Food Protein-Induced Enterocolitis Syndrome (FPIES) is a physical condition but it comes with emotional—and relationship—issues too. Interactions with family, friends, and even strangers can get mucky and hard.
When communication breaks down and things get tense, it’s easy to assume those on the other side are heartless, ignorant or simply lack empathy, right? Even for the most seasoned veteran, FPIES is not easy to navigate and there is no clear-cut path. So instead of feeling defeated and frustrated, here are a few ways I work (daily!) to try and navigate the relational side of FPIES:
Do Your Best to Do Your Best
A year of counseling has taught me that I’m in charge of me, and you’re in charge of you. Simple to say; really hard to live out. Relationships are hard…for all of us. And throwing in something like FPIES that is not familiar to most makes it all the more difficult. So do your best to do your best. If a conversation is needed to better care for and protect your child, have it. If you feel you are not getting the support you need from friends and family, ask for it (nicely!). If you feel misunderstood and unheard, clarify and share. You’re not asked to nail it every day—just to work at doing your best.
We all learn along the way that we can’t control others. We can only control how we take charge of our own lives and the lives of our children. Give yourself permission to allow the hard of life to make you really strong and beautiful.
Watch for Displaced Emotions
On the outside our daughter Bella was normal and perfect. Until she didn’t seem so normal. Navigating FPIES brought a range of emotions: anger, frustration, confusion, exhaustion
Sometimes we can misplace those emotions without even realizing it. It’s easier to say someone doesn’t get it and get angry at them for it than to acknowledge the truth that maybe we’re all a little confused. I hate FPIES, partially because there aren’t cures or specific answers – or step-by-step instructions on living with it. But I don’t have to hate those who are just like me, baffled or overwhelmed by FPIES and how deeply it affects our family.
Give Your Best Shot at Understanding…and Forgiving
I found myself explaining FPIES over and over again. And most of the time, it wasn’t because anyone asked or cared—it was because I cared. When told that Bella had a food allergy, most people assumed it meant we carried an epinephrine injector. I felt the need to be clear, for Bella to be known—and heard. She’s old enough now to begin finding that voice. Just the other day in the back seat of the car she proclaimed, “Yeah, it’s because I have “awergies!” But for years, I’ve been her voice. I’ve wanted everyone to know, understand, and most of all, help keep my child safe.
FPIES is never far from the mind of every parent whose child is fighting the daily fight. But unless someone has walked a mile in our shoes—those shoes that travel to countless doctor appointments, that trek from store to store to find the right foods, that sprint to intercept a forbidden cracker before it reaches a child’s mouth—they really can’t understand. Invite them in to understand, to try on these shoes. Provide the information to help them understand. But also try to accept that they can’t really, truly understand. And understand that they too have their own stories and struggles they are navigating (it never hurts to ask them what’s on their plate and seek to understand their walking shoes too!).
“Forgiveness is unlocking the door to set someone free and realizing you were the prisoner!” –Max Lucado.
When and if they fail, forgive. For yourself, forgive.
Celebrate Those Who Stand with You
We know an employee at the YMCA who greets everyone with gusto! He’s known for handing out licorice to all the kiddos and giving them all bear hugs! He kept giving Bella licorice, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him she couldn’t eat them—until a stack of licorice formed in the passenger seat of our car and I began to feel guilty for the waste. So I told him. Nicely. But I felt weird and almost ashamed (who tells nice people not to do nice things!). He responded by asking what Bella could have. At that point it wasn’t much, and I muttered out strawberries. He returned the next day with a carton of strawberries from the farmer’s market just for Bella!
Along our journey there have been many gestures to celebrate and cherish. A chef on our family vacation came out personally to walk me through each step his staff takes to protect people with food allergies. It was the first time Bella got to place an order at a restaurant. Bravo, I say! Family members who have mixed, stirred and beat the oddest concoction of ingredients in the hopes of turning it into a child’s first cookie—amazing! These are our heroes!
Who’s your hero? A chef? A beloved doctor or nurse? Or your family members and friends who have listened, cried, helped and supported your FPIES journey? Choose to think about them. Not the ones who don’t get it. Focus on the ones who do—who stand by you and with you—every step of the way (and remember to thank them for being so awesome!).