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Do any of these statements resonate with you? Or maybe they remind you of similar thoughts you've had before:
"This wasn't how I expected parenting to be!"
"I miss how life was before this diagnosis!"
"If I could just stop being sad about these allergies, I would be fine!"
The statements above signal that someone may be experiencing grief, or an intense emotional experience triggered by loss. While we typically associate grief with the loss of a loved one, the reality is that grief can show up after experiencing a variety of types of losses, including when the reality isn't what we expected or hoped for.
When it comes to life with food allergies and/or allergic conditions, these are common losses that can give way to feelings of grief:
Sometimes the grief we feel after receiving an allergy diagnosis can feel like we're trapped in quicksand - the more we try to break free and leave it behind, the deeper we sink. And that grief can intensify and take hold again if we experience an allergic reaction or flare ups of our allergic conditions. We're then left to wonder how (and if) we can get our grief to go away, and if we'll ever be able to break free from the grief cycle.
Here's where I'm going to introduce an alternative approach for navigating grief besides the familiar Kubler-Ross Five Stages of Grief.
The "Growing Around Grief" model, developed Dr. Lois Tonkin is based on acceptance and growth. It challenges the common thought that grief needs to shrink with time and go away in order for us to move forward.
Instead, the Growing Around Grief model tells us that:
Instead, we can honor this very normal response to a life-impacting change, hold it kindly, giving it the space it needs, and remind ourselves that we can learn to have a full, meaningful life even with grief still present.
And how do we get ourselves there? We start by just putting one foot in front of the other each day. Literally - one step at a time - that's movement!
Here's another illustration of this model. You can see that as time moves on, the grief size stays the same, but the space around it (the flower pot, which represents life) grows.
Applied to allergy life, it might look like this:
What if you DON'T experience grief after receiving a food allergy or allergic disease diagnosis?
That's okay, too!
The allergy diagnosis isn't a one-size-fits all experience, nor is the entire allergy journey. Some may not initially feel grief, and instead, feel relieved to have a diagnosis that explains what they've been dealing with. Others may feel grief hit them like a ton of bricks at the time of diagnosis. Some may experience grief at other points in life, such as when there are additional life changes. And there are some who navigate this journey without grief!
When it comes to emotions, being open to and respecting all of your feelings is helpful. There's no right or wrong way to move through the emotions we may feel when dealing with allergies, so don't put rules or timelines on yours either!
The key takeaways on the topic of allergy-related grief:
Remember, support is out there if you need it! Don't forget to check out the Food Allergy Counselor Directory, the Exploring Food Allergy Families podcast, the Food Allergy Behavioral Health Resource section, and the allergy-specific therapeutic worksheets. And if you're an allergy-informed therapy provider, then visit the Provider page!
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