Suzannah's Voice

I’m Allergic to Being Allergic

(c) Suzannah Gilman

Alexander Pope: “Apply thine engine to the spongy door, set Bacchus from his glassy prison free.” Unless you’re allergic to yeast, mold, or both.  In that case, you may weep silently into your empty glass.

Twenty years ago, I went through an initial round of allergy testing, the whole being-stuck-with-needles-two-hundred-times torture routine. I was allergic to a few things, but I claimed to be more allergic to needles than to my allergies, so I didn’t finish the testing. But as the years went on, my allergies became unbearable. Daily headaches. Itching episodes. Swollen eyes. Buying crates of Kleenex at Costco. I could not wait to get health insurance again.

When I did, I marched back to my old ENT and soldiered through the entire testing ordeal, declaring my commitment to battle my allergies until they were completely wiped out by immunotherapy. Three years of weekly therapy shots to get that done? I welcomed those needles with two open arms. And it would be both arms that would take a shot each week.

When the final round of results came back, I went in to get a list of what I’m allergic to. The first thing the list said was that I had no food allergies. Hooray!

As the allergist went over my allergens, they didn’t seem so bad—bahia grass, Johnson grass, timothy grass (we don’t have grass in our yard), cockroaches (don’t have them, either), and mites (damn it, everyone has dust mites). Horses and feathers, which meant only that I had to get rid of our down pillows. Candida and cephalosporium, which are yeasts, and then a list of eight kinds of molds. Simple, so far: get new pillows, and my daily headaches, swollen eyes, runny nose, itching episodes, red rashes, and dark circles under my eyes are going away, baby. (As long as I get those weekly shots, but I’m committed.)

“You don’t have grass? Who does your yard work?” my allergist asked. “I don’t care if you like doing it, you’re not doing it anymore. Mold is all over your yard, and you don’t know it. See? Right. That’s why you have to have Kleenex in your pocket when you go out there. You’re done with that for three years, missy.” Our tropical yard is one of the main things that drew us to this Florida house. It’s paradise. Except during summer, when it’s a suffering hell.

Then she turned the page to the list of foods I am to avoid. But I don’t have food allergies. “You’re allergic to yeast and mold, and they are present in food.” No aged cheese. Oh, great. Velveeta and American “cheese” here I come.  What will I eat on crackers at parties? Oh, no crackers, either? No flour, no pasta, no baked goods, no malt or barley? No pizza then? “Pizza dough is made with yeast, dummy.” She didn’t really say that. There were needles around, and I’d gotten a little wide-eyed by then. I may have been drooling.

No overripe fruits or veggies. In fact, I should wash fresh fruits and veggies in water and lemon juice when I bring them home. Like lugging the groceries into the house and putting them away isn’t work enough? I’m going to squeeze fresh lemon juice, mix it with water, and dunk all the fruits and veggies in it? Do I have to wear a lab coat and latex-free gloves while I do it—even though I’m not allergic to latex? What about a face mask? “No, but if you go outside to the pool, you should wear a face mask. I have a handout on the kind to get.”

By Wjdpr (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

This is the only potato vodka you want to buy.

Bananas that have even one brown spot? Off limits. Nothing that has started to ferment goes into my mouth. Wine is fermented, I say. “Yeah. You’re not drinking any wine. Or beer. Or any alcohol of any type except for potato vodka,” which was something I had never heard of, and neither have most bartenders in the world, I have since found out. “Also no chocolate, and I might as well tell you right now, no bacon, either.” You have to have a lot of guts to tell a woman she can’t have wine, chocolate, or bacon, all in one breath. Turns out this woman is ex-Navy. That explains it. Good thing she didn’t mention the prohibition of tequila right then, because I am an ex Navy wife and we might have had a throw-down.

And telling a southerner she can’t have black tea is a sin, or it should be. Gone are the days when I can pop raw mushrooms into my mouth, too, and savor their nuttiness. No olives, black or green, no soy sauce, no pickles, no vinegar, no honey or syrup or brown sugar or Equal or Splenda—“Hey, do you drink diet sodas? You don’t anymore. You can have Stevia, but that’s it.” Telling me I can’t have Diet Pepsi just about seals the deal. I’m through with this allergy shit.

But she wasn’t through with me yet. More things I’m allergic to: English plantain (oh, hurt me!), pigweed, yellow dock, bald cypress (cypresses are all around the lakeshores, but we don’t live on a lake), bayberry, live oak. Live oak. We live under live oaks—they shade our house, they drop leaves on every inch of our property. Live oaks are one of the most remarkable things about our little town. “You can’t open your windows at home, then,” she said, “And you can’t drive with your car windows down.” What about my new convertible? The one I drive with the top down, music blaring, my bliss? “You have a new convertible? That’s priceless,” she said, big smile. “Wanna trade?”

I’m allergic to being allergic all over again.

(c) suzannah gilman

Paradise lost.  For now.

At least I’m not allergic to my cats. I’m counting my blessings about that.  When I cheat and go pick up a pizza from Valdiano’s with my top down, come home and watch a movie while I eat it straight from the box and swig from my two-liter of Diet Pepsi, enjoying hot cherry peppers, balsamic vinaigrette, and aged parmesan on my salad, my cats watch me, but they aren’t going to tell my allergist. They don’t share my eff-you attitude. Well, yeah, they do. They’re cats. But they don’t know I’m cheating and they don’t know how to use the phone—or my Epi-pens should they need to revive me, come to think of it. That’s a chance I’m willing to take. But I’m leaving the Epi-pens on the coffee table just in case.


(c) WJ Collins

My black Audrey Hepcat in the lap of garden luxury.  We’ll be back out there again one day.

34 replies »

  1. I can relate to the flour, pasta bit above because I have celiac. But though my doctor didn’t quite say it, I am allergic to eggs, cheese, sometimes lean and always red meat too (what luck, right?). And it reduces you to ‘Poor dear’ when people around you are either having round, fluffy puris with chicken butter masala or ghee-smeared parathas with scrambled eggs. All this does make you have a heightened sense of allergens, even at the cost of making others queasy.

    Of course, I don’t quite give an eff to it all the time. I confess having pulao and chicken curry last night and now my stomach is bloated. Lactifibre tonight!

    Liked by 3 people

    • That’s the thing to keep in mind, I think: we have to sometimes “cheat,” because we’re only cheating ourselves when we do and we’re only cheating ourselves when we don’t. But we have to enjoy life, so suffering the next day is worth it now and then.

      Friends of mine have sympathy, too. They say “What CAN you eat?!” Well, a lot of things, actually. But I can’t eat a lot of things that are popular and convenient.

      You and I will do just fine, though. ?

      Liked by 3 people

    • Yes, go have it checked out. It seems scary, but the way I look at it is that getting the allergies tested, having your own serum formulated, and receiving that serum as your immunotherapy will make your allergies either super-significantly better or make them go away all together. Isn’t it scarier to have them, not know what they are, and let them hang around? Allergies also rob us of energy. I am not a health nut, but I know that my allergies have impacted my life heavily, and I’m looking forward to being free.

      Liked by 3 people

    • Oh, believe me I follow the rules. Very seldom do I get crazy. I want to get better. And if I eat pizza, I feel horrible that night, the next day, and the day after. I have to drink a ton of water, too. It’s just that sometimes we have to have what we want. It’s like being on a diet to lose weight. If we don’t have a taste of the forbidden foods, we’ll binge and think we have failed. I promise you I never eat a whole pizza! ? I’m glad you like my pictures. Thank you for saying so. And by the way, I think my cats might be able to dial 911. They’re as smart as dogs!

      I only had to take the allergy tests twice because I was too chicken to finish them the first time. But I’ve raised four children. What could scare me now?! Haha.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Wow! You are incredibly allergic, even if it’s redundant to say.
    Keep on going! I really hope the best for you. And I simply LOVE your house, full of plants and live. Don’t trade that for anything.

    I’m only allergic to dust, polen and cigarrete smoke. With the smoke it’s kind of strange, but I get bronchospams from my asthma when someone smokes around. With the polen, I get rinitis on spring. And I’m used to sneeze a lot, especially at mornings, I think I use a klennex box every five or six days.

    Get better girl!


    • I got a pizza from Valdiano’s tonight, in fact, and some cold Diet Pepsis. I THOUGHT my fave, Alan Cumming, was on his final Emmy norm for The Good Wife, which was my occasion for my flirting with disaster. But no! He wasn’t nominated. Sigh. The pizza and Diet Pepsi were quite enjoyable anyway. Audrey and Frankie stared at
      me. It’s like they read my blog.


  3. ohmygosh. looks like you’re going on a diet now. i have food allergies to seafood like crabs, prawns only and also dust mites which trigger my asthma, hate it when i got asthma attack. but, who can prevent us from eating the food we want?? really. gotta take the risk to enjoy the pleasure of eating.


      • Well, they call it a rare disorder, but a lot of us think it’s more like “rarely diagnosed” disorder. Don’t confuse it with the more common Mastocytosis. I’m referring to Mast Cell Activation Syndrome…where your Mast cells (part of the immune response…cells that release histamine and other mediators in response to allergens) go haywire and release them to things you’re not really technically allergic to (along with the things you are allergic to). There’s a million types of symptoms and people vary so much with how they present. Also, it’s extremely difficult to diagnose. My first two rounds of testing came back negative. Luckily, I found a specialist in Boston who figured it out. I’m obviously not diagnosing you based on that one post…and based on the fact that I’m not a doctor! It was the “fermented” comment that caught my eye. Just something to think about, as there are medications to ease your symptoms, if you do end up having it. Hope this doesn’t keep you up all night!


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