Hello, I am Lindiwe Lewis, 28.
You can call me Lindi. I was born in London, England but grew up in Geneva, Switzerland and Monterey, California. I have had anaphylaxis since I was 10 months old. I am allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, chickpeas, lentils, beans, peas, kiwi, pineapple, shellfish and horses. I have asthma, eczema and hay fever all year round. I run a blog call The Allergy Table, where I bring awareness to the person behind the allergy. I have trained as an actor in England and New York City, and I am now completing a BA degree in Psychology and Health & Wellbeing.
1. What was it like growing up with allergies?
I believe that everybody gets given a set of cards and you just play the hand you are dealt. One of my cards is allergies, and I am very good at playing that card. The approach around allergies was very different when I was a child in the 90’s then how they are seen now. There were fewer of us for one, but there was also a lack of education for everybody. I couldn’t eat out, I was made fun of, people didn’t invite me to parties. Even with all of that, when I look back, the positives are what stand out.
I learned to cook a lot earlier than anyone I knew. I was more independent, confident and mature at a very early age. I knew how to take care of myself, I had to understand my boundaries early which also helped me as I grew up. I never felt any peer pressure because I knew what was right for me and what wasn’t, that wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t have allergies.
Having allergies helped me feel grateful for life. I didn’t (and don’t) take anything for granted – mainly my breath. Little things wash over me, and I see the positives in dear situations because I have faced death many times over (including an Ischaemic stroke). I am aware of my health every second, I know my body very well because I have to know if when I am having a reaction. It is tough, but I am tougher.
2. Growing up in school did you ever feel left out and segregated, what would your advice be to other allergy sufferers?
Short answer, Yes.
Primary school was the first time I felt ‘different’, an outcast, and it didn’t come from the students. The teachers made me sit on a separate table form my friends. When there was a cooking demonstration, I either had to sit at (what they coined) ‘the allergy table’ or go outside the room. The teachers (the school) were terrified of me having a reaction, but looking back I think they just weren’t educated enough (nobody was). If they took me out of the situation then they didn’t have to deal with it. I am glad that schools are looking at their policies now, instead of just removing children. It is amazing that lots of schools have a “nut free” policy. I was a nanny to a family where the kids went to a nut free school. The kids were so careful about nuts, even asking if the sweets had any nuts in at Halloween!
In secondary school it was a little easier. I was older, and could stand my ground a little more. However, other kids could too. That was the time that I got a lot of bullying, including allergy bullying. “I will throw peanuts at you.” “what if I sprinkle nuts on your food without you knowing?” It wasn’t great at the time; bullies hone in on your weakness and use that against you, and they are pretty good at it. This was just on the cusp of social media (cyber bullying). We only had mediocre blogs and myspace. No one knew how to handle it, but once I moved to California, at 16, it stopped. After that it got better. I kept my boundaries, told my friends how to use the epipen; most people were really welcoming with my allergies and I am very appreciative of people who are kind and don’t think of me as a burden. It is a blessing when people would rather be educated than scared.
My advice would be find people who are kind, and don’t look at you as your allergy but as a person. Be confident in your boundaries, don’t allow anyone to pressure you to do something you don’t want to do (especially if it will hinder your health). Trust that you know yourself better than anyone (including your family). Talk to people who have allergies as well! It is incredible with social media that you can find your people just by hitting a search button. I speak to so many people (me included) that spent their life alone in their allergies and social media has given them a voice and friends. Take advantage, and use your voice.
3. What are 2 pieces of advice you would give your younger self?
- What you are going through will be the best thing that has ever happened, you will gain resilience, empathy, strength, compassion and so much more. Have faith it will get better, and you will come out of it stronger!
- You won’t always feel that it is you against the world. The world will come through and you will have more comrades for this fight!
- Bonus: Remember who you are, don’t try to change to fit in – who you are is worthy already.
4. Tell us a fun fact about yourself that no one knows
In 2019, I ran the Royal Parks half marathon to raise money for the Stroke Association. It was such an amazing experience. However, I wish creative nature could have paired up with them for their goodie bags, because I couldn’t eat anything in there!
5. Have you ever visited a particular country that was really good with dealing with allergies, and why?
I am Irish. I have been visiting Ireland and spending long chunks of time the re since I was a child. My mum bought a house there when I was 6 years old. They have always taken really good care of me. Let me bring my own food into restaurants (even offered me a plate!). However, when I went to Dublin 2 years ago with a friend, I realised how amazing they are.
Firstly, the service is beyond amazing. The people are kind, friendly, funny and compassionate. They offered me allergy menus, chats with the chef, alternatives, food made only for me… you name it they did it, and were pleased to as well! I cannot say enough great things about that trip – mainly the whiskey!! The Bank restaurant was incredible!
6. How do you manage your allergies while travelling?
I have always travelled. My mum took me to New York when I was 3 months old, Australia and New Zealand when I was 6months, Pakistan when I was 10 months and I have never stopped moving from there. I get bored if I stay in one place too long. I manage my allergies by going to places I know the language- English and French. If I am going somewhere were I don’t, then I research my allergen list in that country, write everything down and look for places that others have deemed good for allergies. I will also try and book an airbnb so I can cook my own food or bring food with me and put it in the fridge (why I love meal prepping). Research is key. There are so many places now that are allergy friendly so knowing that helps me feel comfortable when travelling. Take snacks that you enjoy in your bags, so you will never go hungry. My main tip is – don’t take risks. The rhetoric around travel is eat the culture, immerse yourself in they way they do it. This is not good when it comes to allergies. Don’t risk it, when you feel that they haven’t quite understood you, don’t risk it when you are in a street food market, don’t risk it if you don’t know what they ingredient says. Just don’t risk it. Eat whole foods, foods that has a single ingredient and change your mindset towards it. I don’t travel to eat the food, I travel to see the place. Go to the museums, see the architecture, walk the streets. Change the reason why you are going and you won’t feel you are missing out.
7. What is your favourite creative nature product, and why? Are there any products you haven’t tried but would like to?
I have just tried the Gnawbles Mylk and Hazelnot! Incredible. I am a lover of Maltesers. The bunnies, reindeer, sharable slab, the balls. My mum and I have this game with Maltesers and we played it with Gnawbles, not going back. Maltesers are still great, but they don’t have the safe factor that creative nature puts on their product. I can’t know for absolute certainty that Maltesers are safe for me, but I can with Creative Nature. There is a confidence feeling of knowing the product is completely safe which doesn’t happen very often and especially not to someone who has many different allergies (out of the top 14). I wish I could eat some of the other flavours but some have pea protein in. That was a concern I had a few weeks ago, and I reached out to the company and the Founder Julianne, and she spoke with me to make me feel comfortable and safe. It is such a comfort knowing that the person who is running the company also has allergens, and they are also not only in the top 14! Incredible products, I am so happy for kids to be able to enjoy products that are delicious without doubt!
Find Lindewe on social media!