When You Have Social Anxiety Caused By Food Allergies
Eating out is a nightmare for me.
What most people consider a nice night out with friends, I consider one of the hardest experiences I have to go through on a regular basis.
Thereare two things that make eating out difficult for me: social anxiety and leaky gut syndrome.
Leaky gut syndrome is also known as intestinal permeability. It’s where there are holes or openings in the digestive system that aren’t supposed to be there.
My digestive system is unable to keep bits of food, microbes, and toxins from going into or coming out of my gut. For me, this means being sensitive or allergic to at least 21 different foods, constant digestive woes, thyroid problems, nutritional deficiencies, and skin issues. I have to be very careful about what I eat.
But when I go to eat out, I don’t have control over what goes onto my plate. I am completely at the mercy of the cook at that restaurant. And that makes my anxiety go haywire.
Thoughts like this overwhelm me when someone asks if we can go out to eat:
“What if I can’t figure out what is in the food just from the menu?”
“Am I going to have to ask the waiter for a special menu, or for exceptions to be made?”
“I don’t want to be that person.”
“I can’t ever be that person.”
But if I don’t ask for changes to my order, I pay the price for days to follow. I remember one year, we went to Olive Garden to celebrate my sister’s birthday. I had just learned about my allergy to dairy products, and my wheat sensitivity. I was still learning how to eat at all, let alone eat out. As soon as I saw a menu, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to eat anything there. But we were already sitting at the table, and some of my family had already decided on what they wanted to get. I tried to get words out to ask for help, but my throat tightened.
My breathing sped up, and I started to panic. I had two options. I could either make an absolute fool of myself and not order anything, being the only one there without food. Or I could order something that I knew would make me hurt a lot later on. Either way, I would come out of that situation worse for wear.
But my anxiety won out. I didn’t want to look like an idiot by not ordering anything. Thoughts like, “If you knew you had food problems, why didn’t you look at the menu when they asked you if eating here was OK,” or, “You should have known you wouldn’t have been able to eat here,” crossed my mind and made it hard to think.
When the waiter came, I just ordered the first thing I saw on the menu and kept quiet for most of the night. Then when the food came, I forced myself to eat it so that I wouldn’t look dumb for ordering something I didn’t plan on eating.
Luckily, my family didn’t stay for too much longer after we finished eating. We went back to my parent’s house, exchanged presents, and then went on our way.
I was sick for three days. I spent most of that time in the bathroom. The pain was so bad that I questioned every single life decision I had ever made. I vowed that I would never let something like this happen again.
Of course, as soon as I was back in that situation, my anxiety won out again and again.
This moment stands out because it is an example of many situations in which I give up my health. My anxiety often takes over and makes it difficult for me to say no, or to say that I can’t eat something that hurts me. This wasn’t the last time that something like this happened.
I constantly worry that I will be bothering people with my food problems. I am sensitive to so many things that it’s almost impossible to eat out with my friends or family. But at the same time, when people would ask me to go out to lunch with them, I didn’t feel like I could say no. I didn’t want to let them down.
So I kept eating things that aggravated my leaky gut. I started gaining a lot of weight and spent a lot of time in the bathroom. I felt awful all of the time.
I stopped being able to keep up with my responsibilities, and ended up in the hospital a few times because I
thought my appendix had burst with how much pain I was constantly in.
I don’t remember what finally pushed me over the edge. But after another event like this, I decided that enough was enough. This wasn’t any way to live my life. People were worried about me, and I had to miss out on a lot of social outings. I very much got the sense that I was letting people down by skipping out on so many things I was invited to.
My anxiety wigged out at both situations. It felt like whatever I did, I would be anxious.
I decided to take care of my health. It took a while, but after some effort, I was able to return back to a normal part of life. I went out of my way to talk to people I would regularly have lunch with and told them what I was going through. My anxiety was screaming at me to stop, but I had to do something about it.
Unlike what my anxiety thought would happen, they were incredibly understanding. They weren’t at all put out by my needing to go to specific restaurants, and some of them even took the time to try to remember my various allergies, which is a feat because sometimes I struggle with remembering exactly what I have problems with.
I still struggle sometimes, but I’ve been able to stay away from my worst triggers and reduce the amount of times in which I trigger my chronic illness. It’s a process and not a race, and remembering that helps me to continually improve.
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