This is a photo of me taken two years ago. I thought life was good. Yes, I had a few health issues, but things were looking up, right? I had made it through a tough spot in my life, I had just climbed a mountain, and at 6200 feet in elevation, things were looking good.
I have always tried to be an optimist, but the woman in this picture didn’t know how bad she really felt, because she didn’t know what “feeling good” really felt like.
Last December, I had been dealing with a chronic sinus infection. One night, I awoke realizing that I was choking. I don’t mean I was having trouble getting my breath. I wasn’t breathing AT ALL. I waited for what seemed like an eternity, and just as I thought I would surely faint, I started to find a small gasp of air. At the doctor’s office the next day, they told me I was perfectly healthy. No problems with my throat or lungs. They also told me if it happened again that the best thing I could do was to try not to panic. It was probably just some weird thing that would eventually go away.
A few days later, I awoke to find that I was choking again. Same tests but a different doctor telling me that everything was fine. After seeing several more doctors, I was told that the acid reflux that I had been dealing with for years could have caused my choking, could happen again, and would require a very serious surgery to fix. After surgery, I would have to learn to eat and swallow all over again.
I was determined that I was going to figure out what was going on. Sure, I had acid reflux, but I had always been able to manage it successfully in the past. I was determined that this was my body, and I was going to figure this out on my own and fix it.
I started an elimination diet. For several days, I ate fruits, vegetables, rice, and proteins that were considered to be at low risk for a reaction. The thought behind this elimination diet was that, if my body became less inflamed, it would be more likely to show signs of an allergy when an allergic food was reintroduced.
The day came to reintroduce soy. February 23, 2014 to be exact. I smashed some edamame for chips and dip, and my husband and I began a day trip to the mountains with packed food in tow. As we approached our destination, I started to eat the dip. I remembered saying to my husband, “This elimination diet sure can make you paranoid, because I would almost think that I was starting to itch.” Within a couple of minutes I am indeed itching all over, my lips are burning and swelling, and I look like I am about 4 months pregnant. My acid reflux also flared. Knowing what I know now, I should have immediately sought medication attention, but I was so shocked that I was allergic that I went on about my day, trying to work through the shock and disbelief that I was feeling. The itching continued for over 24 hours, and little did I know that I had taken a trusted antihistamine that contained soy. I did go to the doctor a day later, and I was glad that I did.
What happened after that changed my life forever. At first, I thought that my life was over. I felt betrayed by my body, scared to even take a shower because every single product in my house contained soy, and completely unprepared to cook a soy free meal. I didn’t even like to cook, not less cook almost every single meal for the rest of my life! I suddenly found myself working 60-80 hours a week researching recipes, researching soy allergies, calling companies about their products, calling doctors, and cooking. To say that my life was consumed by my soy allergy was an understatement, but I had no choice.
The photo below was taken two weeks ago. While I will always have phone calls to make, and I will always cook most of my meals, there is something going on in this picture that is way more important than the difference in my weight and hair color. I am happy, I am healthy, and I am standing on the same mountain as I was two years ago with a hundred times more energy and vitality than I could have ever thought possible. I am now taking half of the acid reflux medicine that I was taking 6 weeks ago, and I am confident that I will eventually be able to manage my reflux solely through my diet.
The purpose of writing this story is simple: If you are beginning your food allergy journey, you should know that grief is part of the process, but you will one day stand on the mountaintop and know that the climb was worth it! It may be difficult at times, and you will need to give yourself time to adjust, but you will emerge stronger, wiser, and healthier than you ever thought possible. During the dark times, connect with other food allergy survivors and soyvivors and know that the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is just around the corner!