Nervous Systems: Part 4

Near-fatal allergies, continued! Previously: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3.

Image descriptions can be found below the .jpgs; click the images for larger versions.



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Panel 1: Image of a two-headed Anna, with one head representing depression and one representing anxiety.

Text: I was also depressed, which did not help. My anxiety got to the point where my school counselor suggested that independent study might be a better fit for me.

Thought bubble, depressed head: What’s the point?

Thought bubble, anxious head: I HAVE TO BE PERFECT.

Panel 2: A shocked-looking Anna screams NOOOOOOOOO in response to an unknown stressor.

Text: I don’t mean to imply that my attacks caused my depression or anxiety—or vice versa—but having these health problems did not help my stress level.

Panel 3: Anna meets with her school counselor.

Text: In my junior year of high school, I ended up transferring from “regular” 8 to 3 public school to our district’s independent study program.

Speech bubble, counselor: I think independent study will be a good fit for you!

Speech bubble, Anna: Great!

Panel 4: Anna is in the early stages of another allergic reaction.

Text: I still had attacks out of nowhere, but I found that, with my new schedule, I was able to stay a little calmer when I did have a medical problem.

Thought bubble, Anna: Am I having another one? At least I don’t have class tomorrow.

Panel 5: Anna and her mom wait in the Emergency Room. Anna’s face is extremely swollen.

Text: Feeling less anxious on the school front helped, but at times I also felt the need to be stoic for the benefit of others.

Speech bubble, Anna: I’m scared!

Speech bubble, mom: You’re gonna be okay, sweetie.

Panel 6: Anna reminds herself to breathe as her face swells up yet again.

Text: Sometimes, I was able to remain fairly calm and detach from my symptoms a bit, which included:

Panel 7: A closed restroom door.

Text: Gastrointestinal trouble (this was often the first sign of an attack)

Speech bubble, Anna: FUCK

Panel 8: A pair of hands clasps around a heart, in front of a background of high flames.

Text: Breathing problems, during which my lungs would begin to itch—creating a sort of “on fire” feeling…


Panel 1: Anna looks frightened as she begins to break out in hives.

Text: Swelling of the eyes and throat—and hives on my arms, neck, and chest (which often turn my skin a lovely shade of salmon pink).

Panel 2: Anna waits in the ER, accompanied by her friend Lindsey.

Text: Even now, many of my friends express surprise at how calm I remain during an attack. [My friend Lindsey, for example, has taken me to the ER several times.]

Speech bubble, Lindsey: How are you this calm?

Bottom text: I still don’t know the answer to that.


Panel 3: A landline phone rings.

Text: When I was 16, a good friend of my mom’s called her one day.

Panel 4: The family friend tries to massage Anna’s shoulders; Anna squirms in discomfort.

Text: Interestingly, this woman and I had something of a mildly adversarial relationship.

Speech bubble, family friend: I’m trying to give you a massage! Just RELAX.

Speech bubble, Anna: That HURTS.

Bottom text: She was really into New Age, and also seemed to have a singular talent for making me very physically uncomfortable.

Panel 5: The friend, looking fretful, speaks to Anna’s mom over the phone.

Text: What she told my mom during the phone call was, for all intents and purposes, consistent with New Age b.s.

Speech bubble, friend: Robin! I had a vision last night that Anna was FAKING her allergy attacks to MANIPULATE you!

Footnote: See Ehrenreich 2010; Salerno 2008.

Panel 6: Robin fires back over the phone.

Text: My mom was not impressed.

Speech bubble, Robin: How DARE you? I mean, what the fuck? We are NOT having this conversation.

Panel 7: Anna asks Robin if anything is wrong.

Speech bubble, Anna: Are you okay? I heard yelling.

Speech bubble, Robin: Yeah…

Panel 8: Anna looks shocked as her mom recounts the phone conversation.

Text: Shortly thereafter, she told me what had happened.

Speech bubble, Robin: You don’t have to talk to her if she calls back.


Panel 1: Anna stares at the phone angrily.

Text: I spent the next half-hour staring daggers at the phone.

Speech bubble, Anna: BITCH. If she calls back, she’ll be sorry.

Bottom text: She didn’t call back. I sat with my rage, rehearsing snappy comebacks.

Panel 2: Anna responds, frustrated, to a random person’s invasive questions about her allergies.

Text: This rage would, in time, find its way into my interactions with “skeptical” healthy people who would give me the third degree about my allergies.

Speech bubble with asterisk, random dude bro: But how do you KNOW that you have allergies? Do they, like, test for that stuff? I have never heard of that, so it might not even exist…you could be lying, right?

Speech bubble, Anna: SHUT UP! You know nothing, so STOP TALKING.

Asterisk: Based on an actual interaction. Really. If only I said this all of the time.

Panel 3: Random dude bro gives Anna grief about her response.

Text: Predictably, some of them get pissed of f when I fail to respond to their questions in a “nice” way.

Speech bubble, dude bro: But I was just curious! God.

Speech bubble, Anna: WE. ARE. DONE.

Panel 4: A drawing of Anna is divided in half; one half looks swollen and miserable from an allergic reaction, and one looks “normal.” The words NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DON’T surround the image.

Text: I am hesitant to call allergies and near-fatal allergic reactions 100% “feminist” issues, but the ways people respond to these invisible or not-always-visible health conditions also has much to do with gender.

Panel 5: Several pairs of eyes stare at Anna, who responds “Oh, for fuck’s sake, not again.”

Text: As mentioned earlier, the bodies of people who are “abnormal” in some way—or who are marked as such—are often treated like curiosities, or public property.

Panel 6: Individual speech bubbles with invasive questions take up all of the space in the panel.

Text: Members of minority groups, too, are usually expected to comply when questions—no matter how personal—are wielded at them by members of majority groups.

Speech bubble questions: What’s wrong with your foot?

Where are you from?

Why would you be proud of being [in x group]?

Why would you use that pronoun? Can’t you just pick male or female instead of making up words?

Panel 7: Speech bubbles with invasive questions and comments—this time having to do with severe allergies–take up all of the space in the panel.

Text: I have never been able to just say “I have severe food allergies” and leave it at that. People always want to comment. Everybody seems to have something to say!

Speech bubble questions and comments: If I had to not eat peanut butter, I would just DIE!

Food “allergies” are SO over-diagnosed these days!

But how do you know FOR SURE that you’re allergic?

Aren’t “allergies” just code for “picky” eaters?

How much could you eat before you’d swell up?


Panel 1: Anna looks annoyed at yet another random person’s commentary on her allergies.

Text: I try to be polite; I usually am, but just barely.


Panel 2: Anna thinks about the “super mom” and her kid from earlier in the chapter. The mom looks concerned as the kid’s face swells up from an allergic reaction.

Text: The Anxious Mother as making her kids allergic by proxy trope also interests me from a feminist perspective.

Speech bubble, concerned mom: It must be PEANUTS!

Speech bubble, swollen kid: Must be peanuts.

Panel 3: The super/anxious mom looks askance.

Text: Western culture seems particularly adept at blaming mothers for everything that might—or does—go “wrong” with their kids.


Panel 4: The mom tries to surmount giant boulders, each labeled with an expectation that culture foists upon “good enough” moms. The boulders read: Kid needs to be perfect. Push kid to do well, but not too much! Good behavior. Knowing what child needs at all times. Keeping kid engaged at all times. Self-esteem. “Head starts” on math, reading, etc. Preparation for school and learning. Parental encouragement. Staying at home with kids. Love. Enrichment programs. “Proper” diet; health. After-school activities.

Text: Simultaneously, heaps upon heaps of expectations are piled upon [sic] moms; these expectations are often rooted in white and middle-class values surrounding the family.

Footnote: See Quart 2007.

Panel 5: Image of a fainting couch, with an arrow and text denoting a “fainting couch for the 21st century!”

Text: The over-attached, “hysterical” mom trope also connects to an older stereotype: the “hysterical” woman, who is so focused on herself and her problems that she is immobilized.

Panel 6: A dual image of the “hysterical woman,” labeled Victorian Hysteric, who sighs “OH MY!” and the anxious mom, labeled 21st Century “Supermom,” who cries, “MY KIDS!”

Text: Both of these tropes figure women as self-involved and self-obsessed—and as driven by emotion when it comes to health risks (both “real” and “imagined”).

Panel 7: An angry-looking Anna stares directly at the viewer.

Text: Some in the medical community have even called food allergies “a form of hysteria.”

Speech bubble, Anna: UH-HUH.

Footnote: See Parker-Pope 2008.

Panel 8: Anna and the Supermom face the viewer.

Text: The major implication is that women—and mothers, perhaps most of all—are making “too big a deal” out of this allergy thing.

Speech bubble, Anna: I think we can agree that “big deals” are subjective!


Panel 1: Anna faces the viewer.

Text: I’m not a mother, so while I can’t speak to that with personal anecdotes…

Speech bubble, Anna: Not to mention that many kids with food allergies become adults with food allergies…

Panel 2: Anna starts getting hives on her arms.

Text: I can speak to the realities of having possibly-fatal food allergies myself.

Speech bubble, Anna: Well, CRAP.

Panel 3: Anna’s face begins to swell with hives. She looks slightly concerned.

Text: I wish, sometimes, that I could join the ranks of “skeptical” doctors, hipster news columnists and comedians in just laughing it off, of painting anaphylaxis as the invention of hysterical helicopter moms with nothing better to do than monitor their children’s diets in intense detail.

Speech bubble, Anna: OR DO I?

Panel 4: Anna faces the fainting couch from earlier in the chapter.

Text: But—and at the risk of being viewed as “hysterical”—I can say with certainty…

Speech bubble, Anna: Good one, social programming—a fainting couch!

Panel 5: Anna’s face begins to swell up as she wheezes.

Text: As someone who has been to the Emergency Room countless times for allergic reactions (some of which seem to come out of thin air)…

Footnote: Seriously, I have lost count.

Thought bubble, Anna: Cross-contamination…could have eaten something I should not have…HOW did this happen?

Panel 6: Anna gets extremely upset as she realizes that she is having another severe allergic reaction.

Text: …And as someone who has doubted the severity of my own health problems because I am a woman, and have internalized the cultural messages that figure “woman” as “hysterical” and “overreacting” about her own body

Speech bubble, Anna: NOT AGAIN!

Thought bubble, Anna: Am I making this into too big of a deal?

Panel 7: A “dramatization” image of Anna lying on the floor, presumably dead, as her pissed-off ghost form floats up and looks down at her body.

Text: …And who often gets tired of putting on a “brave” and/or stoic face when I am in a situation that might actually kill me…

Speech bubble, ghost Anna: HEY! I can’t be a ghost…I’m an atheist! FUCK

Panel 8: Anna’s face is so swollen that she cannot see.

Text: Allergic reactions are, in fact, a big fucking deal.