2020: Reflections and Takeaways
2020. WOW. I mean, WOW. What a year, right? As I sit here in the last dwindling days of this year, I honestly feel a bit shell-shocked, with a side of whiplash. Anyone else?
We just wrapped up our Christmas holiday. We were lucky enough to get to spend it with my mom and stepdad, a gift that I know many families went without this season. It’s so hard to not see family and friends and to not have our “normal” lives. This year has taken so much from so many.
Thankfully, our family generally had a really solid 2020. We all stayed well. Our extended family stayed well. Everyone has a job and a place to sleep and food on the table. I was able to see my parents – not even close to enough, but at least a little. Technology has made work and connection possible for us. I know we are incredibly lucky, and I do not take any of it for granted. My heart aches for all those who suffered any form of loss this year.
These last twelve months were a rollercoaster, and for me, it’s important to process a year before moving on to the next. We have a tradition in our family where we go around the table at some point during the holidays (with cocktails!) and share what we are proud of from the year about to end. It’s different from reviewing resolutions, which can remind you of what you have NOT accomplished. But I think it’s incredibly important to review each year and celebrate what you DID accomplish – usually, it’s a reaffirming reminder of how far you’ve come.
This year certainly did revolve a lot around food allergy, so I’m going to share our highs and lows. Please know that while this was very therapeutic for me to write, I wrote it for YOU, as I always share our journey with the wish to help others on theirs. I’ve included key takeaways I learned from each experience that I hope will be useful as we all turn the page to 2021.
#1 -- I launched my website.
I officially announced my website on January 22, 2020. I spent the previous fall creating it and writing the first handful of articles for the blog but announcing it and going “live” was a big achievement. I feel as if this site has been a part of me forever at this point, so it’s pretty crazy to think that it was just early in this year. All I have to say is thank God I actually got it underway before this year really hit. I certainly didn’t write all the articles I wanted to, or re-design the homepage the way I’d like, or start a newsletter to let subscribers know when I’d published a new blog like I’d planned….but I launched it. There are now 22 articles on my blog, including this one! Sometimes the big win is just getting something started.
TAKEAWAY: Just get started.
Whatever you are thinking about, whether professional or personal, just get going. Take one step. Make one call. Write one thing. Whatever it is, just do it. Getting started is honestly the hardest part – so just get it over with! I’d been thinking about a website for years. And if I’d waited much longer, I absolutely would have lost another year this year, too. There is no good time. Ever. So, make it happen! Whatever it is. You’ll be so glad you did.
#2 – We survived quarantine.
There was a period of time, from March through June, that we literally did not leave our house for exactly 100 days. We went for walks and bike rides, but otherwise, we did not go anywhere. My husband was working insane hours, my children were distance learning from home, and everything involving childcare, education, meals, cleaning, laundry, and the emotional support of my children and husband fell squarely on me. I know every single mom reading this was in the same situation and knows exactly what I’m talking about. My work, for the most part, went straight to the back of the line. I fought hard to make time for exercise and create some quiet alone time, but both were rare and hard. But we survived it. We all stayed well. My children didn’t fall off the grid with schoolwork. My husband ultimately kicked total ass at work. It was exhausting, but we proved that we could do it. And we came out stronger for it.
TAKEAWAY: Take it one day at a time.
Never before this year was the act of staying in the present harder or more relevant. None of us knew what was going to happen. None of us knew when this was going to end. All we could do was focus on the next meal, the next activity, the next school project, the next whatever. One day at a time. 100 days – one day at a time. We were unable to make plans, think about later in the year or next year, know when school would return, when we’d go back to an office. We had to just take it one day at a time. And it worked. I’m going to try hard to keep that mentality moving forward when things seem too overwhelming, and I invite you to share that focus, too. One day at a time.
#3 – We traveled, extensively, during a pandemic, with food allergies.
Once mandatory stay-at-home orders lifted, we needed to lift out, too. We made a very last minute, very bold decision to bust out and head west. In case you missed it, you can read all about our journey in my Top Ten Food Allergy Travel Tips and Saying YES! articles. Topline: COVID rates were incredibly low where we were, we traveled as safely as possible, we social distanced, we wore masks, we did all the things to keep ourselves and those around us safe. And… we BROKE THROUGH OUR OWN FEARS about traveling with food allergies. It was without a doubt the best trip of our lives with kids (so far), and I am so proud of us for making this happen, especially this year.
TAKEAWAY: Don’t let your fear dictate your life.
My husband wanted to take our kids out west for years, and I was too full of anxiety to make it happen. Then go ahead and add pandemic anxiety to the list. But I knew we needed it. I knew we could do it. And it was such an important lesson for my kids and for me. YES, it was an absolute ton of work. But it was the best thing ever and so worth it. If you have a fear that is dictating your life, maybe this is the year you bust out, too.
#4 – My boys passed NINE food challenges this year.
Owen passed walnut and macadamia nut in oral food challenges and then added pecan and brazil nut safely at home, per his allergist’s approval. Grayson passed coconut, flax, and sweet potato oral food challenges, and then added chia and poppyseed safely at home, per his allergist’s approval. Both boys also passed penicillin challenges. We made INCREDIBLE progress this year, and I’m beyond grateful. We started with our new allergist in February, and my mind is just blown by what we’ve accomplished this year. And we are not finished yet!
TAKEAWAY: If you don’t love your allergist, find a new one!
If your doctor isn’t listening, isn’t helping you move forward, isn’t working with you – then MOVE ON! Now, I know that this isn’t always the easiest choice based on where you are and what your options are. But I do know that there are a wide variety of allergists out there – and you can absolutely find someone who is a great fit for your family and will help you make progress if at all possible. I’ve had allergists I loved, but the practice itself was too busy, and making appointments took six months or more. And I’ve had allergists who just were not up to date on the latest research, were stuck in old ways, and would not schedule food challenges out of their own fear. Whatever your scenario is, if you are not feeling heard or happy, it’s time to make a change.
#5 – I went back to my TV production roots.
In 2020, everyone and everything became virtual. The silver lining of this, for me, was the opportunity to create new food allergy digital video content. I majored in Broadcast News and interned at Entertainment Tonight, Turner Broadcasting, and a local PBS station. During my public relations career, I media trained clients and produced “sizzle reels” of press highlights. I LOVE TV production. As FARE pivoted to create the Living Teal Channel on YouTube, I was honored to have the opportunity to write and record My Food Allergy Story. I also wrote and filmed an educational video about Oral Food Challenges, and then I pitched and created a new series for FARE (my lips are sealed for now -- but stay tuned!), both of which will launch in early 2021. These projects were definitely my professional highlights of the year, and I’m proud I made it happen in the midst of the chaos. I cannot WAIT to share with you and have all my fingers and toes crossed that there will be more to come.
TAKEAWAY: Find your passion – then make it happen.
There was a lot of “no” this year. There was a lot taken away from us. And to be totally honest, if you did nothing but survive day after day, that is absolutely, 100% enough (and I mean that from the bottom of my heart). But, if you see a window, a sliver of opportunity, a tiny little opening where you could make some magic happen – make it happen. What is the part of you that you want to share most? How can you do that? How can you make “work” work, despite all our new restrictions? For me, it was the gift of a new production team that believed in me. Oh, and a really good ring light and mic that connected to my iPhone. I may have been bootstrappin’, but I got it done. I know you can, too!
#6 – We decided to treat eczema with Dupixent.
Grayson has suffered from eczema since immediately after birth. We have tried everything to make it better -- every single cream, ointment, holistic balm, and topical steroid. He wears only 100% cotton, breathable clothes. We put allergy covers on his mattress and pillows and installed a water filtration system in our house and had our ducts cleaned regularly. We were absolutely positive it wasn’t food-induced because I tested and introduced food so slowly. We were also positive it was exacerbated by environmental allergies, so he participated in over a year of allergy shots. We tried phototherapy. We did EVERYTHING. And nothing worked. Sometimes, it would get better, but it would never be gone. I got to the point where I hated eczema more than food allergies because my sweet child was always, ALWAYS uncomfortable. He never had a day of completely clear skin in his life, and even though he is incredibly resilient and full of joy, he was never really comfortable.
I was hesitant to try Dupixent. We have been following it for years since it was in Phase II clinical trials, and it has been approved for adults and older children for a while. But it was just approved for children over six years old earlier this year, and it still felt “new” to us. The safety and efficacy data are amazing – we just don’t know long-term effects. But our dermatologist felt like we were at the end of the road with everything else we had tried. She said that Grayson (and we all) deserved a break. I cried. Because it was so true.
In November, Grayson started Dupixent. His first shots were in the middle of November, and within a week we could tell a huge difference. Within two weeks, his skin was 99% clear. His skin is smooth and soft and just gorgeous. It is the greatest gift of this year for us all.
TAKEAWAY: It’s OK to need help.
If you are struggling with something – eczema, food allergy, or something else in life – sometimes you just need to know when to wave the white flag and ask for help. I am so grateful this option existed for Grayson. It is a drug that he will be on indefinitely, and that scared me a little, but the quality-of-life change for him is so worth it. If you have a similar issue, where there might be an option to actually FIX something you struggle with, do the research, and consider going for it. Maybe it’s Dupixent, maybe it’s therapy, maybe it’s a much-needed medicine for another issue. Point is – if you don’t have to suffer, don’t suffer.
#7 – We dealt with anaphylaxis.
On Sunday, December 13, Grayson had an anaphylactic reaction. I gave him a new food but from a trusted company. He had a violent reaction that required four doses of epinephrine, multiple doses of steroids and antihistamines, two ambulances, and two hospitals, including an overnight stay.
Based on the label, the allergen page of the food company’s website, and their own allergen testing policy and claims of no cross-contamination, this should have been a safe food for him. The food company has responded very responsibly and has launched a full investigation, and we are waiting for the results. This episode is its own story with its own learnings, which I will share as soon as I have more information.
In the meantime, I’ll just share this. It knocked the wind out of me. We were on such a high from this year – so many important milestones. Health, travel, multiple new foods. I was feeling strong and brave and so sure that “we’ve got this.”
This was Grayson’s third anaphylactic reaction in his eight years of life. The first was his first bite of banana at six months old. His second was to wheat during an oral food challenge when he was two years old. And now this. In some ways, I feel proud and amazed that he’s had so few life-threatening reactions since his list of allergens is so long. I’ve worked incredibly hard to create a safe bubble for him, while still allowing him to live a “normal” life. But most of the time, I just feel responsible, anxious, and terrified.
Anaphylaxis is the slap across the face that food allergy leaves – that undeniable fear that we all live with, that one day, our most precious loves could be taken from us. BECAUSE OF FOOD. It’s a tough pill to swallow, especially when I’ve dedicated myself to the work of empowering others to know they can have a full and happy life with food allergies.
TAKEAWAY: Give yourself grace.
I’m really writing this to myself as much as I am to you. Being a food allergy caregiver is hard. Being a parent is hard. 2020 is hard. COVID is hard. Life can just be hard. Every day is not going to be a winner. It’s not always going to be victories and celebrations. You can do everything right and still have an accidental reaction. You can do everything right and bad things can still happen. I think that’s just the way it goes, which has always been a hard lesson for me. It’s just not always about education or effort or fairness.
But, as my amazing allergist said to me, Grayson took ten steps forward this year. It’s ok if he took one step back.
My Grayson is safe. He is here. And that is all that matters. We all need to give ourselves some grace.
#8 – I’m limping to the finish line.
I am writing this article to you while running on fumes. This year has had a lot of highlights, for sure. I am beyond grateful for every win and every special moment. But this year has also taken its toll. I’m tired. I’m not in my best shape or at my fighting weight. I have bags under my eyes. I’m emotional. I’m exhausted down to my bones, y’all. And I think I’m not alone. Many of my close friends feel the same way, and I see it in my social media community, too. Women who are mothers, advocates, business owners, powerhouses, badasses – and just wrung out. We are all done and then done again.
We have shown up for our families in all kinds of new ways. We have taught and cooked and cleaned and advocated and handled Zoom conference calls and digital board meetings and pulled creativity out of thin air. We have been virtually and literally on call 24/7 all year long. And you know what? We are WARRIORS, and I’m proud of all of us. ANY good day or sweet new memory is a victory – and I bet that those victories almost always come at the hands of us mamas. But now, we deserve a break. We have got to put on our oxygen masks before we put them on others.
TAKEAWAY: Take care of yourself, sweet friends.
Once again, I am again writing this as much to me as I am to you. We have a few days left in this year. And a whole new year ahead of us. We need to MANDATE some time to take care of ourselves every single day. Even if it’s 15 minutes. We need to create space. We need to fill our cups.
First of all, please don’t put off routine medical care because of COVID. I personally have awful medical anxiety, so being late for annual appointments just makes me crazy. I did all my routine care this year and felt completely safe with all the COVID protocols in place. If you are behind on any of your appointments, please call today and schedule them. It’s just too important. YOU are too important.
Second, we have to take care of our bodies. Try to make exercise a priority. I know it always makes me feel better. I’m definitely not at my peak right now by any means, but I am trying to be gentle to myself and listen to what my body needs. Some days it’s a long walk, some days it’s a short gentle yoga. Anything is better than nothing.
Third, we need intellectual and emotional self-care, too. Some things that really help me are listening to podcasts (distracting your brain is hugely important if you deal with anxiety like I sometimes do), focusing on gratitude with the 5 Minute Journal app, waking up before my family for quiet coffee time, and writing. Processing emotions and events through my writing is important to my well-being and keeps me from shoving all the bad stuff down to fester. However you can work through the ups and downs of your life, mentally and emotionally, make time to do it.
Lastly, spend some time with those you love. We’ve had a year without date nights or babysitters or mom’s night out. Do what you can, safely, to invest in those relationships that are meaningful to you. Maybe it’s a glass (or bottle?) of wine with your spouse while your kids watch a movie in the next room. Maybe it’s outside coffee with your best friend six feet apart. I’m not saying this as an added to-do that can deplete you, I’m saying to make sure you prioritize those who fortify you.
A final note about self-care. I think it can get a bad rap. I think it can sometimes sound corny. I think it can sometimes border on a social media catchphrase. I also think it can be hard to give sincere permission to take care of ourselves.
Listen to me, friends, that is all crap.
Here is how I think about it: Do you want your children to learn how to take care of themselves as they grow up? Do you want them to know how to acknowledge and process their feelings? Do you want them to learn how to prioritize time and tasks and people? Do you want them to learn how to nurture their bodies and their minds? Do you want them to learn how to advocate for themselves? Do you want them to succeed in the face of adversity?
Yes, you do! So, show them how. Model the behavior you want them to learn. LIGHT THE WAY FOR THEM.
2020 is over, thankfully. I hope you have lots of victories to celebrate. And now, you have a whole new year ahead of you. SHINE BRIGHT.