always seem to ask myself. Why me? Finding the answer to that question has always been an ever-changing journey.
My name is Shae. I am 13 years old and I was born with a life-threatening food allergy. I am highly allergic to dairy, and I have had several anaphylactic reactions. I’ve taken many trips to the hospital in an ambulance, and I have spent more hours than I can count in the ER. For those who don’t know, anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction. Some symptoms are coughing, hives, GI issues, swollen lips or tongue, rapid heartbeat, and trouble breathing. Anaphylaxis can be fatal and should be treated as an emergency. I was diagnosed with my food allergy when I was 6 months old, and it continues to get worse as I get older. My food allergy journey has been both a struggle and a blessing all in the same sentence.
As a young child, inclusion was a big struggle. Every celebration revolved around food. I could never have the cupcakes or snacks that my classmates would bring into school for their birthdays. Their birthday parties were even harder. There was always pizza, cupcakes, and ice cream. Three things I could never have. At that young age, it was hard to understand why I had to always bring my own food and why I couldn’t have what everyone else was eating. Even though I was invited to their birthday parties, it was hard not to feel excluded.
As I got older, I became more embarrassed by my food allergy. Simple things like playing on the swings at recess caused me to break out in hives. Just touching something that someone else had touched without washing their hands caused me to have hives often. Although I know my classmates were just looking out for me, they were always pointing out when I had a hive. I felt like everyone was always staring at me, so it made me feel self conscious.
Now that I am in middle school, I am dealing with bigger challenges. The biggest challenge has been bullying. I have had mac and cheese thrown at me along with other food I am allergic to. I’ve been laughed at. I’ve been told I am exaggerating. I’ve been called a liar and told there is no way food can kill me. Kids have made jokes, and I have been excluded from things because of a lack of understanding and empathy. I’m the kid who has to wear a fanny pack which carries my life-saving medications everywhere I go. I’m the kid who always has to say “no thanks” when someone is sharing a delicious snack with the class. I’m the kid who has to tell a boy that I can not be kissed on the lips because what they may have eaten could be deadly to me. Why me? Why does this have to happen to me?
This is a question I have struggled with for a long time and even though I have had some very challenging days, I do see how my food allergy could be a blessing. It is a blessing because it has taught me to use my voice. I have learned to speak up and advocate for myself. I have learned that what I have to say is necessary and important. I am fortunate that I have joined FARE’s (Food Allergy Research and Education) Teen Advisory Group (TAG) where I have met people just like me and with the same challenges. They have supported me by helping me to make my voice even louder. I now understand that my allergy is life-threatening and that is nothing to be embarrassed about. I have attended conferences, taken workshops, completed my science fair project on food allergies, and continued to educate myself and others about the dangers of food allergies. I want my voice heard so that I can help others overcome their struggles and challenges. I have my own website, blog, and Instagram dedicated to food allergy awareness. Although I still have days when my food allergy is a struggle, I have become more aware of how far I have come. Through this journey, I now ask myself another question. WHY NOT ME?
Shae Averaimo is a 13-year-old living in Connecticut with her parents, sister, and adorable golden retriever Oakley. She is an 8th grader who loves science, acting, art, and cooking. When she is not spending time with her family, she could be found riding her bike, hanging out with her friends, and taste-testing new dairy-free snacks.
Check out my website/blog: nowheyshae.com
Follow me on Instagram: @shaeallergy_07