Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween and Food Allergies: My Bittersweet Favorite Holiday

I never had a Halloween growing up.

You might say, "Oh, me either." But the truth is, it wasn't just about the candy or the food and festivities.

My family was Jehovah's Witness and raised me as such. I think I remember the first note sent home about a party in kindergarten, I came home crying because of all the planning going on that I wasn't allowed to participate in; not only for religious reasons but back then, I was one of only two people in an entire school who had anaphylaxis to peanuts. I didn't participate in any holiday projects and the teacher knew to give me an alternate assignment. And when it was someone's birthday, I got extremely uncomfortable and felt guilty, like I was doing something wrong or once again, I was banished to another classroom. I would also end up in the nurses' office every other day from hives and allergic reactions that didn't seem to ever give me a break; either from environmental triggers like pollen or dust or quite possibly from the peanut proteins in the air all over the cafeteria.

I was left out so much, I created my own realities...through my art.

I was born anaphylactic to peanuts and tree-nuts along with bad hives to Red #40 so candy was out of the question. As a young child, I was allergic to almost everything except olive oil, chicken and broccoli. So in a way, keeping me home during Halloween was my family's way of protecting me from not only the candy and food but also from the pain of feeling left out of everything.

Isn't it ironic that the peanut candies are always Halloween colors?
 With today's technologies and social media, so many people have no idea how good they have it. I've seen parents complain how their kid was 'left out' because everyone else got a goody bag except them or things similar to this where they struggle over something so small and instead of handling it themselves (maybe taking the kid out after or buying him or her something special), they expect others to handle it how they would. I remember how I was left out of things every single day. Not because people wanted to, but back in the early 80s they just didn't know how to handle me. Nobody knew the nature of anaphylaxis and food allergies back then and the fact that I couldn't eat anything made me an alien to adults and a weirdo to other kids.

I guess that's why a part of me relates to warped shows like American Horror Story: Freakshow.

Over time, I began to embrace my weirdness and these differences that others thought were gross or weird. In a way, I felt like a freak just like the ones in this season and as the years progressed, became darn proud of it. I began to accept my own ugliness from eczema and open wounds as beautiful. I began to love and admire anything different or strange.

The oddities of life became beautiful to me. In turn, my judgement of others weakened and as I got older, I saw the world and everyone around me in a new light, which brought me a clarity of perception that very few of us understand.   

I didn't go to school on Halloween Day from kindergarten up until about grade 3 or 4. After that, I insisted it didn't bother me and ended up going to every Halloween at school thereafter. But it did. I remember going to the parties and realizing I could eat absolutely nothing and had to leave the room because my asthma would act up along with hives from inhaling the peanut candies in the room.

I even snuck over a friend's house and went trick-or-treating for the very first time in about 7th or 8th grade (We knew very well we were over the age limit but my friend wanted me to experience trick-or-treating) and got candy thrown at us by at least one grouchy old neighbor who said we were way too old to be at her door. But of course, she didn't understand. This is a prime example of how we tend to judge appearances without knowing the back story. It bothered me that day, but taught me a lesson. We are all being judged. Consciously and subconsciously. But the truth is, no matter how someone may judge you, remember this.

quote "Don't judge my path if you haven't walked my journey"

Or maybe even this:

Quote by Eleanor Roosevelt, "Do what you feel in your heart to be right - for you'll be criticized anyway."

The truth is, those reading this might judge my family and my parents for doing what they felt was right. To them and Jehovah's Witnesses, Halloween was demonic and certainly 'The Devil's Holiday.' I do not follow that religion anymore, but do believe there can be darkness in anything if you look closely enough for it. But the same goes for light.

 They protected me out of what they knew love was. When I stayed home on those Halloween days, my grandfather would take me to the Disney store and buy me a toy or to Toys R' Us for a new video game. I was spoiled. Or maybe my mom would cook my favorite food and make it ultra special with a decorative smile. They did everything they could to make me feel loved and special every chance they could and I am eternally grateful for that. I am in no way angry about my upbringing because it made me who I am...and ultimately, kept me alive.

As I got older, I didn't see Halloween the way the religion and my family did. Instead, I saw it like an artist would; a chance to recreate yourself into anyone or anything imaginable. A chance to change your face into something hideous or something beautiful, whatever your definition of those things might be. As an artist, I was always the one who would come up with the most unique costume ideas or bring together the clothing or makeup to make it happen. I guess that's also why I still love modeling; its another form of artistic expression. It gives me a chance to recreate myself and be someone else or express an emotion through an image or capture a moment that will never be seen again.

teal pumpkin shaped with words for non-food items such as slinkies, bookmarks, pens, noisemakers, notepads, bubbles, etc.So now that you know my story, you will understand why I am not allowed to participate in the Teal Pumpkin Project. I still live with family and it bothers them to have a pumpkin on the doorstep. I've gotten them in big trouble before (in high school I came to the door in a scary mask handing out goodies to the kids, when of course, some sisters from the congregation decided to come by for a visit. They were not happy).

 So I'm not going to get the family in trouble again. Instead, I'm doing my part, by spreading the word far and wide to whomever will listen about the Teal Pumpkin Project. Paint a pumpkin teal and pick up a bunch of small non-food school supplies or toys at your nearest dollar store or Target if you haven't already to include those kids with deadly nut allergies or other multiple food allergies. And hopefully by Halloween 2015 I'll snap a picture of my very own teal pumpkin from my own place.

Remember to always follow your instincts; if it is not labeled and something you've had before, do not trust it. And focus on how you suffer when you eat something you're not supposed to. Remember, suffering for a convenient candy bar is never worth it; make your own either from here or from this list or go buy some treats from Whole Foods! Keep in mind that sugar triggers inflammation and can make your allergies worse (I avoid it as much as possible). So moderation is key and you can also sub many recipes with half or full Organic SweetLeaf Stevia for that sweetening effect without the calories or lowering your immune system.

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