Chemical Sensitivity…From the Beginning

Sometimes I say that I’ve been sick with multiple chemical sensitivities for 14 years, since we built our home.  It’s true that 14 years ago is when I began to become aware of what was happening to me.  But in truth, I can trace it back much farther than that.  Exposures tend to build, adding gradually over the years to our ”total load”.  I know that now, but I didn’t know that then.

When I was about 1 year of age my parents bought a brand new house located in a brand new housing tract on the edge of town.  It was the late 70′s and the building industry was changing.  Whereas houses had been built using mostly natural or non-toxic products up through the 60′s, by the mid-70′s things had begun to radically change.  One of the new materials, Urea Formaldehyde Foam Insulation, or UFFI became the industry standard and was most likely the type of insulation found in our new home.  It was later found that this particular type of insulation out-gassed so much formaldehyde that it could cause the air quality within a home to become toxic.  Insulation, however was not the only toxic culprit.  Particleboard subfloor and shelving, carpet and carpet backing, sheet rock, paint, finishes, and glues all out-gassed toxins which could contribute to unhealthy levels of indoor air pollution.  Fortunately for me, my young body seemed able at the time to handle the toxins I was exposed to in that home reasonably well.  But it was the first of many big exposures that would eventually culminate in illness.

When I was 7 years old, we sold the little shoebox house in town and bought a turn-of-the-century farmhouse out in the country.  Our new home was like paradise for a 7-year-old.  I loved it.  And I loved the hills and woods that I was now free to roam.  In spite of the beginnings of arthritic degeneration in my joints, I remember feeling the healthiest I’ve ever felt in my life during the early years of living in our big, drafty house.

In my middle school years, my teachers began to expect my writing assignments type-written.  We had a computer, but unfortunately it was located in the shop where my dad rebuilt and refinished pianos.  He had been careful to install a powerful ventilation system and usually wore a gas mask when he was using chemicals.  But It wasn’t enough to keep me from feeling quite ill when I was sitting at the computer in the little office inside the shop.  The feeling from inhaling those fumes is hard to describe.  It was like what I imagine a frontal lobotomy would feel like.  I just couldn’t think.  My head hurt.  I felt as if I were floating.  My sense of smell was destroyed for hours after an exposure.  I remember thinking just as I was leaving the shop that the fresh air seemed to smell like mushrooms.  I have no explanation for that.  Fortunately, the shop fumes didn’t seem to tear my health down very much.  I do remember struggling with various health problems in my teens, but I was still functioning quite well.

In the summer prior to my senior year of high school, a massive remodeling project on the school building had begun.  By the time school started in the fall, the project was still in full swing because of earlier delays.  In spite of that, school was in session and we were forced to breath in the toxic soup of carpet, glue, and paint fumes.  In addition to that, the construction company was still in the process of tarring the roof.  I remember having to go home sick on multiple occasions because the tar fumes were so severe.  The school had no objections.  They knew they were making students ill.

At the same time that I was dealing with the abysmal air quality at my school, I was also working part-time in the press room of the local newspaper.  The ink fumes at work were overpowering.  Although I became accustomed to the smell while working, I recall coming home with a splitting headache nearly every day.

After graduation, I quit working at the newspaper and started my own housekeeping business.  It seems like this must have been a step in the right direction as far as toxic exposure goes, and maybe it was.  But cleaning chemicals are definitely not harmless.  At the time, I didn’t think about the fact that all the bleach and Endust and toilet cleaner I was using might be harming me.  I just knew that I didn’t feel well and that I had to lie down on the floor several times during each cleaning job so that I could recover enough to keep working.  I was still at this point functioning relatively well when I was not being exposed to strong chemicals.  I was active and mostly happy.

After getting married in 1995, I found out that my grandmother had recently been diagnosed with a particular rare type of arthritis called Spondolo Arthropathy.  Soon, my aunt was also diagnosed, and then my cousin.  Since I had struggled with pain and exhaustion since childhood, I decided to go to the rheumatologist, and was subsequently also diagnosed with SA.  I felt that had to be the explanation for most of my health troubles.  I now believe that SA was simply the name given for the particular set of symptoms that were the result of living in a toxic world.

In the year 2000, I was expecting my second child.  My health had not been great, but I was plodding along as best I could.   We had just built a brand new home, and because I had read some information on carpet and allergies, I had decided to put hardwood and tile floors all through the house.  I thought this would prevent any possible illness from living in a brand new house.  I was wrong.  That was the year that my body said no.  It had had enough and it started to really rebel.

Although I was aware that the chemical fumes in my house were making me ill, and that walking into a hardware store would lay me out flat, I still did not comprehend the full scope of chemical sensitivity.   I became sicker and sicker, and eventually concluded that the fad naturopathic diagnosis of the day, systemic yeast infection, was the main reason for my increasingly debilitating symptoms.  I did, indeed, have systemic yeast, but it was not the reason for my illness.  It was a symptom of it.  It was an opportunistic infection brought on my an immune system ravaged by chemical toxicity.  It brings to my mind one of the more macabre nicknames for MCS, “chemical AIDS”.  The more I tried to kill that yeast with anti-fungal supplements, the sicker I felt and the more desperate I became.

I eventually ended up in the office of a chiropractor who promised to heal me completely within six weeks with a  very strange treatment called Neuro-Modulation Technique, or NMT.  Although I had some misgivings about the strangeness of the treatment, I went ahead with it.  The man kept his promise.  I did indeed feel healthier than I had been since childhood after a period of about six weeks.  I cannot say why his treatments worked, but they did.  But because I became increasingly disturbed by the strangeness of the treatments, I discontinued them.  They were so strange that even the lure of complete healing would not induce me to try them again, even now.  It’s a conscience thing.

My health began to fail once again not long after I stopped visiting the chiropractor.  In spite of that, I became pregnant one more time.  This time, it was different.  I was so sick during this pregnancy that I was afraid that I would lose the baby.  I was somehow able, with the help of God and a good midwife, to drag myself through the entire pregnancy and give birth at home and at term to a seemingly healthy 7 lb. baby boy.  And because I discovered the power of homeopathy, I actually became much healthier after the pregnancy.

What happened after the third month of my third baby’s life could fill a book all on its own.  Suffice it to say that he became extremely ill from eczema infected with impetigo.  The infected rash spread over his entire body and no amount of antibiotic was enough to make it go away.  Once that seemed somewhat under control by various homeopathic and naturopathic means, he began to have troubles breathing.  By 18 months of age, although there could be no definitive diagnosis because of his age, he was for all intents and purposes, suffering from severe asthma.  From that time until he was 3 years old we were in and out of hospitals and he had been on nearly every one of the most evil types of asthma medication available, a couple of which he kept taking until very recently.  This, as you can imagine, took an enormous toll on my physical and mental health and I eventually ended up in the situation that I described here, critically ill with chemical poisoning and struggling to survive:  Chemical Madness

I am now fully aware of what multiple chemical sensitivity, or MCS, is and how it is affecting my life and the lives of my children.  I wish with all my heart that I had known 20 years ago so that I could have prevented some of the harm that has come to myself and my family.  But how could I have?  MCS is a hidden disorder.  It is a much maligned and misunderstood disorder.  To understand it, one must understand the whole evil underpinnings of our greedy commercial system.  Who wants to think about that?  Who wants to acknowledge that our entire way of living is toxic, built on lies and greed?  That’s a real downer, right?

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3 thoughts on “Chemical Sensitivity…From the Beginning

  1. I am going to share this on my blog today. I’m thankful that I DID know I was chemically sensitive. What a dreadful experience for anyone who does not and who trusts the system.

    • Well, by the time we built our house, I kind of knew. And for years after I was pretty sure. But like I said in the post, who wants to think about that? It’s just so hard to deal with a sensitivity to substances that are nearly ubiquitous in our environment. Thanks for the share!

  2. Pingback: What Helps Me: Cleaning Up My Inner Environment | Sound as a Crystal

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