A girl I watched grow up posted something on Facebook that made my heart hurt.
"To the worker who questioned my medical diagnosis,
You had no right to look at me after I told you I had acid reflux and say "I'm too young for that". You have no idea that for the last 6 years I have suffered every day from functional dyspepsia. That I don't dare go anywhere without an arsenal of stomach medication on me in case I need it. You don't understand the pain of being only 19 and having to leave school because you feel so sick every day that all you can do is lay in bed and try not to move. You don't know that I cry myself to sleep because I don't know if I'll ever feel better. Fun and school? Forget that when you go to the doctor weekly and have to stay in the hospital because you're symptoms are so bad. Don't question the food I put in my body when I can only stomach plain crackers and alka seltzer because the thought of any other food makes me gag. You don't have any idea how much it hurts to have every test run and have every result come back normal. To have your symptoms questioned. To be terrified to eat. To look weak because it's only a stomach ache and why don't you eat some tums and feel better. Next time you question someone and their medical diagnosis maybe think about how deep your words cut."
And it made me think about how difficult it is to be sick but not look sick, or be sick but not be considered old enough to have that illness.
I wonder when we started thinking that people are "Too _____" to suffer. When did acid reflux decide it was only going to affect the elderly? When did depression decide to only fuck with the people who "deserve to be depressed"? When did you start having to look like shit for people to believe you're crumbling on the inside?
I think it's pervasive in our culture - being a celiac I know it well. I've had managers question whether I was really sick or if I just didn't want to work, notwithstanding the fact that if I un-clench my abdomen I will literally spontaneously combust from the inside out. When my symptoms linger, as they are known to do, people ask if I'm milking it or if I'm just using this thing that happened to me a week ago as an excuse to not do something this week. Some people have asked if I'm sure I'm not just depressed and misdiagnosed... which is funny because letting my anxiety get out of control makes my symptoms a lot worse.
Its frustrating to have to constantly prove your sicknesses' validity to people who don't matter, but somehow do. It's a pain in the ass to have this battle with waitstaff, embarrass the shit out of myself trying to ensure my meal is safe, and then have said waitstaff member independently decide that your illness isn't real. It's annoying and frustrating to have people ask you unnecessary personal questions that you didn't even want to answer anyway, only to have them say "well it's not really that bad right" or "well you can eat some gluten sometimes, right" and then they think you're a hardass for telling them that's not how it works.
And when you have a food issue like me or my friend, and people don't take you seriously, it's not only disrespectful, but it's dangerous. It scares me when I have someone around me who does not take my food issue seriously, and you bet I am never going to eat at their home. People blame me for being anti-social for not wanting to go and sit and watch people eat at a restaurant that serves nothing safe for me. Truthfully, I am slightly anti-social, but show me one person who wants to sit there and watch a table full of people munch while they wither and starve or eat and risk serious symptoms. Seriously, show me one person who enjoys that!
I don't think we all need to start treating each other like glass, but I do think that we need to try harder to be respectful of people who inform us their needs and perspectives are different, and that our words hurt them or make them feel unsafe. If we make respect and empathy a priority in our lives, that is to say make an effort to respect and try and understand another's perspective, I think we'd all be a lot better off in a few different walks of life – not just respecting food allergies.
Dedicated to Shannon B. I love you girl, keep your head up