I have allergies. To all kinds of things: fruits, vegetables, animals (my cat!). I’ve learned to live with and work around my allergies. So I take meds. For years, Claritin was my savior. One tiny pill that started to work super quickly. Just that one pill, and I was good for hours and hours. I don’t know if my body changed or if my allergies changed, but Claritin stopped working for me. These days, I bounce between two new meds, making my decision based on whether the pill makes me sleepy or lets me get on with my day. The sleepy-making one works better, but I can only take it when I don’t care if I fall asleep.
This isn’t the slice I was going to write. It’s the slice I decided to write because it’s nicer. But never mind nicer. I’ll just dive in with the real slice.
I have allergic reactions to people, too. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does … whew! Don’t I wish I had a Claritin then!
I first noticed this about ten or so years ago. The project I directed meant I had to meet and sometimes work with a very powerful, famous man. Everyone who worked on the project was thrilled to have the chance to interact with this man, to get to say that they could call him by name, that they had shared a meal or a joke with him. Feh.
I could and can still easily acknowledge the incredible work he’s done. It’s extraordinary and beyond impressive. I respect him for that work, for the ways he’s been able to grow and expand it.
But the man himself? No thank you. The moment he entered a room, everything in me soured. He’d make a joke, and I’d have to choke back the bile rising in my throat.
And he knew it, too. I don’t think he would have been able to articulate what was going on with me, but he certainly knew something was off between us. I would catch him sometimes, looking at me with pure confusion. I made no sense to him. And how could I, when I wasn’t making sense to myself?
I fussed with myself, trying to puzzle out what my problem was. I talked to a friend about it, describing my responses in comparison to seemingly every other living being on the planet.
“You’re allergic to him,” she said. “On sight, everything in you — you physical self, your psyche — rejects him. Like if you ate a fig.” (I am super allergic to figs.)
That idea — that I could just have a complete, visceral rejection of another person — had never occurred to me. And, although it sounded exactly right when I heard her say it and I’ve adopted her language and have been saying it ever since, the idea troubled me. What does it mean about me that I can so completely reject a person I don’t even know?
As I said, it doesn’t happen often. I can really count on one hand the people I’ve had this response to. I’m not talking about not liking someone or being disgusted by someone. But truly feeling an instant, full-system revulsion and rejection. When I have to be near/around that person, my physical response is akin to the way magnets repel, a dramatic and natural force driving me away from that person. I’ve never figured out how to counter it, only how to live with it.
And I’m thinking about it now because I’ve just recognized that it’s happening again. I’ve been working with a group that I enjoy supporting. I’ve been working with them since mid-way through 2020, and I’m getting deeper into the work, which means I’m working more closely with a lot of the group members.
And tonight, watching playback of an instructional video several of the group members made, I recognized my response. There’s a woman in the group to whom I’ve been responding from the beginning, and it wasn’t until hearing her voice tonight that I recognized my repelling-magnet response.
And maybe it’s not something that can be helped. Maybe I’m always just going to have allergic responses to people. But I want there to be a way to solve this, to not be repelled. This woman I’m responding to seems to be a genuine, kind, caring person. If I could get over this allergy, I’m sure I’d have a lot to learn from her, that I’d enjoy being in working groups with her, might even socialize with her outside of the group.
I have no idea where to start, what parts of me I need to be investigating to figure out what’s triggering this response. This is a part of myself that I’m not happy to recognize. I want to be hopeful that calling myself out can help me find some answers. I wanted this to be my slice but then shied away from showing this decidedly less appealing side of myself and started writing about my “real” allergies instead.
But the false start works for me. Those OTC meds saved me and continue to save me. I wish there was Claritin for this reaction. And I’m joking, but I mean it, too. I have work to do to figure out what in me causes this response to other people. It would be wonderful to have some magical “Behavior Benadryl” that would let me have a normal interaction while I’m doing that work.
It’s the 15th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!