Mammalian Meat Allergy and Margin

“Maybe it’s time to redefine 100%.”

My friend Sally said that in the fall of 2010 when I told her I was back to normal after my concussion nine months earlier, but that as soon as I did too much I would completely crash. No warning signs of increasing fatigue or feeling like I was a bit stressed and should take a break. I would go in a matter of minutes from 100% to physically exhausted, emotionally drained, and unable to get words out coherently. It was frustrating, as I was eager to resume normal life with my usual activities and responsibilities after months of recovery.

And then Sally suggested rethinking my whole way of approaching life. That wasn’t what I had had in mind; I was of the mindset that pushing myself would help me get better, like exercising a muscle to strengthen it. That clearly wasn’t working, though, and eleven years later, it still isn’t the best approach for me. Oh, there are times I can and do push myself when there’s a need, such as with family emergencies, but I found that when I pushed myself, I needed to take little breaks whenever I could and then a longer downtime once the situation was resolved. I learned to schedule margin into my days and weeks—unscheduled time that could be a buffer when there were extenuating circumstances and that would provide a healthy rhythm of rest and work for ordinary times.

Redefining 100% by adding margin led to a different way of living, and I found I loved it!  Previously I had occupied my time with “useful” work of some sort. After my discussion with Sally, instead of packing my schedule with good and useful activities, I became more thoughtful about what I committed to and started scheduling a weekly “Quiet Day,” when I would journal, read, sketch, and sometimes hike. After some adjustment I ended up being grateful for the concussion as an odd sort of gift and was glad for the way it had changed my life.

Then last summer I was diagnosed Mammalian Meat Allergy or Alpha-gal Syndrome (AGS). I had wondered for several years why I’d sometimes wake up with hives, or why I’d frequently be inexplicably nauseous or dizzy. After a few anaphylactic reactions, I went to the doctor and tested positive for AGS, which is a tick-induced allergy to galactose-ά-1,3-galactose, a sugar found in all mammals except humans and some primates (so I suppose I could eat monkey meat-ick!). At first I was mostly relieved to know what was causing my symptoms, and since I prefer poultry and fish anyway, I figured it would be easy to manage this allergy by simply avoiding beef, lamb, and pork. Wrong!

I was amazed at how many medications, supplements, soaps, and other products contain substances made from mammalian sources. Even worse, it turns out many people with AGS react strongly to cross-contamination (think my grandmother’s wonderful cast iron frying pans that once had been used for hamburgers) and to meat cooking fumes (uh oh, the neighbor’s BBQ), and I seem to be in that category.

Suddenly my life has become significantly more constricted. I carry an Epi-pen and Benadryl wherever I go, even for a walk, in case someone is grilling burgers. Eating out isn’t an option, and I’ve mostly been home for fear of reacting to someone’s perfume (apparently some perfumes either contain a mammalian substance or cross-react somehow). Stephen has taken over the grocery shopping and other errands, at least until my system stabilizes and becomes less reactive. It’s been hard and frightening.

In the past few days, though, I’ve realized that while there are challenges, I’m already experiencing some gifts of this diagnosis. Because I’m not running errands or going many places, I have much more margin. This has given me the time and mental focus to write regularly, something I had wanted to do for a long time, and that I hope to continue after this April A to Z blogging challenge is past. I’m painting more, and I’m writing more letters (yes, even snail mail letters and cards). I’m reading a great variety of books and significantly more in the Bible. I’m exercising my brain with chess lessons and studying Spanish and loving it. I’m more at ease and better able to relax and enjoy tea with Stephen before work and when he breaks for lunch.

I still can’t quite say that I am grateful for this Mammal Meat Allergy, but, as with the concussion, I am confident that God will use it for good in my life. I’m thankful for the margin it has given me, and I’m looking forward to see how I will grow in this gift of time.

A to Z April Blogging M

This cow is safe; I won’t be eating her!

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