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