At the age of 23 years, I am going through an identity crisis – and it has nothing to do with my college graduation being less than a year away. Instead, I am coming to grips with the realization that my lifelong identity as someone with food allergies won’t last for my entire existence on this planet.
– Jess Carrillo, Nut Free MentalityIt is a bizarre and seemingly too good to be true phenomenon brought to me through the Tolerance Induction Program (TIP™) at Southern California Food Allergy Institute (SCFAI). As I move closer to being able to eat whatever I want, thanks to the hard work of both the medical professionals at SCFAI and myself, it is all so mind blowing that sometimes I just can’t even let myself think about without becoming overwhelmed with emotions.
In school, I was always known as the girl with food allergies. My peers defined me as that, and I too defined myself as that. I always felt torn between not wanting to be labeled as my disability – most notably because of the stigma that came with it – but also feeling limited in my experiences due to my allergies. I had to learn how to accept having food allergies and cope with the fact that some people will treat me differently because I have them, while finding those people who would love and support me as I am, food allergies and all. This was not an easy thing for me to do, and I still feel the stress from the stigmatization of my allergies, not to mention the stress that comes from the allergies themselves.
It wasn’t until I reached my one-year mark in the program that I started to allow myself to even consider that TIP™ was working and would eventually give me a new identity. Initially, my body didn’t want to go along with treatment very well and I had a slow start. Even as I saw some progress, it still felt like a dream to allow myself to consider what my life might be after food allergies. I’d heard of numerous success stories of the program, but my own story took a bit longer for me to believe. However, 2021 has been a year of progress and movement. I’m getting through the dosing cycles in my customized treatment plan and am working my way through my many allergens. I’m eating EIGHT things I never thought I would eat again in my life! And finally, I’m allowing myself to realize I will not always be the food allergy girl – hence the identify crisis.
I had someone ask me recently, “Do you feel safer now that you are doing this program?” And the answer is still complicated, as I still have a long way to go before I reach Remission. At this stage in my treatment plan, I feel more equipped than ever before to manage my food allergies, but I still fear an accidental exposure to the foods I have not yet dosed. I feel I am becoming less allergic – which makes me feel somewhat invalidated as a “whole” food allergy person.
My dynamic food allergy experience is for the first time in my life decreasing, rather than increasing. In gaining more foods I can eat, it’s almost as if I am losing who I thought I would always be, which is both incredibly exciting and terrifying all at the same time. My food allergies have helped me make strong connections with those sharing my fears, and also taught me how to cook and just navigate life in a more focused way. A whole new world will soon open up to me where I don’t have to be so limited, and I wonder what that version of me will look like. I’m not totally sure who I will be without my food allergies, and most importantly, I’m still learning who I am right now as someone working through this process to get to food freedom. But this next chapter in my life is something I’ve only dreamed of, and I can’t wait to turn my dreams into my reality.