Simplicity of Wellness

(Simplicity of Wellness will be a series of short posts that will eventually become one long article with its own page. This is my first installment. I hope you enjoy.)

dew on grass

“A single gentle rain makes the grass many shades greener. So our prospects brighten on the influx of better thoughts. We should be blessed if we lived in the present always, and took advantage of every accident that befell us, like the grass which confesses the influence of the slightest dew that falls on it.”

– Henry David Thoreau

I have learned the key to health the hard way.  I’ve tried repeatedly, and mostly unsuccessfully to “get healthy” by all manner of contrivance. I gobbled the vitamins, herbs,and “nutriceuticals”.  I bopped along to the exercise tapes.  I bought the air purifiers, tested my water, tossed the Teflon and plastic, and bought organic. I even felt self-righteous about my efforts because I was, as I thought, doing it naturally.  But I was trying to build a house without a foundation, and for that reason I was bound to fail.

What is health?  Websters dictionary defines it as “the condition of being sound in body, mind, or spirit”.  The opposite of health, then, is the condition of being unsound in body, mind or spirit.  As a society we intuitively understand this, as is evidenced by our metaphors for poor health.  We “fly to pieces”, “come apart at the seams”, and “come unglued” when we are not well.  Poor health is a state of disconnection, disintegration.

What is the antidote?  In a word, love.  We cannot be healthy in the absence of love.  It will not matter how many pills we swallow, how many organic carrots we munch, or what kind of water filtration system we buy if we have not learned love.  God is love, which means that love created the universe.  It is the true foundation of everything, including us.

What does this mean in practical terms?  It means that a loving connection with the creator, with ourselves, and with other creatures is where all healing journeys begin and end.  We must begin at the beginning.

Photo by Michael Jastremski

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Small Planets

NASA_Earth_America_2010

“It is wrong to think that bodily health is compatible with spiritual confusion, or cultural disorder, or with polluted air and water, or impoverished soil.” – Wendell Berry

I was a hunter with her spear.  There in the distance was a the deer, ambulatory grace, caution personified.  She would become part of me, and part of my family.  All at once, I threw the spear true, and brought down my quarry.  All of her would be used, not one bit wasted, and I was thankful for her.

This is how I would play as a child.  What fascination the idea of living in a tribal society, migrating with my food supply, entirely aware of my dependence on the natural world and entirely in sync with its rhythms, held for me as a child, and still does.

Our culture is sick, and one of the most troubling symptoms of that sickness is its alienation from the natural world.  Our existence has become almost exclusively artificial. It is screened off from the sources of our health and life.  And the more artificial our existence becomes, the sicker we become.  This is proof that we are not independent of the Earth, but completely dependent upon it not just for the raw materials which we use, but for its energies, its rhythms, its sights and sounds and smells.  In short, we need to live close to earth, and we need earth intact, unpolluted.

Each human is a microcosm of our environment.  We are like small planets, reflecting almost exactly the condition of the larger planet which we inhabit.  Dump toxic waste in our waterways, and the tiny oceans of our bodies will contain that waste.  Belch filth into our air, and the filth will sully our bloodstream.  Spray neurotoxins on our food, and those toxins will pollute our cells.

I have a very deep, visceral grief connected with these things.  The home that was very carefully crafted in all its detail to be a self-sustaining, life-giving system, has itself become so compromised by the activities of humans that there is actually doubt not only about the health of the air we breath, the water we drink, and the food we eat, but about its continued ability to sustain life at all.  The very things that should give life and health, sometimes do the opposite.  Going outside for a breath of fresh air often instead results in a lungful of diesel fumes and a head that aches.  In addition to hydrating the body, drinking a cold glass of water may also dose us with chlorine, fluoride, rat poison, and prescription medication residues.  Eating a deliciously crisp and sweet apple not only provides nourishment, but also a hit of malathion.

It’s very sad that even if a person wanted to reject this culture which is so alienated from its life sources and find a place in the wilderness to set up camp, that person would still not be any safer than the deer who end up with tumors from chemical drift, the starfish that are dying of a mysterious disease all along the Pacific Coast, or the ring seals and walruses that are dying in Alaska from something that looks suspiciously like radiation poisoning.   Humans have done a pretty good job of spreading their malignant influence all over the earth.

But humans don’t have to be a plague.  God made us guardians, and I have confidence that in the future, that is exactly what we will be.

 

Photo By NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Image by Reto Stöckl [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Camping Cure For Environmental Illness

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

eve-camp

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.

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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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Video: A Family Learns About The Products They Buy

Seriously "Sensitive" to Pollution

Chemerical is a film about a regular family as they learn about what’s lurking in their products, struggle to come to terms with the new info, and then learn how to make safer changes in their lives.

“Chemerical” explores the life cycle of everyday household cleaners and hygiene products to prove that, thanks to our clean obsession, we are drowning in sea of toxicity.

The film is at once humorous, as we watch the Goode family try to turn a new leaf by creating and living in a toxic free home, and informative, as director Andrew Nisker works with many experts to give audiences the tools and inspiration to live toxic free.

Chemerical

Andrew Nisker weaves visits to the Environmental Health Clinic in Toronto,

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What Happens When the Whole World Makes You Sick

 

“We think caged birds sing, when indeed, they cry.” – John Webster

I’m very, very sensitive to chemicals. Not just the ones everybody knows are dangerous, but the ones people use every day on their bodies and in their bathrooms and kitchens and on their sofas and in their yards. And what happens to me when I am exposed to those chemicals is not trivial. The sore throat and headache and heavy chest were uncomfortable, but not enough to stop me from living my life.

What stopped me was when I began to lose my mind. Usually when we say that, what we mean is that the person becomes so emotionally overwrought that they can’t think straight anymore. That’s not what I’m talking about. I literally lose my mind when I’m exposed to chemicals. I mean, I lose IQ points. I become stupid. I also lose my ability to function normally due to exhaustion and pain. That’s not okay with me, and that’s why I avoid triggering chemicals like the plague.

The implications are enormous. It’s not just that I have to be careful about what I use in the shower, or what I use to clean the toilet, although that’s part of it. It means I have to avoid other people who use the things that I can’t use. I can’t go in their homes or be close enough to them to hold a comfortable conversation. Public areas like places of worship and schools are nearly impossible for any length of time.

It’s like being forced into a cage.  At first there is panic. Then I begin to notice that the cage appears to be constructed of other people’s choices to use toxic substances. I see familiar faces on the outside of the cage and I see that those people have a key. At this point the problem seems simple. Just ask to be released. (“Would you consider using non-toxic products instead? No?”)

When this does not work, I become confused. I’m trapped. The people on the other side of the bars have a key to set me free. They seem like nice people. Many of them seem to like me. But they won’t use the key. They say the cage is not there. They don’t see any cage, so why don’t I just walk about like they do?

Pretty soon my insistence that the cage exists causes the people to question my sanity, and at that point they are even less likely to use their key. That’s when I become angry. I begin to rattle the bars on my cage, throw myself against its sides. I’m not strong enough to force the door or bend those bars. I become exhausted and crumple into a pile of sweat and tears on the bottom of the cage. I’m depressed and I’ve lost all hope of ever being released.

After some time passes, I begin to think that, with God’s help, I might be able to make some semblance of a life inside of the cage. I’ve reached the point of acceptance.   My mind and my faith hold the key.

 

“Save me, O God, for the waters threaten my life.  I have sunk down into the deep mud, where there is no solid ground. I have come into deep waters, and the rushing stream has swept me away.

And do not hide your face from your servant.  Answer me quickly, for I am in distress.

Reproach has broken my heart, and the wound is incurable.  I was hoping for sympathy, but there was none, and for comforters, but I found none. 

But for food they gave me poison, and for thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.

But I am afflicted and in pain.  May your saving power, O God, protect me.

For Jehovah is listening to the poor, and he will not despise his captive people.”

– Excerpts from Psalm 69

John Muir was Sound as a Crystal…

John Muir was one of the most inspired nature writers ever to put pen to paper. It is he who inspired the name of my blog. Here is the gorgeous passage from which it was taken:

“These blessed mountains are so compactly filled with God’s beauty, no petty personal experience or hope has room to be. Drinking this champagne water is pure pleasure, so is breathing the living air, and every movement of limbs is pleasure, while the whole body seems to feel beauty when exposed to it as it feels the campfire or sunshine, entering not by the eyes alone, but equally through all one’s flesh like radiant heat, making a passionate, ecstatic pleasure-glow not explainable. One’s body then seems homogeneous throughout, sound as a crystal.”

I want to be sound as a crystal. I remember a time when I seemed to be. But now my body reflects the damage done to our precious home, Earth. As the Earth is polluted, so is my body. I’m a living warning that our way of life hurts. If changes are not made, more and more creatures will hurt and die prematurely.