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Life Threatening Allergies and Anxiety

Living with Life Threatening Allergies

My Personal Experience

Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can be life threatening. The possibility of being exposed to a life-threatening situation can cause anxiety for the person with the allergy as well as friends and family. I grew up with an allergy to peanuts and tree nuts that became severe over time. I have early memories of my tongue swelling, breaking out into hives, vomiting, and taking trips to the hospital to be treated. These were “moderate” reactions, but not life threatening at the time. When I was 17 years old, I took a small bite out of cookie at my Nana’s house and knew right away this reaction was going to be more intense.  My dad and grandfather drove me to the hospital immediately to be treated with IV medications. I initially responded well to the treatment and the swelling in my mouth subsided, but a while later I experienced a secondary reaction which resulted in anaphylaxis. I remember telling medical staff my breathing was getting worse before not being able to speak or take in breath. I do not remember anything after this until I regained consciousness.

I was later told by my grandfather that a nurse was not optimistic about my prognosis and directed him to contact my mom. I now understand both my dad and grandfather were somewhat traumatized by this experience. I remember them tell family members about how scared they were and that I was lucky to be alive. I had to stay in intensive care with a nurse who was called in to work just to monitor me. This is the first time I felt guilt about having allergies. It was Easter long weekend and I had taken this lovely, caring nurse away from her family to sit and watch me so she could intervene immediate should my breathing become poor again. This was also the first time I had been educated about secondary reactions and anaphylaxis. While I had experienced several allergic reactions, none of them were nearly as severe as this one.

Anxiety Symptoms Are Normal After Anaphylaxis

After being discharged from the hospital; my family and Ibecame hypervigilant around food, eating out at restaurants, and family holidays. My cousin, who was a child at the time, all of a sudden was scared to eat nuts out of fear that something bad would happen to him. The adults, while well meaning and needing to process this event by re-telling this story too many times, had managed to whip up anxiety in family members without allergies. I remember trying to reassure my little cousin that he would be safe it he ate nuts, but my story became a narrative in his mind that told him nuts can kill people. Anytime I experienced a tingle in my mouth or an itch on my skin, an immediate alarm went off in my brain telling me that I was in immediate danger. I did not trust ingredient labels, relatives, or even myself when it came to food preparation. I learned to use an epi-pen and was told to use it immediately before attending the hospital. Despite having a medical emergency plan, I was still experiencing excessive anxiety and feeling like there was a constant threat looming.

Coping With Allergy-Related Anxiety

It took years for me to me to settle into a world without feeling hypervigilant most of the time. I had to begin with challenging my thinking along with using breathing to calm my brain. It wasn’t logical for me to believe I was in persistent danger when actual risk of anaphylaxis is rare. I learned to use relaxation techniques and progressive muscle relaxation to accept that I do have other food allergies that cause mild allergic reactions that I can tolerate without my brain going to worse case scenario. I learned to play detective and ask myself questions to appreciatemost of my thinking about allergies was not rational.

I have learned to appreciate the improvement in food labels with allergy warnings and for learning to advocate for myself when it comes to communicating my needs. I am grateful that I have friends and family who have learned how to prepare food safely for me and feel comfortable eating in their homes instead of isolating myself from social interactions. There are a small percentage of folks who do not empathize or recognize, but I accept that they are not in the mindset to understand instead of taking it personally. I have practiced gratitude for the many other blessings I have instead of focusing on what I am unable to control. I often aske clients what they would go back and tell themselves after they have experienced challenging times. I would tell myself, my family, and other families that allergies can be well managed. Take a little extra time to educate yourself, carry epi-pens, and have a plan for worst case scenario. Take less time allowing anxiety to take over your mind so you can live a fulfilled life.

Blog Post by Registered Social Worker, Jenny Lynn’s-Mouyois

What happens when we “lean in” to our feelings?

“We avoid the things we fear.” – Dr. Becky Kennedy, Registered Doctoral Psychologist, Good Inside

No one likes feeling uncomfortable, certainly not for any longer than they have to. So when we are experience an uncomfortable emotion, we usually try to make that feeling disappear. Whether our discomfort stems from anxiety or stress, anger or frustration, annoyance, or fear, usually would rather avoid it then have to actively face it. As a result, when faced with “negative” emotions, one of two things can happen:

1. We get swept away by the feeling = overwhelmed and dysregulated

2. We run from the feeling = seek distraction and practicing avoidance

Unfortunately, both of these responses leave us unprepared to manage the feelings in that moment and in the ones that come up in the future.

Emotions are often a part of therapeutic work. We name them, categorize them, learn why we have them, the purpose they serve, and why they might present themselves the way that they do. Then we learn how to manage those feelings, reduce them, even try to make them go away. But in reality, we cannot get rid of our feelings, and, in fact, we shouldn’t try to.

All of our feelings hold value. Joy, jealousy, worry, disgust, surprise…each feeling under the sun offers us information into what we are experiencing internally. When we feel happy, it’s celebrated. We don’t go around telling others not to feel so happy, that there isn’t anything to be happy out, or that we can help them reduce their happiness. But when it comes to anxiety or anger for example, that’s usually our go-to approach. Why? Because those feelings don’t feel as good, can be harder to manage, and can get in the way of our daily functioning.

But what if instead of running from or getting swept away by our feelings, we learn to “lean in” to them. And not just some of them, but all of them.

Leaning in, sitting with, orbeing mindful of, are all ways of saying: accepting our feelings as they are. Leaning in is choosing to stay with a feeling, allowing it to settle in our body and mind, and letting it be recognized without taking over. Leaning in is choosing not to distract ourselves or avoid what is happening, even when that is the easy thing to do. Leaning in the idea of exercising control over how powerful the feeling is (i.e., not letting it pull us under) by standing sturdy beside it.

When we accept how we feel and acknowledge that while it might not be comfortable that it is valuable, it’s then that we can begin to develop a functional relationship with our feelings. A relationship that works WITH our feelings helps to:

Create tolerance of difficult experiences

Build resilience

Increase self-confidence

Reduce fear

Improve ability to manage challenges

Once we believe that we can safely feel all of our feelings, then we can create coping strategies to utilize when more challenging feelings arise, allowing us we can see them, accept them, and respond to them in a way that is adaptive.

So if you’re up for it, next time a less comfortable feeling presents itself, take notice, get curious about why it might there, and try to sit with it, even briefly and see what changes for you.

– Blog Post by Registered Psychologist, Megan Adams Lebell

 

Navigating the Holiday Season

I love holiday seasons!  Those special days like Christmas, Easter, St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, etc., are often not just a single day for me.  There are so many things to do, people to see, activities to participate in; how do people manage if they limit these awesome times to a single day?  Sounds like a recipe for sensory overload to me.   Even when I prolong the pleasure (or the agony, depending upon perspective), over a couple of days (or a month), the experience can become overwhelming.  The sights, smells, and sounds of any of the holiday days can be exquisite, and intense.  Neurodiverse individuals are often even more acutely aware of these sensory aspects (aka stressors), than neurotypical individuals are.  I am often asked at the clinic how to help families mitigate holiday stressors.  Sadly, there are no magical aspects to this as different people respond differently to different stressors.  Generally speaking though, there are often a few things I suggest trying to help make special occasions more manageable for our neurodiverse loved ones and their families.

My primary recommendation is to try to keep things realistic.  Individuals who do not like crowds of people are not apt to make an exception “because it’s Christmas” or because all  50 people (OK, even all 15) “are family.”  A crowd is any number that is more than what is usual in your home,  If the grocery store is often more than is manageable, a day of shopping in the mall around any of the holidays can create more exhaustion or distress than is needed or wanted.
Gifts are sometimes challenging for neurodiverse individuals.  Again, let’s be realistic about why this can be.  New items smell and feel different.  Some neurodiverse people do not like “new” smells and the feeling of new clothes, toys, blankets, etc.  This can be challenging when new items are needed or even have been asked for.  Gifts are for the person receiving–if “new” is problematic, buying “new to you” clothing can be perfect.  New toys can be less challenging in that they can be opened and aired out, even washed to reduce the “new” smells and feel.  Being realistic about what the gift receiver wants and enjoys can ward off many tears of frustration for ALL involved.
Holidays in my family are always laden with foods and beverages (quite likely a reason why I like them so much).  For some people the foods and drinks of holidays are fun but for others they are frustrating and not appreciated as they get in the way of the foods that are typical.  On top of that, when there are issues with foods touching, meals with huge varieties of dishes can be a big problem.  Sometimes it’s possible to avoid the “yuckiness” of foods touching on the individual’s plate but when others are loading plates, sometimes just seeing what other people will eat can verge on horrifying; like gravy on a vegetable…gross!!  It’s realistic to minimize food “traumas” by doing things like arranging seating to reduce exposure to overloaded plates and to provide some comfort foods if this will allow the holiday experience to be pleasurable.
My final suggestion is engage in preparation; set the stage so to speak.  Prepare the neurodiverse individual for what is coming; give them a framework for what behaviours are expected and present this in the positive; “this is what we want to do” as opposed to “we don’t do that.”  As well as preparing the neurodiverse individual, also prepare the neurotypical people for aspects that the neurodiverse individual might find important.  It’s ok to tell someone that although they would love to see a gift played with and tried on, that this might not happen on an already chaotic day.  Although it may feel uncomfortable to explain to others that hugs and kisses are not going to be forthcoming and are not desired, that discussion is not likely as uncomfortable as unwanted touch or as the meltdown that may result from the sensory overload.
I tend to expand holidays to try to reduce some of the sensory overload.  I prolong the events so that I can try to do more of “the things” without doing “all the things” at once, with everyone.  For me, having multiple days to celebrate means less overall chaos.  For me personally, being realistic with holidays does mean prolonging the season in various creative ways.  I definitely want to experience both a shamrock shake and green guinness but not on the same day, because that would be GROSS.  For others, protracting the season is not realistic, and that is OK too.  Do what is realistic for you and your family, after all, there is no one correct way to celebrate,
Holidays can be amazing or disastrous and everything in between.  In my experience, being realistic with expectations and planning can help slide the odds in the direction of holidays being enjoyable for all.
Merry Christmas!!!!
Blog Post written by Registered Psychologist, Tara Garratt.

Saying No During the Holiday Season

Saying No During the Holiday Season

Holiday season is upon us. December can have lots of excitement, gatherings, and celebrations.  We may feel sucked into the hustle and bustle. We will try to be everywhere and do everything so that we squeeze all those visits in and no one is disappointed.

Is this realistic?

I want to give you the permission to say no. Your time and energy is important, valuable, and you get to decide how and where it is placed.

If you are having an inner battle about what decision is best for you, here are some strategies that you can try:

Do a gut check or feelings scan and really listen to what your body is telling you.  If you are exhausted and overwhelmed then this self awareness is important and should be honored.

Take time to answer.  As a society that is driven by cell phones and technology usage some of us may feel the need to provide an immediate response (I know I do …..).  Put the phone down in the evening and come back to the response in the morning with a fresh perspective.

Speak your truth in a clear and decisive way. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a kind and pleasant “no thank you.”  I encourage you to practice this short and sweet response.

Do not overexplain, defend, or debate your response. You have permission to make the decision that is best for you. Only you know what that is.  Own your emotional needs with love and self compassion.

Cheers to you!

 

Blog Post by Registered Social Worker, Nicole Wright

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Grief in the Christmas Season

Death and dying are a part of our lives and it is inevitable that we will all experience the death of a loved one. Death ends a life, and not a relationship. Your relationship with your loved one is instilled through the memories you made, the conversations you have of your loved one, and the continued connection you embrace of your loved one.  Grieving during Christmas can bring on intensified emotions and I am here to share my life experiences to help you find some comfort and hope during this year’s Christmas season. Sixteen years ago, on November 18th, 2006 my life was changed forever; my brother Kevin tragically died in a car accident near Hudson Bay, SK. He left behind his wife, two children, his parents, his siblings, and many more relatives and friends. I remember vividly the first Christmas without my brother. Many tears of sadness, shock, numbness, and disbelief. These emotions during “The most wonderful time” of year were intensified throughout the Christmas season. Grief today for me during the Christmas season feels and looks less intensified. Grief today for me is filled with blessings, joyful moments, reflection, resilience, connectedness, and many conversations about my brother as I keep his spirt alive in my heart and in my family.

To help you cope during the Christmas season the following has helped me accept and acknowledge my grief and work through difficult times:

FEEL – Give yourself permission to feel whatever shows up in your heart, mind, and body. It’s okay to not feel okay. Accept what feelings are showing up and breath through them one at a time.

TALK – Keep your loved one in your conversations. Encourage yourself and others to share their stories.

CONNECTEDNESS – Connect with family, friends, and other grief community supports. We are wired for connection and when a loved one dies we need connection more then anything.

TRADITION – Continue Christmas traditions that have been established, but also make new traditions in memory of your loved one.

SELF-CARE – Taking care of yourself can look like going for a walk, baking, taking a bath, journaling, listening to music, etc.

     Our grief will never go away; our grief of a loved one will feel differently at any given time. Sometimes the grief feels more intensified and sometimes does not. The hurt and pain losing a loved one does for us is unimaginable; however, the way we recover and work through our emotions of grief is how we are able to manage and cope. This Christmas season I am here to hold space for all those that have lost a loved one.

Blog written by Registered Social Worker, Trina Hjelsing

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