Canaries in the Coal Mine: Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, Myth Vs. Reality

Photo by Majd Mohabek via Flickr creative commons

Photo by Majd Mohabek via Flickr creative commons

When people find out that I am sensitive to the chemicals in everyday products, I almost invariably find that they believe one or more of the many myths surrounding MCS. First, what is MCS?  I’m constantly surprised by the fact that almost no one knows what I’m talking about when I use that acronym.  MCS stands for Multiple Chemical Sensitivity.  The Chemical Sensitivity Foundation defines it this way:

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) is a medical condition characterized by a heightened sensitivity to chemicals. People who have MCS become ill when exposed to a variety of chemicals, many of which are commonly encountered in everyday life. Some people have only mild chemical sensitivities, while others have a more severe form of the illness called MCS.

Now that you know what it is, I imagine some of you are probably thinking, “Ooooh, I think I know somebody with that problem”.  With a lot of help from some of my fellow MCS sufferers, I have identified some of the more common myths associated with the disorder:

Myth #1:  People who say they have MCS really have chemophobia (fear of chemicals), anxiety, or depression and probably need psychiatric help (medication).

Most people who have MCS didn’t have any idea that everyday chemicals could be dangerous or cause life-long problems until they became ill.  Many didn’t find out what was making them ill for a long time, going from doctor to doctor looking for a solution.  Much of the time, it is not until a person begins to avoid chemicals that they begin to see the connection between their symptoms and the chemicals they had been exposed to.   It is possible that some people with MCS develop chemophobia, but it’s usually long after they have had many bouts with chemical-induced illness.

Some people with MCS do suffer from depression, but evidence suggests that the depression usually occurs after the onset of the illness, which would also suggest that it often results from the misery and social isolation of chemical sensitivity, and not the other way around.

Also, MCS causes physical illness.  It is known that physical illness is very often accompanied by mental illness.  The brain is a physical organ which, like any other organ, can be affected by toxins and disease processes.  Many of the toxicants which make us ill are known neurotoxins, which could also explain much of the anxiety and depression experienced by people with MCS.

Because of liver-function abnormalities often seen in people with MCS and a general hypersensitivity to many different chemicals, psychiatric medications are often not well-tolerated and are most definitely not a cure-all solution to this problem.

Myth #2:  People with MCS should just take antihistamines or allergy shots so they can live more normally and not have to avoid contact with common chemicals.

Standard allergy treatments often fail with MCS.  That is because the disease mechanism appears to be different from what happens in allergic illness.  In a true allergic reaction, the immune system begins to tag harmless substances as harmful invaders.  That sets off all the classic symptoms of allergies: sneezing, runny nose, coughing, hives, etc.  Many people do react in that way to chemicals, in which case allergy treatment may be beneficial.  But many others react in ways that are not typical of an allergic reaction.  Often, neurological symptoms such as pain, dizziness, brain fog, slurred speech, and tremors  are dominant.  These types of reactions will often not respond to common treatments for allergies.

Myth #3:  Common personal care and household products are mostly harmless and people with MCS are just hysterical.

Environmental Working Group would beg to differ.  They have created several databases including the Skin Deep Database which exposes not only the ingredients of common products, but also their potential toxicity to humans.  Many of the most commonly used household and personal care products listed received an F on a scale of A to F, F being a “fail”, or most dangerous. – Test your knowledge of cosmetics safety: 8 myths debunked

Myth #4:  People with chemical sensitivities just have a strong sense of smell and are bothered by odors. 

People with MCS can often react to odorless chemicals, so it’s not about the smell.

“… It should be clear … that chemicals in MCS are not acting on the classic olfactory receptors (15,16), but rather are acting as toxicants. This is opposite many published but undocumented claims that MCS is a response to odors. There is additional evidence arguing against the view that MCS is a reaction to odors. MCS sufferers who are acosmic, having no sense of smell, people who have intense nasal congestion and people whose nasal epithelia have been blocked off with nose clips can all be highly chemically sensitive (1,4). This does not necessarily mean that MCS never impacts the olfactory system. It simply means that MCS is not primarily an olfactory response.”

~ Martin L. Pall

Myth #5:  MCS is a rare disorder.

 Possibly up to 25% (depending on the study you read) of people in the US report symptoms of chemical sensitivity.  It’s likely that most of the statistics on MCS prevalence are shots in the dark, as many people who suffer with MCS go undiagnosed.  Many others who are sensitive to chemicals simply don’t know what it is that’s making them ill. – MCS statistics

Myth #6:  MCS is controversial. 

Dr. Ann McCampbell, in her article Multiple Chemical Sensitivities Under Siege, had this to say about it:

“Like the tobacco industry, the chemical industry often uses non-profit front groups with pleasant sounding names, neutral-appearing third party spokespeople, and science-for-hire studies to try to convince others of the safety of their products. This helps promote the appearance of scientific objectivity, hide the biased and bottom-line driven agenda of the chemical industry, and create the illusion of scientific “controversy” regarding MCS. But whether anti-MCS statements are made by doctors, researchers, reporters, pest control operators, private organizations, or government officials, make no mistake about it – the anti-MCS movement is driven by chemical manufacturers. This is the real story of MCS.”

The controversy surrounding MCS is not real.  It is manufactured by chemical industry leaders with a profit-driven agenda.

Myth #6:  “If I can’t smell it, it’s not there.”

If you put it on, ever, it’s there.  Often we cannot smell our own odor because of something called olfactory fatigue .

Myth #7:  The dose makes the poison.

Many people assume that “just a little won’t hurt”.  But check out what Philip and Alice Shabecoff had to say about it in their book, Poisoned for Profit: How Toxins are Making Our Children Chronically Ill:

“Chemicals capable of disrupting endocrine hormones… are now understood to be a different kind of toxin.  None of them follow “the dose makes the poison” dictum.  Even at tiny doses they can alter the way the immune and endocrine systems operate, leaving the body vulnerable to sickness or developmental damage.  Pthalates, bisphenal-A, dioxins, flame retardants, and some pesticides as well as long-banned chemicals persisting in the environment, such as DDT, are major hormone disruptors.”

Incidentally, pthalates are found in many fragrances, which also means that it’s found in many if not most fragranced products.

Myth #8:  MCS is just an excuse to “opt out of life”.

I have spoken to and read about many people who have MCS, and not one has ever seemed happy about their isolation.  In fact, what I hear most is despair approaching desperation.  Nobody wants to be shut out of life.

Myth #9:  People with MCS behave in contradictory ways.  Sometimes they say they react and sometimes they seem fine.  This must mean they are not telling the truth about their symptoms.

Symptoms of chemical sensitivity can wax and wane depending what level of health the sufferer is experiencing at the time.  When a person with MCS is feeling particularly strong, perhaps because of their efforts to heal their body, they may not have such obvious reactions to chemicals.  On the other hand, if the person is feeling run-down, it’s possible that their reactions will be more severe and long-lasting.  Things that affect sensitivity levels include stress, sleep, nutrition, and whether or not they have been able to breathe clean air in recent days.

Or…maybe they don’t want to tell you every time they start feeling ill because they are tired of be told that it’s all in their head.

Myth #10:  People with MCS just need to stop thinking about chemicals and symptoms and they will be fine.

It’s true that thoughts can be very powerful.  But as I mentioned before, most people with MCS didn’t even know that they were being made ill by chemicals at first.  Obviously, thinking about chemicals could not have played a role in the etiology of their illness if they didn’t even know to think about them in the first place.

Myth # 11:  “Normal” people shouldn’t have to worry about the products they use if there are “safe” areas set aside for those with sensitivities. 

It might seem like a good idea to provide an area set aside for people with chemical sensitivities at social events such as religious services, conferences, conventions, and concerts, but there are a couple of problems with it.  We all would like to participate fully on social occasions.  Segregation does not feel good.  It’s frustrating and disheartening.  Also segregating people with MCS away from others in a group tends to give people a false sense of having done the right thing.  They often feel that because those with sensitivities have their “safe” area, that it won’t matter how much fragrance they use or what the building is cleaned with.   It is very difficult to keep a small area of a building completely free of scent when the rest of the building is full of it. This is often due to common ventilation systems and the opening and closing of doors. It’s similar to the absurdity of setting aside non-smoking sections in restaurants.  The non-smoking section may be slightly less noxious (or not), but it will never be completely free of the presence of smoke or tobacco residues.

Myth # 12:  If my scents were making people ill, they would tell me.

People with MCS have often encountered so much skepticism and ridicule from family and friends about their symptoms that they may give up trying to talk about it.  We sometimes find ourselves having to choose between educating the public about the reality of MCS and keeping our friends.  Some of us suffer in silence. Others choose to try to quietly escape a toxic situation without making a scene.

Some cases of MCS are so severe that a reaction goes far beyond what might be considered typical.  It is possible for a reaction to cause so much brain fog that the sufferer finds it difficult to articulate thoughts and may not be able to tell you that you are making them sick.  Some reactions can include hearing loss, temporary blindness, and may even progress to the point where the sufferer actually physically collapses.  This is extremely frightening for the sufferer and for those standing by.

Myths and Facts About Chemical Sensitivity

Myth # 13:  Everyone should not have to change just to help a small minority.

The American Academy of Environmental Medicine had this to say in their Position Paper on Chemical Sensitivity:

It is believed that these chemically vulnerable modern-day “canaries in a coal mine” have an important lesson to teach us, if we would but listen – namely, that the hyperreactivity manifested by those with chemical sensitivity is an early warning sign of the alarming potential for eventual poisoning of our entire population by the numerous man-made chemical pollutants to which we are being continuously exposed. In other words, the fact that chemically sensitive individuals demonstrate exquisite vulnerability to toxic injury should serve to alert us to the disturbing reality that our modern industrial society, despite its many advantages, may ultimately compromise the health of us all.

As noted earlier, MCS is not rare.  And many of the people who are suffering from it are unaware of what it is that is making them ill, so the actual number of sufferers is likely to be much higher than the numbers that are published.  Also, many of the chemicals to which people are reacting are known human toxicants, many of them carcinogens.  We would all do well to avoid them.

It can be much easier to change our cleaning, washing, and beauty routines than many people assume.  Check out EWG Consumer Guides for help in finding non-toxic products.

Myth # 14:  People with MCS seem to get sick from every little thing.  They are over-reacting and need to loosen up.

Toxic chemicals truly are ubiquitous in the modern world.  They are nearly impossible to escape.  People with MCS are not getting sick from “every little thing”, they are getting sick from human toxicants. Often, symptoms are so severe that they cannot simply “lighten up”.  They have to protect themselves from the consequences of toxic exposure. It sometimes happens that people with MCS will go on a trip to the ocean or mountains, breath fresh, clean air, and begin to feel almost 100% better.  What does that indicate about the nature of this disorder?  What does it indicate about our society that we should have to travel many miles away from population centers in order to experience normal health?

Conclusion

The truth is that MCS is a scary, cruel, and relentless thief of health, relationships, careers, and even lives.  Yes, people really have died from it.  It should be taken as seriously as any other chronic, possibly fatal illness.  But it’s not.  And most of that seems to have to do with the greed and political meddling of powerful corporations.  It’s the story of Big Tobacco all over again.  But this time it’s worse.  Imagine what it would have been like if tobacco companies had found a way to weasel their cancer causing ingredients into so many commonly used products that it was nearly impossible to avoid them without educating yourself.  That is what we have now with artificial fragrances and other toxic chemical ingredients.

Some people with MCS have been able to get better.  But many others, in spite of persistent efforts and lots of money spent on healthcare, still suffer and must strictly avoid chemicals.  But whether they are able to recover their health or not, most of them will never be the same.  It’s like going through the looking glass into a bizarre world where nothing is as it should be.  They will never forget what they have experienced, or the people in this world who are still suffering.  To those people, I dedicate this post.  And I pray for their recovery and for the world to awaken to this disaster.

Additional Reading:

 Amputated Lives: Coping with Chemical Sensitivity

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, A Mysterious Malady, Awake magazine

When Chemicals Make You Sick

Helping Those With MCS

Extreme Chemical Sensitivity Makes Sufferers Allergic to Life, Discover Magazine

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: Toxicological and Sensitivity Mechanisms

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Behind the Mask

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Behind the Mask

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“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. I don’t mean that I become overwrought and anxious.  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.  Neurological symptoms such as numbness and tremors are also part of the mix. That’s not okay with me, and that’s why I avoid triggering chemicals.

The social 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 into their homes or be close enough to them to hold a comfortable conversation. Public areas like places of worship and schools are very difficult places to be.

It seems like some people think, if they are aware of chemical sensitivity at all, that it takes a special kind of crazy to be this way. Because of the skepticism I’ve encountered and because I do not want to be defined by illness, I don’t like to talk about this.  In spite of that, I often find myself doing it anyway, feeling all the while like I’m treading on thin ice.  If I talk too long, eventually something will slip out that sounds like slap on the wrist:

“Yeah,  fabric softener really does me in.  I think it’s worse than some perfumes.”

My unfortunate victim looks away, searching for a graceful escape.  “Oh really?” she says, “I didn’t know that!” all the while thinking, What a loon!  I use fabric softener every day and I’m fine.

My face reddens as I quickly change the subject, mentally slapping my own wrist for creating an uncomfortable moment.

I have not had to stop meeting at my place of worship, the Kingdom Hall.  This is because I am allowed to sit in a back room with my air purifier and my family.  Behind a wall of windows, I am able to see and hear the meeting.  It is a blessing.  But I always wish I could be on the other side of the glass.

Sometimes I wear a mask to keep me well in toxic situations.  It gives a measure of freedom.  Without that little piece of carbon and fabric, driving our new-smelling car, exhaust fumes pouring in through the vents, would be out of the question. Using a fragranced public restroom would be a nightmare.  Even visiting some of my friends is sometimes made possible by the mask, but that is something I rarely do.  I’ll tell you why.

I hate the mask.  We all wear masks.  But the difference between the mask I wear and mask you wear is that yours is probably socially acceptable.  In his book The Love We Share Without Knowing, Christopher Barzak wrote that “nothing is more real than the masks we make to show each other who we are.”  The way we dress, the way we do our makeup or hair, and the expressions we wear on our face are all masks.  Sometimes they reveal who we are, and sometimes they conceal, if that is our intention.  But when I wear my mask, the only message I project to the world is one of fear.  The mask says, “I’m afraid.  The world is a dangerous place.”  But that is not what I want to say.

“When we know Love, fear has no value in our presence.  There is no pressure to perform and mask our humanity.” – E’yen Gardner

I don’t want to mask my humanity, I want to reveal it.  Oliver Wendell Holmes said that ” without wearing any mask we are conscious of, we have a special face for each friend.”  I want to reveal the special face I have for each of my friends.  I want my friends to understand just how happy I am to see them.  And just like I want to be able to look into the face of a friend and read his or her emotions and intentions, I would like for my friends to be able to see my face and read me as well.

“Masks were used to alienate and silence prisoners in Australian jails in the late 19th century. They were made of white cloth and covered the face, leaving only the eyes visible.” – Wikipedia, Mask

I would fit in here

I would fit in here

Masks tend to frighten us, and for good reason.  Faces reveal intentions.  We cannot read a masked face, and for that reason we associate masks with bad intentions.  Villains wear masks: Phantom of the Opera, Jason, Hannibal Lecter.  I frighten children when I wear my mask.  There is nothing worse than looking into a child’s eyes, seeing fear, and knowing that I am the cause.  That alone is reason enough for me to leave the mask in my purse.

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you see someone wearing a mask in public?  The first thing that comes to my husband’s mind is that the person is a thief or a terrorist.  He becomes very uncomfortable if he has to be seen in public with me in my mask, and I don’t blame him.  I’m uncomfortable being seen in public in my mask. Others have told me that their first thought upon seeing a masked person is that the person may have cancer or AIDS and needs protection from germs.  I don’t want people to think that about me.

And as if all that were not enough, carbon filter masks just don’t work very well.  They’re somewhat helpful for nuisance-level pollution, but they’re worse than useless in a truly toxic situation.  I once thought that I could enter a feed store as long as I had my mask on.  I was mistaken.  The mask was no match for the overpowering pesticide fumes.  I was sick for weeks, and it all could have been avoided if the mask had not given me a false sense of security.

When I forgo social opportunities that my mask might afford,  it is not because I like to be alone.  Something that has become more clear to me than ever before is that I love people.  Forced isolation has taught me that.  You tend to appreciate things far more when they are rationed.  If I were I dog, I’d be Dug from the movie Up:

“My name is Dug. I have just met you, and I love you.”

But just like Dug did not like his “cone of shame”, I do not like my mask of shame, and I long for the day when I will never have to wear it again.

I don’t want to be this way.  I’m not trying to make a political statement about chemicals.  My body does that for me.  I am an unwilling “canary in the coal mine” .

In my day-dreams I imagine myself surrounded by people: all my closest friends, my family, and new faces too.  On my face there is nothing but a smile and between me and my friends there is no glass.  I am free.

Helping Those With MCS, Awake! 2000

Good Health For All – Soon!

My Story

Photo by Patrik Jones

Photo of canary by tanakawho

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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.