Dave Monks, Lead Singer of Tokyo Police Club, Discusses His Peanut Allergy

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Dave Monks, vocalist and bassist of the indie rock band Tokyo Police Club, discusses his peanut allergy and how it has affected him when he's traveling with his band and in day-to-day life.

In Part I, he talks about first getting diagnosed with a peanut allergy, how his parents dealt with it, and gives his advice to kids with food allergies.

How old were you when you first got diagnosed with a peanut allergy?

I was 2 years old, and my parents gave me a peanut and then I think I threw up or something, so they took me to the doctor, who said your kid has got an anaphylactic peanut allergy.

How severe is your peanut allergy?

My peanut allergy is basically anaphylactic, so if I ingest peanuts I have to go to the hospital, and it’s definitely a life-threatening situation. I also know some people who are prone to reactions to airborne allergens.

Were your parents really concerned when you were a child? What precautions did they take to protect you? Did you have any precautions at school?

My parents, when they found out, were a little bit freaked out and were definitely curious. There wasn’t a lot of information available at the time. There were no peanuts in the house, obviously, and they had me with this really cool, stylish fanny pack that had EpiPens in it. I would take that everywhere with me. I had it until midway through elementary school, when I became too cool for the fanny pack.

I think I always had a pretty good understanding of how I reacted to peanuts and what that feeling was like, like how it felt to react to peanuts. I definitely got into a few gnarly situations, but I was able to identify that and then act accordingly.

Then, at school, I would eat in the library or something. I think at different schools some are really hesitant to ban peanuts or anything like that. My peanut allergy was definitely something pretty dorky. At lunchtime everyday I would eat in the library. And then, as I got into high school, after a while it was just a matter of protecting myself. I would eat with all the other kids and just try to make smart decisions. One time I ate someone’s granola bar that had peanuts in it and had to go to the hospital. Another time I was on a fieldtrip and it happened. There were definitely a couple of bad situations. But in general I tried to use common sense.

A lot of people in our community have expressed the fact that their children are getting bullied for having a peanut allergy. Is this something you ever had to deal with? What advice do you have for kids?

On so many levels, whether or not the kid likes it or the mom likes it, [a peanut allergy] is dorky. There’s nothing wrong with being dorky, but there’s a social hierarchy at school that works and preys on things like that. Every kid has something that they’re dealing with, whether it’s a health issue or whatever, and kids just like to pick on that kind of stuff. I think you just have to weather it like you would weather anything else. It just happens to be a peanut allergy, but it could have been something else.

Kids get picked on for anything. It all depends on other kids not understanding it, and kids will say, “What do you mean you can’t just eat one peanut? That’s so stupid!” But as you get older in high school it’s not so much a big deal.

Has it become easier to cope with your allergy over time?

It’s easy to be super conservative and not eat anything you don’t understand or just to stay away from strange sauces or foods. I used to just not eat any nuts. You can be very precautious and just not eat anything associated with peanuts, like not eat the chocolate chip cookies that were beside the cookies with macadamia nuts that could’ve been near the peanuts. It’s easier to do that in high school, but when you get older and you become an adult, you want to go to Korean barbeque, and you want to try almonds even though you can’t eat peanuts.

The real trick is controlling that sense of concern. You have to start approaching these things that previously you may have just blocked out. That’s the real challenge: to balance being safe with enjoying your life as well. So maybe [being more cautious] is easier when you’re at school and your world is small, and it’s harder when you get older. But then the reverse is for social stuff, like obviously its hard if people at school are poking fun at your allergy or if you’re just isolated because your eating lunch, a major social event of the day, by yourself. It gets easier as an adult, because people tend to stop being bullied as much when they get older.

What is the worst thing about having a peanut allergy?

For me the worst thing is just having a general anxiety about trying new foods. I just try to deal with it on a case-by-case basis. Having an allergic reaction is obviously a really unpleasant experience, but there are so many things in place to deal with that. If you go to the hospital, they know what to do. But obviously that’s not normal.

Also, there’s always anxiety about trying new foods as an adult, which is sort of a hidden setback that I try and get past. I’ve gone to the hospital before because of this anxiety. You know, you’re trying to watch out for some kind of tingling feeling in the back of your mouth to tell you if you have to go to the hospital or not, and the chances of you jumping the gun are pretty high. But I try to control this anxiety. I definitely don’t want to live a life stressed out about food.

Click here to read Part II.

To check out Tokyo Police Club's website, click here.

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