The bell rings, announcing the beginning of class. To me, it is just a normal day of high school. Go to class, take notes, try not to fall asleep, listen for the bell, go to class, take notes, try not to fall asleep, listen for the bell, repeat until day ends. Except today is not a normal day. Unbeknownst to me, my worst fear is sitting in the front office — its new owner on his way to pick it up.
I copy today’s assignment down and sit back in my chair, waiting for the lesson to begin. “It” is carried down the hallway like a saber, royal and evil, coming closer to me with each step.
I take out yesterday’s homework as it rounds the corner, my classroom in its sights. Soon it will be at the door, then in the classroom with me.
I turn my head as it passes the window. At first I can’t tell what it is that is in my classmate’s hands. When the door opens and he enters, I see the two cardboard boxes stacked on top of another. Pizza.
I was born with food allergies. Like me, they have changed over the years. I started out with a severe dairy allergy, one that almost took my life the day I was born. Over time I was diagnosed with a total of four: wheat, dairy, soy, and corn. Only recently, by some crazy twist of fate, did they reduce to one: wheat.
I was always different. I always had to live my life with adjustments and substitutions. Changes had to be made, and I had to figure some things out as I went.
I couldn’t go certain places. Friday nights were usually spent at home watching a movie or writing by myself instead of at a football game or at the mall with friends. I had to accept being different from my friends and almost everyone with whom I went to school. I had to accept that even my closest friends would never fully understand why I had to cancel plans or stay away from a get-together if there would be any food present. Most of all, I definitely couldn’t eat whatever I wanted, and I couldn’t even be in the same room with it because of the fact that I would have a reaction if I ate, smelled, or touched my allergens. I had limitations, and I had to follow them.
According to Random House Dictionary, “limitation” is defined as “a restrictive weakness.” Every life comes with limitations. These allergies are mine. Now, I’d be lying if I said my food allergies never made me feel weak. I saw them as something that made me stand out; therefore, I saw myself as strange, and, therefore, unfortunately, I saw myself as weak.
They prevented me from being “normal.” I always had to explain my situation. I had to explain everything to every new teacher. I had to leave class during “food days” and sit in a library. I have heard the jokes that people make about people with food allergies being scared of food — that they can be taken out by a peanut or a piece of bread. Who wouldn’t feel weak after being told they can be obliterated by a bagel?
Then one day I decided to embrace my allergies and the experiences I had because of them. I decided to be an advocate for people dealing with food allergies, and my viewpoint changed. By talking about them more and accepting them, and myself, I realized that my allergies weren’t a weakness. They never will be. They taught me how to stand up for myself. They taught me how to be brave. They taught me that being different and standing out is something to be celebrated, not embarrassed by. Most of all, they showed me how to be strong with a strength I never realized I had.
I have to explain everything to teachers, doctors, dentists, everyone; but, I’ve also learned to explain situations that not everyone understands. I’ve been able to shed light on a topic that people don’t know enough about. By writing about my experiences, I’ve been able to show others like me that they aren’t alone. Yes, maybe my arch nemesis is wheat bread, but that doesn’t make me weak. It’s just a hurdle that I have to deal with.
Limitations can change, but the lessons they teach us never will. Living life with limitations is unique to us all. Every life has limitations, but they don’t make us weak. They are what create strength.
Oh, and regarding the boy who brought the pizza to class? Luckily, I had a wonderful teacher who forced him to remove them from the room. To this day I am still unaware of how he managed to fit those two large pizzas in his locker.