Recently I experience the best of times and worst of times. It was a Saturday and I broke my ParkRun PB (24:46 at Rickmansworth). I also broke a few of my rules for staying alive and faced some pretty startling side effects.
I wasn’t going to share this blog because I prefer to share positive things and messages. And also because quite frankly I’m embarrassed.
But I found it really helpful just to write it down, get my thoughts straight and work out how to avoid it happening again. Then I decided I will share this story because if I can learn from this then you can all perhaps find something of use here and we can all move on. Whether this is of use to you, your family, child or friend, it’s onwards and upwards in 2018.
I am also looking forward to many more Saturday’s in the Cafe in the Park… where this took place and since writing all this down I did actually return, just for a coffee mind you, but it was fine. Absolutely fine. I will go back and talk to the owner and find out if it is safe when it’s quieter but for the time being it’s coffee all the way for me.
So let’s begin. This recent experience resulted in a pretty significant anxiety meltdown which continued for an hours walk around the lakes after breakfast and well into the afternoon.
I was quite upset about it for a while and have had another panic attack since, totally unrelated to food and most perplexing, but I am not giving in to this.
I am not this pathetic crying mess. I am brave and strong and I can do this.
Before you panic, there was no allergic reaction.
I am quite safe… it was just this new fear I am experiencing. Sheer panic and I can’t control it, despite all rational thoughts that I can walk out, not eat anything, stay safe…
It all happened because even though breakfast in ‘Cafe in the Park’ was in my calendar I hadn’t had time to speak to them about what I could safely eat. That is totally my fault, and due to the severity of my allergy I would NEVER EVER turn up during any establishment’s busiest time and demand a safe meal with no prior knowledge about whether this would be possible. I would always phone or email and ensure that I have spoken to staff, preferably the owner or chef, before booking anything anywhere. And if I’m unsure, stick to a very safe option ie. ham, egg and chips or steak and salad or bacon and eggs. Simple stuff. This strategy has served me well.
So on this occasion, being unorganised and just a bit nervous about ordering breakfast in a cafe I brought with me a Tesco Gluten Free and Dairy Free Egg Roll. I figured if everyone else (there were about 8 of us altogether) was eating breakfast and I joined them for a coffee (with no milk) that would be OK. I almost just had a coffee and kept my safe food hidden away.
Before I go on I will just explain, that the last time I ordered breakfast and explained all my allergies was in Palm Springs in September. Unfortunately they omitted to tell me that the gluten free muffin also contained dairy, despite me asking on numerous occasions. The result was the most terrifying experience of my life. Unconscious and rushed to A&E and forever grateful to the friends and experts who looked after me.
So perhaps it’s not a surprise that my trust was lacking and my nerves were raw.
I just wasn’t feeling particularly brave that morning but no one knew how scared I was because I hadn’t told any of my new running friends. I was just really pleased to be invited to breakfast.
Call it bad luck? But when I thought it was quiet enough I tried to sneak out my safe roll to eat.
Unfortunately the owner of the cafe happened to be sitting right next to me and politely explained that I couldn’t eat my own food.
Of all the luck! I was very embarrassed and put the roll away. I completely understand how annoying it must be if customers bring in their own picnic rather than order food.
But I did try to explain to her why I’d done it.
I wasn’t trying to get away without paying.
I would pay double for the privilege to walk into a place and just choose from a menu. Just like that.
I wasn’t being sneaky.
I was just badly organised, very frightened and trying to do my best to stay safe.
I had not planned ahead and was suddenly crippled with the most terrible fear.
I thought it would OK as everyone else was tucking into the most amazing looking breakfasts.
The owner assured me that they could cater for allergies and had lots that I could choose from.
But she went on, and on and for quite some time gave me a little bit of a hard time. I kept saying ‘sorry, I’m not going to eat this, I’m Sorry.’ I gave up trying to explain but she was full of praise for her amazing menu.
I ended up getting very upset and feeling so pressured that whilst I wanted to run away and get out of there, I felt so humiliated with the owner still pressing that they could really feed anyone with any allergy… have our gluten free sour dough she said… again and again, while I sat their crying.
Instead of staying calm, thanking her and promising to do my research for next time, I went up to order breakfast in a busy cafe, shaking with fear and with tears pouring down my face.
Why did I do that? Why didn’t I just compose myself and maybe just ask for another coffee?
Stick to the rules. Stay safe.
Because breakfast and a muffin with undeclared milk was how it all happened before. Never eat bread when you’re out unless you’ve read the ingredients. My new rule! Never trust ANYONE.
And the memory, even though I have very poor recall of the whole event, just came flooding back.
So when the server went to check the gluten free sour dough, assuring me that she ‘thought it would be OK’… I totally lost it. Because ‘thinking’ something is OK is not good enough.
I refused the probably safe gluten free sour dough because my life is not worth taking that risk.
I didn’t enjoy my plate of poached eggs and bacon but I can assure you they were very well cooked.
The reason I didn’t enjoy them was because the fear, humiliation and complete embarrassment that I couldn’t control my emotions and the awful knowledge that all my new running friends were watching this silent melt down… kind of ruined it for me.
After we’d finished I could feel myself getting upset again when one of the lovely ladies asked me if I was OK… so I let all my friends leave so that I could get take-out coffee and walk it off around the beautiful lakes.
I am so angry with my emotions because I couldn’t even order a black coffee to take-away without crying. The owner came over to speak to me again and I think then, for the first time perhaps realised just how terrified I was. But I was too far gone by then to hear that they have a full allergen menu so would be able to tell me the exact ingredients in the sour dough. It’s a shame staff hadn’t just offered to show me the allergen menu or that she hadn’t checked for me but hey ho. We live and learn.
Maybe next time I will be able to try breakfast there again and enjoy it. But only after I have checked, read and reread the ingredients in that home made gluten free sour dough.
Cafe in the Park at Rickmansworth Aquadrome have very clearly marked menus and it is definitely a great place to eat out if you have allergies. They have gluten free bread available if you ask and the menu is marked up with the key main allergens.
If I can ever bear to show my face in there again 🙁
Thank you to my ParkRun buddies. Thank you for not making a big thing about it while I lost the plot. Thank you Matt for helping me get the PB and for not even noticing the meltdown 😉 and assuring me that most of the others didn’t either. Thank you for never referring to it ever again… 😉
Yours, struggling, embarrassed but not giving in…
I’m still here, annoying my Mum, blogging and running. Let’s run this fear out of my system.
So why, why when asked how was breakfast at Cafe in the Park by Mum do I lie and say, ‘It was fine’. Why?
Because I was ashamed to admit the truth even to my own mother. Because we are a family who just get on with it. We don’t complain.
Please talk about this to people close to you if you are feeling similar fear. It is not easier to cope with in silence. It is in fact much easier to deal with when you share your feelings.
And you know, I don’t care what anyone thinks. This is not anything to be ashamed about. It has never happened to me before but I have friends who have anxiety and I haven’t truly appreciated how debilitating and terrifying it is.
Being prepared, never putting yourself in that kind of high pressure situation and staying calm sound like easy measures to take but sometimes life jumps up and bites you.
Hope to see you guys soon Cafe in the Park. This is not a bad review in any way. It’s a lovely, lovely cafe but if you plan to eat there with allergies, please phone speak to them prior to going and ask to see the allergen menu. Because this place can be busy, heaving in fact which isn’t great if you need to relay a complicated but important allergy message.
And if you own a food establishment and a customer is clearly very upset, perhaps don’t continue to herangue them, push them to order, or keep asking them questions. Having life threatening allergies and living with the risk of anaphylaxis can be terrifying. Have some thought, some empathy and be kind. And maybe choose your battles. Because ordering a breakfast for the first time since someone had an anaphylactic reaction might just be too difficult for someone.
Has anyone else experienced this kind of reaction? What did you do?
Please tell me I’m not going crazy… LOL
Michelle Berreidale-Johnson says
Ruth – that was SO worth ‘sharing’ – hard though it may have been. No one can understand how totally scary panic is – whatever about what caused the panic – unless they have been there….
Yes, of course you will 0ut run it – but don’t rush yourself – and please continue to share the journey….
And, for it is worth, bystanders rarely notice panic even when to you it is so large an elephant that no one could possibly ignore it! Maybe good if they were a little more aware.
Also a lesson there for the café owner. No matter how well they think they have done the ‘allergy’ job – they need to be sensitive to their customers. Unless they have have serious allergic reaction themselves they do NOT understand – so should never lecture an allergic customer.
Keep on running….
Ruth Holroyd says
Thank you Michelle for your kind words of encouragement. I’ll outrun this one but I need to just prepare in future. On the plus side I’m still running. Just done a personal worst (haha) on my New Year’s Day Parkrun at Tring. What a mudfest but so much fun. Thank goodness I’m not allergic to running and mud! 😉
RUTH KEMP says
Just wanted to say that I have read your blog and so empathise with the nasty experience you had in the park cafe. Life with any allergies that seriously affect/threaten your life are no picnic to cope with in whatever form they may take as well I know, and there is absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about, you are very brave. My serious allergy is not food but an extreme respiratory reaction to all perfumes and perfumed air fresheners so that my airways close tightly up as soon as I breathe them in. Every trip out of the home puts me in danger so I understood your feelings of panic completely. keep fighting the good fight, it’s all that people like us can do. Wishing you a happy 2018, I love reading your blogs.
Ruth Holroyd says
Thanks Ruth (great name… ;O) I can only begin to understand how you cope with the perfume issue. I get very mild reactions to them myself but it doesn’t affect me like it does you. I just feel a complete aversion and need for distance between me and the ‘smell’… But it’s not all perfumes which is odd. Impossible to know what ingredient in the perfume is causing it. Plug in fresheners are horrible! Rest assured of a perfume free environment if we ever meet! Thanks for your comments and for reading. I’m back on the blogging wagon after some time off and I’m loving it!
Wendy Kirkman says
Cafe in the Park is one place I feel safe. They take allergies very seriously. One of the fee restaurants that actually list the common allergens on the menu. Unlike some which expect the poor staff or customer to scroll through pages and pages of ingredients with each menu item listed, separately from the sauce, the add ons.
I have multiple allergies and so many places just don’t get that. ” What are you allergic to?” they ask, expecting a one word answer. Instead I hand them a card with two sides.
I am very lucky, although very unpleasant my allergic response is not life threatening. In some places I just ask them to hand the chef my card and have him suggest something. But this does not work in places where they don’t make the items on site. Two days ago I ate a fruit crumble at Toby Carvery that the website and the chef both claimed was gluten free. I don’t think it was.
Ruth Holroyd says
Thanks Wendy, yes it really is fantastic with all its labelling. I am hoping I can return there and actually enjoy a meal with the panic attack, which was not really their fault. It kind of snuck up on me. I went with my Mum the other day to speak to them on a quiet morning and it was shut! LOL. So I will make sure I’ve run through everything with them as I’m sure they can cater for me. One thing that bothered me a little was the Amazing Cake – which looks amazing and is gluten, dairy, egg and nut free but is displayed on a plate next to other NOT safe cakes without any obvious unique serving utensils. I will mention this to them as it could be a possible source of cross contamination but over all a very good and safe place. The card idea is great! I did create one a long time ago and must update it as this I’m sure will help me in future nerve wracking situations. Multiple allergies are not easy to handle
Ian Morris says
Hi Ruth glad you managed to share your bad experience to us all and thanks to the other Ruth with perfume issues am glad I’m not alone find it really hard to go out as severely allergic to all perfume and leads to either severe asthma attack or anaphylaxis both requiring an ambulance and trip to hospital. I totally understand how you feel going unprepared for something to eat as I also am allergic to a lot of other things and when you feel the queue growing behind you whilst looking over the allergy free menu and the eyes of the staff waiting really gets to me so thank you for the black coffee but not really hungry as you cannot find anything that matches what you CAN eat
Ruth Holroyd says
Hi Ian… it’s tough out there isn’t it? I hadn’t realised perfume allergy could be so severe and that must be so hard to avoid. You never know when someone is going to appear covered in perfume or a company might be blasting perfume around their shop. We can just share a black coffee and sit outside with blankets to avoid all the fumes and allergens 🙂
Dr. Carrick Stone says
I truly relate with everything you faced and can tell you it really happens, a lot to people I have come across, most of them in the course of my Job who have had worse cases. thanks for sharing this i loved it….