There are a lot of challenging emotions connected to living with food allergies. One that was especially difficult when I first arrived in Luxembourg was loneliness accompanied by its companion, isolation.
I had arrived in the land of baguettes, croissants and pain au chocolat and don’t even get me started on the quantity of Italian restaurants there are in Luxembourg, and couldn’t I touch any of it. I had no idea how to communicate my needs in a restaurant or store. I had no one to ask questions about anything. None of the vocabulary associated with food allergies appeared in my translation book. When I did try to speak up, even within the English speaking community, people seemed to look at me like I had a third eye or was an alien from outer space. I felt like a freak and extremely awkward.I know people didn’t intend anything unkind by their reaction; it was more that they really didn’t understand food allergies. Sadly though, their reactions did have an increasingly negative impact on me in those early years. Outside the USA, food allergies are generally uncommon and rarely spoken about. So, you can imagine…here comes this English-speaking, American with food allergies; not with just one allergy but three of them (gluten) being so extreme they just had no idea how to respond. Like I shared in “My Story”, I was only 7 months into this diagnosis and still trying to figure out this entire new lifestyle before we even left the States.
In all honesty, this is probably the loneliest I’ve ever felt in my life. There were days I would just cry or unleash my frustrations on my poor family. I got to the point that I just wanted to hide, to isolate away from people. I had tremendous anxiety about going to the store for groceries and even more anxiety about eating out.
During those first few months, my shopping trips would take upwards of 3 hours just because I had to read everything and in a variety of foreign languages. There wasn’t a whole lot of specialty, gluten free stuff available back then and I wasn’t even certain of what it was I was looking for. I was so alone just standing in the aisles for long periods of time looking completely lost. It felt like being invisible in the middle of a crowd.
In the ensuing years, things have improved tremendously. I have been blessed with a wonderful circle of family and friends who have been amazing and really supportive which has helped with the isolation! I’ve had to gain self-confidence and learn to be more open and willing to explain, even repeatedly, about how these food allergies impact my life. With so little support outside the community I’ve created around me, it’s still quite lonely. I’ve also learned not to take it so personally and be more patient when people react oddly.