In 2009, my friend Leonie’s 22-year-old son Shane killed himself and another young man after taking Citalopram for 17 days.
Shane is the kind of son every mother dreams of. A student at prestigious Trinity College in Dublin, he was devoted to his younger brothers and sister, regularly gave money and the clothes off his back to homeless people, didn’t drink or smoke and was kind, handsome, gentle and much loved by his family, friends and college professors.
The media storm was immense. How could such a normal young man, from such a good family do this? How could his mother attribute his suicide and killing of another to a drug taken without incident by millions of people around the world? How could his inquest find that Citalopram affected his mind to such an extent that he was incapable of forming the intent to kill himself or another, and return an open verdict?
How could Shane’s mother not crawl under a rock reciting the rosary and hanging her head in shame for what her son had done?
We need more understanding of this issue and less judgment of the people who go “down the rabbit hole” of chemically induced cognitive decline.
I live in Los Angeles and it’s unfortunate, but true, that the brown cloud of smog hanging over our city is as much an icon of LA as the Hollywood hills. My morning bike commute is spent sucking on the tailpipes of my fellow Angelenos, and it turns out this doesn’t just make me cranky. A recent article published in Neurotoxicology suggests that those of us who live in urban environments are much more likely to experience cognitive decline with age. The culprit? Air pollution.
While air pollution is generally thought of as a modern problem, humans have evolved to handle polluted air from sources such as forest fires and volcanic eruptions. Coughing removes large particles from the lung, while macrophages, a type of immune cell, are responsible for engulfing and degrading small particles. However, some particles are so small that they can penetrate the lung wall, and gaseous…
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The camping cure
Living outside changes you. When environmental illness left me too sick to stay in my high-rise, I turned to nature to heal
by Jill Neimark
But living outside changes you. You slowly unspool from civilisation, and the more you embed yourself in nature, the deeper the alchemy. Most of us sense this; it might be why camping, hiking and wilderness adventures seem to be an ever-greater obsession…
A few weeks later, we drove into 200,000 acres of national forest in North Florida. The drive from the forest edge to the campground itself takes about half an hour, through the choiring strings of gaunt loblolly pines rising like endless throngs of organ pipes reaching for the light. The hidden campground, on a spring-fed lake, is a moist and lush wonderland festooned with live oaks, pines and Spanish mosses. One lone cypress grows on a spit of land in the lake. Everybody loves it for its anomalous, gnarled, stubborn insistence on living where it unfortunately landed.
We chose the loop with water and electric. There, fitful insomnia gave way to deep sleep. (Yes, research from the University of Colorado confirms this effect; camping for one week, away from electric light, resets even the most stalwart night owl’s circadian rhythms.) My constant, aching muscle tension eased because, I guessed, I was nearly off grid, far from electrosmog. I ate fish an hour after it was caught from that pristine lake, and discovered that my body liked pure food. In short, the frisson of reactivity I had lived with for years was gone. I gazed up at a cerulean sky – a blue so blue it seemed an invisible hand had peeled wax paper off the stratosphere. I taunted the crazed mosquitoes banging against the mesh of my tent. I got stronger. We took long constitutionals, my old-fashioned choice of word for walks. A sunny day was laundry day: I heated water in a Le Creuset pot and washed my clothes by hand, hanging them to dry on a nylon line strung between trees. I loved to bury my face in their fresh scent.
Most striking, however, was my shift in mood. Rumination and anxiety seemed to melt away. And it was not simply the cliché of being in nature, for all nature was not equal. Over the next few years of frequent camping, I found I could always correlate clean air with clarity of mind and mood, as if my body was a pollution-sensing device calibrated to detect tiny shifts.
This video may seem scary, but if it motivates you to toss the toxic products in your home, it’s worth watching. Toxic chemicals effect all of us, not just the ultra sensitive. But you can dramatically reduce your exposures. High exposure levels are not unavoidable.
My son has battled a nasty case of bronchitis for the past couple weeks. He’s always been very sensitive to many things including foods, chemicals, and dust. This recent bout of illness seems to have sensitized him even more. At first I didn’t know what to do. He kept having coughing fits that would end in retching and vomiting. Even his inhaler didn’t seem to help much. I’m incredibly careful about chemical exposures in our home, so chemicals were un unlikely culprit.
I began to notice that he would start a coughing, gagging fit if he got near the computer or if he went into his bedroom. It gradually dawned in me that his dust sensitivity had intensified and that those two places were extra dusty. I ended up having to turn his bedroom upside down to reduce the dust levels. After a more than thorough cleaning, he was finally able to sleep in his room without ending up in the bathroom vomiting from an asthma attack.
I went through this before with his younger brother during a particularly bad year for respiratory illness. My youngest son contracted RSV that year, and it sent him to the hospital with severe asthma on three different occasions. The third ER visit resulted in his admission to the hospital where he stayed for two days, heavily medicated and on oxygen. I learned that year that I would have to keep my house spotless of dust if I wanted my little boy to be able to breathe. It was exhausting, and I’m not looking forward to another whole winter of daily dusting.
Household dust is not just dirt. It’s far more sinister than that. Dust tends to contain particles of all sorts of chemical pollutants brought into the house via shoes, windows, and ventilation. Whatever toxins happen to exist in our neighborhoods are likely to end up in our house dust. In addition, and even more worrisome, is the fact that so many of our household furnishings and appliances leave toxic residues that end up in household dust. We’re hearing a lot about toxic fire-retardant chemicals lately. Most mattresses, furniture, and electronics are impregnated with these chemicals. Nearly 100% of Americans have these chemicals in their bloodstream, and it is discouragingly difficult to find affordable furnishings and appliances that are free of fire retardants.
For now, all we can do is fight the evil dust bunnies. Hopefully the future will be less toxic.
For more information on toxic fire retardants, check out Slow Death by Rubber Duck – The Secret Danger of Everyday Things
I saw that word, kinderstruck, on urbandictionary.com. I’m not even sure if it’s a real word, but even if it’s not, I love it. There is no other single word that evokes that feeling you get when a sound or smell puts you back in time to your childhood, feeling the simple pleasures and impressions you had before you inherited the worries of adulthood.
Some of the things that make me kinderstruck:
Jonie Mitchell, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, James Taylor, Paul Simon, Carly Simon, and other musicians from the 70’s that my mother used to listen to as she hummed and cleaned the house or cooked dinner. Cooking my mom’s recipes while listening to those songs is a particularly potent path to kinderstrickeness. Even modern bands that sound particularly 70’s-ish such as Fleet Foxes can do it.
The smell of freshly fallen snow. Hmmmm…. it brings back the feelings I had on those days off from school when we would spend all day on the hill behind the house sledding until our hands and feet were painful from the cold and we would have to come into the warm house with red cheeks and runny noses to drink our hot chocolate and eat our homemade cinnamon rolls.
The smell of those trees that grow by rivers and lakes; that spicy, pungent, wild smell. My grandfather used to love to take us out on the lakes with his boat. I would sit in the front and pretend I was flying over the lake, the wind buffeting my face and whipping my hair, the yummy smell of birches and cottonwoods filling my nostrils.
The smell of freshly cut hay. We used to have to go get hay for our horses, often driving our very old Chevy pickup out into the hayfield and throwing the fragrant bales into the truck bed. I loved to sit and watch and listen as the horses munched and crunched on the good alfalfa, vacuuming the dusty ground with their velvet lips in search of the tender little leaves that would fall down from the stalks.
The taste of huckleberries. I remember one camping trip in particular when we went hiking looking for the berries. Although I was normally the most sluggish and tired child in my family, the clean mountain air and the prospect of those indescribably delicious berries gave me boundless energy. I was first in line on the trail, often having to stop and turn back to wait for the others. I would stand in the midst of the huckleberry patch, putting more of the sweet, tart berries in my mouth than in my bucket, staining my lips reddish purple. Later, there would be pancakes with bursts of warm berry goodness all through them.
Wild onions. I know, that sounds like a weird one. I used to love to see how many things I could find to eat growing near our country home. One year I found wild onions, and although I thought that I hated onions, the taste of those onions pulled out of the ground, an offering of nature free for the taking, was wonderful to me. Sweet, pungent, delicately crisp. I’ve never tasted any onion better than those little wild ones.
Ice skating. My mother loves to skate, and she taught all of us kids. I actually liked to watch mom do her little jumps and spins better than actually skating. Once she took us out to a local lake that had frozen solid after many days of subzero weather. There was no snow on the lake, so the whole thing had become a playground for brave skaters. It was frightening at first, especially when we would hear those sounds like gunshot which meant that the lake was freezing deeper, but made us feel that the ice would break. I never felt happier or freer than I did gliding across that big frozen lake.
I’m sure there are many more impressions I could share, but I’ll save them for later. I know I don’t have many readers, and it’s possible that no one will even see this, but if you do, please share some of your kinderstricken moments.