Twenty Five First Allergy Dates

25-First-Food-Allergy-Dates

To be clear, I’m not saying that I’ve been on twenty five first dates to be able to share my experiences from. What I am saying is that I’ve been on twenty four first dates. With that being said, I’m willing to share my tips and hopefully you learn a thing or two from them! The following is just a few of many, many different ways dating can be handled when you have a life-threatening allergy. Try to use these tips and stories as insights into making your own unique style of dating!

  1. Be yourself- no one is more awesome than you, so let your qualities shine through!
  2. Tell your date about your allergy early on. If they are interested in the awesome person you are, they won’t judge you for it.
  3. Bring up your allergy casually. With technology being what it is, most dates are planned through texting these days so why not use this to your advantage! Play a fun fact or question game. Ask about favourite desserts or meals and tell your date what you’re allergic to this way. Or, you can ask about three unique features about them and they may ask you back! You may find they are very interested in hearing about your allergy!
  4. Tell it as it is. “I have an allergy, it is serious if I come in contact with my allergen, do you understand?”
  5. Offer assistance. The worst thing you can do is make your date feel awkward about your allergy. Offer to help him/her adjust to your lifestyle.
  6. Try not to be afraid of telling your date about your allergy. If they like you, they will understand and be happy that you shared it with them.
  7. Answer their questions or concerns honestly.
  8. Prepare ahead of time! Even if the date is a spontaneous flurry of events, try to prepare by calling restaurants and venues in advance to go through the menu with a manager or chef.
  9. Remind or inform the staff at restaurants about the severity of your allergy.
  10. Ask, then kiss. If your date has eaten your allergen that day, don’t risk it! Hopefully you’ve already mentioned your allergy to your date before, but if not, now might be an opportune time!
  11. Shower. That’s a given.
  12. Brush your teeth. Every date loves good breath.
  13. Keep your auto-injector on you at all times.
  14. Teach your date about your auto-injector and let them know where you keep it.
  15. Compromise. This is a great general dating tip but it can also be applied to your allergy. If your date/significant other relies on your allergen for their own dietary needs, compromise and set some ground rules of when it is safe and when it is not safe to be eaten around you.
  16. Have fun!
  17. See Tip #10.
  18. Smile.
  19. Pick a fun and safe first date location. I like to plan surprise dates but I always stick to places I know and trust to help shift most of my focus to the dating experience rather than my allergy. Of course I always double-check but familiarity with an allergy-safe place can be key.
  20. Wash your hands! This is a good hygienic habit but it also limits the risk of cross-contamination.
  21. Pack a snack. Put an allergen-free snack in your purse, bag, backpack, jacket, pants, hat? Sometimes it’s nice to have the comfort of knowing you will at least have one safe thing to eat wherever you go.
  22. Be honest. This is another great general dating tip but if you feel uncomfortable or are anxious about a situation with your allergen present, voice your concerns! In this case, honesty can be the best policy.
  23. Keep your auto-injector on you at all times. Oh, I said that one already? I guess that means it’s important.
  24. Try to avoid poppy seed bagels and anything with spinach before a date. Your smile will thank me for that one!
  25. Laugh. Why? Because, laughing is fun and everyone wants fun dates!

First dates can be nerve-wracking experiences at the best of times, so try not to add any un-needed pressure on yourself; prepare ahead of time, make it a habit, and the fun parts will naturally follow!

Couple in Sunlight

How to Save a Life

Dylan and Jason 2 (1)My brother, who also has a peanut allergy, recently got married and the wedding was a huge success! However, a week before the wedding, we had his bachelor party up at a friend’s cottage in Muskoka. It was a guest cabin, completely “decked” out with a kitchen and everything you would need for a rainy October weekend!

At midnight on the second night (sounds cliché but I’m not kidding), our group was sitting around the kitchen table playing Cards Against Humanity when my brother suddenly says, “hey guys, I don’t want to alarm anyone but is this bad?” He pulled up his shirt and his chest was covered in hives. Seeing as how we had all been drinking for some time, we initially thought to rationalize the reaction. He had a previous allergic reaction two years ago so I was trying to remember what symptoms he had. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the hives were something he had never experienced before and we hadn’t eaten anything that even “may contained” nuts, so we were confused to say the least. After asking if he felt several other common symptoms, I asked him to lift up his shirt to see his back. When he lifted, his entire back was COVERED in hives! So that’s when we all got up, realized it was serious, and headed to the main cabin to see if the owner could drive us to a hospital. He told us that he had a few beers in his system also and the nearest hospital was an hour away! (Insert internal panic now.) My brother called 9-1-1 and they said, “An ambulance is 30 minutes away so do what you can for now and if you have your auto-injector, you should use it.”

Ambulance

So once my brother got off the phone, he looked at me and asked if I had the Allerject™ on me that I had been bragging about getting before him. I nodded my head and held it out to him. He’s afraid of needles and told me I had to do it! I shook my head and insisted he do it but he very sternly told me he wouldn’t, then got down on one knee. I think the voice of the Allerject™ was what helped calm me the most because once I pulled it out, and in my opinion, the process was nearly impossible to have messed it up. It even counted for me, which was amazing. After the injection, we went inside the cottage to stay warm and as we waited, the hives slowly went away. When the ambulance arrived, I went with my brother to the closest hospital. On a side note, sitting in the front seat of an ambulance was pretty cool!

Anyway, I chatted with the driving paramedic and he told me that we were lucky to have the auto-injector and smart to have used it. There’s no telling when or how a reaction will play out and it seems that the epinephrine did its job well. The reaction had died down so much, in fact, that we were just going to the hospital for the “monitoring” phase to make sure nothing further happened.

We are still trying to find out what caused the reaction and think it may have been a case of cross-contamination at the cottage. I like to think of this story not as the day that potentially ruined a bachelor party, but the day that I saved my brother’s life for his wedding the next weekend!

New School Beginnings

Telling new classmates early on about your allergies makes life easier!

Telling new classmates early on about your allergies makes life easier!

At the beginning of September, I moved away to London, Ontario to start a Master’s degree. When I did my undergrad, I lived away from home but I was only a half hour drive away and I had a lot of friends still in the area. When I moved to London, I knew absolutely nobody. It was intimidating at first because I knew the responsibility of telling people about my allergy rested solely with me. That’s not to say I always let my friends spread the word about my allergy, but I guess I still have some insecurities about sharing my allergy to new people and having a friend or two around offers me support. Nevertheless, I found that a lot of the orientations revolved around food so I saw my chance and I took it.

There’s plenty of opportunity to chat about an allergy when there’s allergen-safe food at an event because you can casually bring up that you were a little nervous to try this “new” food. I did this and people typically asked why and I would explain that I’m allergic to peanuts and tree nuts and that most events end up using foods that they can’t guarantee are safe. From my experience, announcing an allergy in this way dulls the surprise of the person you are talking to and they begin to share a general sense of curiosity. This will often lead into a conversation about experiences with an allergy or stories they have of friends with allergies and it’s an easy way for me to break the ice while also spreading awareness. Now that’s killing two birds with one stone!

Dessert Dilemma

Enjoying each other's company

I had a pretty scary encounter recently that would have been easily preventable if I had trusted my instincts and not let myself get distracted. I had been going on dates with a girl I knew from high school and she is a peanut butter fanatic. When I say fanatic, I truly mean FANATIC. She has it for breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, and dinner. So, being allergic to peanuts, this posed a huge dilemma for me. I made it very clear on the first few dates about how serious my allergy was and I avoided kissing her until I had developed a sense of trust. In the beginning, she never realized that I can’t eat foods that state “may contain peanut” or even Nutella. I can only imagine the learning curve that she was thrown into!

So let’s fast forward to the meat and potatoes of my story. I met up with her one night and the first thing I asked was, did you have any nuts today? And she said, “Nope, I went out of my way to make sure I didn’t have anything!” So, trusting this, we kissed and I thought nothing of it. Later on, she was telling me about how she was at her grandma’s and that she had an amazing blueberry crumble for dessert. That was when my first red flag creeped into vision. I get a weird feeling about any desserts, as most of them have nuts. So when I heard crumble, I was worried. But she told me she didn’t have any nuts right?! So I let it slide.

Before I left her house, she asked if I wanted any of the crumble because she brought some home and I instantly declined (it’s a habit to decline desserts, again, because I don’t trust them!) Good thing too, because when she pulled it out, what’s on top of the crumble? SLICED ALMONDS! So now I’m panicking inside and don’t want to alarm her, so I just said I had to go and when I left, I had a really bad stomach ache. I wasn’t sure if I scared myself into an anxiety attack or if I was having a real reaction, so I kept a close watch and made sure I had my auto-injector close at hand. As I started to calm myself, the stomach ache went away and I consider myself really lucky that I somehow escaped this situation unharmed. Needless to say, I now always ask her exactly what she ate that day and the day before, just to be sure I cover all my bases before moving in for the kiss. Also, to her credit, she learned from this encounter and is becoming super cautious with what she eats when she knows she will be seeing me in the next 24 hours.

Feeling Special

Crumbs_saucer_fork

I was sitting around my house trying to think of my favourite allergen free food. I couldn’t really pinpoint any stand-out favourite. And then it hit me.

A few years back, I went to a dinner play with my family. If you’ve never been to one, you essentially eat a buffet style dinner then enjoy a wicked-awesome play. My mom had called ahead with concerns over the nut allergy of my brother and I. They made the appropriate preparations to make us feel comfortable. Those preparations consisted of bringing out the head chef to our table (tall chef hat and all) to speak with us. He told us that we could have anything we wanted and he would personally make it for us. So we said we would go take a look at the buffet and let him know what we thought. He said “no no no, don’t go over there, you just tell me what you want and I’ll make it especially for you, even when you want seconds.”

IS THIS REAL LIFE?!

I got a hint of what celebrities feel like every day. I obviously chose a chicken carbonara pasta dish. But that wasn’t my favourite food. What happened after dinner was the real kicker. As an allergic youth, I had pretty much given up on desserts. I always tell myself that it keeps me healthy. That’s the truth. But on this particular day, the chef brought out a baked cheesecake. Sorry if you’re allergic to dairy or eggs or anything else found in cheesecake but it was the best thing EVER. The End. But not actually the end. I have to describe it first. It was baked! I’m talkin’ flaky baked. In cherry cheesecake flavour! Who even thinks of that!? And he drizzled some kind of fancy sauce over top and it just all melted in your mouth with awesome perfection. If you’re not drooling yet, you can start. I haven’t had any dessert as good as that since but I am always searching. If you come across one, let me know! Dylan over and out.

Growing into my Allergy

When I was nine, I had my first skin test. My brother was allergic to peanuts and tree nuts and I was not. I never thought I would grow into an allergy. I never knew you could grow into an allergy. The skin test was inconclusive.

“What does inconclusive even mean?”
“It means we are taking you to the hospital to get an oral challenge. It involves a doctor giving you small amounts of peanut butter to see if you react.”
“…I don’t like where this is going, Doc…”

Obviously, I didn’t speak like that when I was nine, but it’s definitely along the lines of how I felt. Long story short, after a few small doses, I had a reaction once I got to a full teaspoon of peanut butter, thus labelling me as “ALLERGIC!”

At the very beginning I did not like having a peanut/tree nut allergy. At the time, an allergy seemed very negative to me after seeing my brother endure years of avoiding the things I loved. All the good foods had nuts. All the restaurants had nuts. No one could guarantee anything and my life was confined to homemade meals. However It wasn’t long until I slowly found out that allergies aren’t so bad. Safe homemade goodies were amazing and at every birthday party I went to, my mom secretly sent along a special safe piece of cake for me! My cake was always better than the birthday boy/girl’s cake. Always!

My mom's special & safe birthday cakes were the best!

My mom’s special & safe birthday cakes were the best!

Looking at my allergy now, I’m actually pretty thankful. I learned how to become more independent, I learned how to cook food, and I eat way healthier by avoiding most desserts, pastries, chocolates etc. that contain or may contain nuts! My advice to people newly diagnosed with allergies:

An allergy is a blessing in disguise. It keeps you on your toes, it teaches you a lot of life skills and there is always a delicious allergen-free food waiting around the corner. Just be patient, cautious, and spread awareness to those around you!

From Denim Fanny Pack to Pocket

When I was young, my mom used to always ask if I had my auto-injector on me when I left the house. It was because of her that I never left it at home and got into the habit of always having it on me. How I carry it has changed over the years as I started to think more about convenience. When I was first diagnosed with a nut allergy at age nine, I used a fanny pack (I know, cool right?) But it wasn’t one of those bulky, multi-zippered, oodles of compartments fanny packs. It was a custom denim fanny pack made by my mom. Denim was IN and I rocked that fanny pack!

However, I could only wear that fanny pack so long as it slowly became out of fashion. That’s when I switched to the “pocket style”. I always kept it in the same front pocket of my pants right up until university when things changed on me again. I began to find it awkward going out with friends with my cell-phone in my right pocket, my auto-injector and keys in the left, and my wallet in the back right. It just started getting bulky so I first cut the keys down to just the necessities. Or should I say necessikeys! I put only my house key in my wallet. BOOM more space! Then I began to switch my auto-injector to my back left pocket whenever I moved around and to my front when I sat down. If I had a jacket on, my life was even better because I stored it in one of my jacket pockets.

As a guy, I don’t have the luxury of a purse but I do have my backpack on me a lot, especially when I was in school. So I also had an auto-injector in there and always made sure my friends knew exactly where to find one of them in case things went bad.

I’ve also taped an auto-injector to my leg once because my Halloween costume had no pockets, but that’s a whole other story! How do you rock the auto-injector?

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Food Allergies – Finding Self-Control to Give Up Something you Love

Cake TemptationBack in October I decided to take on a new challenge. I wanted to improve my self-control by giving something up. Being hooked on coffee all summer, I was averaging three cups a day. I figured this would be an easy thing to give up for the month. I was very wrong! Within the first week, I caved and had a single cup but luckily it tasted terrible, which helped get me back on track.

After finishing the rest of the month without coffee, I began to think of how similar this experience had been to the year I was diagnosed with a peanut and tree nut allergy. I was diagnosed later than most receiving positive allergy tests at age nine. At that time my self-control with junk food was, well, non-existent. Try telling a nine year old, who had been eating donuts, cookies, chocolate, ice cream, etc. that he can’t eat those foods anymore. I did realize there were still many foods that were nut-free and safe to eat, but now the infamous “May Contain” label taunted me in every grocery store! At the time, I felt like I couldn’t eat anything! However, as time went on I began to find bakeries that produced nut-free pastries; I discovered nut-free chocolates that tasted even better than any I previously ate; my mom found recipes that were more delicious than anything I could buy at a store; simply put, life got easier.

I know it seems like I don’t have a point and my message may be slightly stretched so let me try to break it down. A new allergy isn’t the end of the world. It’s a new challenge! There is a learning curve and a few life adjustments needed with a new allergy diagnosis, just as my self-control experiment had its own challenges to overcome. But once you learn to adapt to life without that food, or without coffee, you will learn to appreciate the small things that you can still enjoy safely!

Visit www.whyriskit.ca for more tips on living safely with food allergies.

Don’t call me Gaga

Hey Allergy Blog supporters!

My name is Dylan, and I have been allergic to peanuts and tree nuts since I was nine years old. I have been involved with YAP since 2005 and currently hold the position of Lead Representative for the Fundraising and Special Events Committee.

Lady Gaga with vampire teeth

“Don’t call me Gaga”

Two weeks ago, we hosted our first YAP social of the year with a trip to the Richmond Hill Laser Quest. There were a few people in the group who had never done laser tag before and were very excited to try it, and there were a few others who hadn’t played in years.

We played two games in total, and for each game we were allowed to choose special code names to make ourselves known to our “foes.” For ou first game, I asked for a random name and was given the very strong, bold, and manly name of … Lady Gaga. I wasn’t impressed, but since I am competitive and love laser tag, I tried my best and finished in 4th place behind three people from another group. The rest of our YAP players were scattered throughout the rankings with hilarious and brave stories to tell.

Shakira singing on stage

“No fighting, No fighting, Shakira, Shakira”

My own story wasn’t brave so much as lucky: I sat in one spot on the upper level near a ramp and tagged anyone who passed by. I had a grudging battle with a man by the codename of Smudge, who kept shooting me from across the room before I could get him! I took matters into my own hands and crept up behind him to catch him unaware. After I tagged him, he laughed and said, “Nice shot,” before tagging me right back. Go figure!

We re-fueled on juice, water, and snacks, and for the second game, I was given another valiant and heroic name! Okay fine, it wasn’t either of those. For some reason, the Laser Quest staff must have thought that I loved female pop stars, because they named me Shakira. Better than Lady Gaga, but I would have preferred Legolas or Gandalf, because Lord of the Rings is the best thing that has ever happened…EVER.

Gandalf hanging out in the Shire

“Prepare for battle!”

In the second game, I was ousted by one of my fellow YAP members, who went by the code name Jazzyhands! I was also beat out by a few other YAP members and finished in the middle of the rankings.

All in all, we had a blast, shared some laughs, and enjoyed shooting lasers at each other! There will definitely be more awesome social events to come and who knows – maybe YOU will be part of one of them! Learn more about YAP and apply to become a member at www.whyriskit.ca.

You stay classy!

Dylan