The Hard Truth About My New Dairy Allergy

The day after my birthday at the end of August, I went out for supper with my family at our favorite brew pub in our small town, just prior to a Bluegrass concert we were playing at the Times Square Gazebo. I asked the waitress to exclude dairy from preparing both my food and the food of my daughter’s 15-year-old boyfriend. The young man had been allergic to dairy all his life and knew how to manage it — he never ate when out. I’ve developed a dairy allergy in the last three months after being a happy milk drinker and ecstatic consumer of stinky cheese for almost every one of my 46 years, from breast milk to sheep, goat, cow to mare and camelid.

It wasn’t until I got home that night and felt the rash literally all over my body, that I realized the sheen of oil on the bottom of my plate must have been butter. So that was why I required three different inhalers to play the concert and was breathless by the end! Lucky I didn’t land in the hospital. I’ll be having an uncomfortable discussion with the restaurant owner this evening. I will itch for days despite heavy doses of anti-histamines. I am still in breathing distress.

Most people don’t know this, but you can acquire an allergy at any time in your life, even if you’ve never had one before. Any time your body undergoes a biochemical shift, you can get allergies. The most likely times are the change from infant to toddler, toddler to child, child to adult (puberty), pregnancy, and adult to old age (menopause). I’m undergoing the last shift a bit earlier than most women. I’ve always had allergies, but as they go, my sensitivity to dairy products is among the most severe of them: anaphylaxis. Any time I ingest dairy, the allergy could flare to life-ending proportions. Allergies are unpredictable like that.

The hard truth: If I don’t have a $700 Epi-Pen on me, I could die. 

I have to stop eating dairy. All of it. I don’t look forward to this new way of eating with much enjoyment, to be honest. Some of the things I loved most are lost to me forever. I cried over chocolate and blessedly found a non-allergen substitute. It doesn’t taste very good, but at least it’s chocolate. I’ve cried over Parmesan cheese and triple-cream Brie, over cream-cheese-and-olives and creamed-chipped-beef on toast, which my father taught me to love and I taught my children to love, which have always meant “family” to me. I’ve cried over my secret Bleu cheese salad dressing. I have to do without them. I’ve found myself sitting outside the ice cream shop, after buying my daughter a cone, weeping. I didn’t become a person “of size” by not loving food, not having addictive food behaviors and emotional attachments to food. Eating even a scraping of dairy means a week of tightness in my lungs, throat and chest, and crawling skin. Somehow, I have to do this.

So as my children go back to homeschooling, I’m learning how to eat all over again. I cope with multiple disabilities: two genetic diseases and a congenital defect all of which cause widespread physical pain and fatigue. I can barely cook at home because I don’t have the energy. I can’t eat out now, in terror of inattentive cooks and vastly underpaid food workers. Food labels have taken on a whole new importance, as have complicated chemical names I must memorize with my sieve-like Fibro-brains. I make constant errors and itch nine days out of 10. I was barely coping with my health issues before.

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