Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Pity Party

Let me warn you that this post is about my recent adventures with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity.

On the whole I try to keep a positive outlook in spite of my affliction. Every once in a while, though, one needs to let off some steam, let her guard down, be open and honest. Today is that day. It's sort of appropriate because my last post was my 300th, and MCS is one of the reasons I started blogging in the first place.

I went to the local discount department/grocery store yesterday to stock up on some essentials (Green & Black's dark - 85% - organic chocolate, sparkling water, organic beef broth, organic unsweetened soy milk, frozen organic blueberries... none of which is cheap!). I was in that store for only 10 minutes. I know because I looked at the clock on the dashboard of my car as I was getting out of the car and then looked at it again when I got back in. Not on purpose, mind you, I just did. I couldn't believe it had only been 10 minutes, but that's all it took to ruin my day and likely a lot of today as well. I suspect the store had just had its' floors buffed or polished. Having worked in such an environment back in the day I know this happens from time to time. The front of the store wasn't too bad because the doors open and let in "fresh" air from outside, but back in the back where the frozen foods are kept it was potent. At least for me. And then at the checkout stand there was another customer and her son nearby who smelled of laundry detergent. The overly fragrant kind. (In my personal opinion the makers of Gain are poisoning people with every box they make and sell. Tide is another culprit.)

I made a point of going to the store early in the day so I could avoid as many people - and their fragrances - as possible. What I ended up doing was destroying the rest of my day. From that point on I was a zombie. I put my Priority Quilt in the envelope for shipping (and now I have to find someone who can take it to the Post Office for me), and the rest of the day was spent mostly losing solitaire games on the computer. Oh, I did order four paperback books to read but they won't be here for another week at least. I wanted to order Gwen Marston and Freddy Moran's new book but I don't dare. There's no way I'll be able to read or even look at it without getting sick. Not unless I have someone take it all apart and put each page in a page protector. And then the whole lot will have to go into an old, already off-gassed, three-ring binder, probably 3" thick. {deep sigh} But at least I could look at the pretty pictures and read what they have to say. Oh well. I can, in fact, live without it. I'd just rather not have to.

My local quilt guild is having their annual spring retreat this week. The last couple of years I've made a point of driving over to poke my head in to see everyone again and see what they're making. I doubt I will go this year. Two exposure episodes in one week is enough (the art show and then yesterday's trip). In the past the building where they hold the retreat has been safe enough for me but I learned, the hard way, that there are hand lotions out there that are dangerous. Hand lotion! While I was visiting last year (the year before?) someone in my vicinity casually applied lotion to her hands. I had to leave immediately or I wouldn't have been able to get myself home at all.

So what, you ask, are the symptoms I experience after an exposure? The list is quite lengthy. And not every chemical creates the same reactions. Generally I know I've run into something toxic from the way my sinus cavities feel. That's the first alarm bell. Sometimes I can actually detect a fragrance or odor but that has become unreliable. My olfactory senses have been burned out in some cases and I can no longer smell certain smells. I may feel lightheaded or woozy. I may just have an overall feeling of nausea. I may notice that suddenly I can't keep a thought in my head or find the words I want. I turn into a stammering idiot (no offense to those who suffer from speech impediments) - or at least that's how it feels.

I confess to driving my car when it probably wasn't safe for me to do so. My judgement becomes impaired in subtle ways. Often it's not until I get home or run over a curb that I realize I probably shouldn't have been driving. However, it's usually the only way I can get home.

I have discovered that if I eat a custard cup of frozen organic blueberries as soon as possible after I've run into something toxic it mitigates the reaction. Not always, and not very much sometimes, but it does sometimes help. The headache that develops after exposure will not be as severe for example. Headaches are the big kahuna of reactions. For me anyway. They do not respond to aspirin, Tylenol, ibuprofen or any other over the counter analgesic. The only thing that removes a headache is something that puts me to sleep (and I don't think the headache actually goes away in those circumstances!). I have a very intense, dull headache this morning after yesterday's escapade. That's almost 24 hours after the event.

I also suffer from chills after an exposure to toxic fumes. Nothing I can do will warm me up. I get grouchy and short tempered. I'm restless but can't think well enough to sew or read or do anything. Or I can't stay awake at all and sleep for 12 hours straight. I engage in retail therpay online. I play countless games of solitaire. I overeat the few things I'm allowed to eat. It's just a spinning wheel of pain and discomfort everytime I try to go out and be a normal person, and then I come home and try to cope.

The tail end of the cycle is depression. At least I've learned to recognize that that's what it is. When I start to feel depressed I know it's almost over. And I remind myself that the thoughts going through my head are not true, not real. They are the result of the toxins I was exposed to 12 or 24 or 36 hours ago. It still amazes me that mere fumes can make a person react on an emotional, sub-conscious level. That is perhaps the most frightening reason to demand that manufacturers remove toxic chemicals from the products most people use every day. Never mind that there are known carcinogens in those products as well and that people are dying from more kinds of cancer than ever before. Honest to Pete, people, prevention is the cure. For everything.


  1. Wow, you sure have it bad. Both my sone have severe allergies and I can relate a bit to your suffering. There's no such thing as a hypo-allergenic dog or cat. My youngest son,16, is not accepting invitations to friends houses due to dogs even the above mentioned kind. He still gets all stuffed up and gets a cough. I feel bad for all those with allergies and sensitivies such as yours. Good luck and good health.

  2. poor you. I can never understand why washing powders etc need to be so highly fragranced. I was given some dishwashing liquid which was so strongly scented the water glasses tasted of 'lemon' even after rinsing. and i dont suffer from chemical sensititivity but sometimes the stink in shops is almost unbearable - the thing that drives me (and my sinuses) nuts is the scented oils burners/candles/incense they use in some shops. i hope you feel better soon. can you arrange home delivery? but i guess you've thougth of all the options :)

  3. I'm thankful my reactions seem less severe, but "I hear you". cleaners, perfumes, body washes, air "fresheners", laundry detergents, even the aerosols in spray oil and I wont be breathing properly for a day or two. That means I'll have a pounding headache, and sore achy muscles... Thankfully I'm still able to be out and about in the world if I pay attention. Know you're not alone.

  4. Hi sue...yes, you are certainly not you know my DH is also chemically sensitive and to many of the same things you are and many of his reactions are the same although his starts with depression and it never actually ends...
    one small note of comfort...he has been using masks (the kind with filter canisters that painters use) for a number of years and they do allow him to go into stores and gatherings without suffering from the exposure to fragrances a group or store would usually cause, but of course, he can't ever eat out or even have a cup of coffee in a coffee shop without running the risk of exposure.
    Maybe this kind of mask would help you too?

  5. As the recent victim of off-gassing from office renovations and carpet installation, you have my utmost sympathies and understanding as you cope on an every day basis.

    What I hadn't thought about was the depressive nature of the end of the cycle.

    Looking back, I am now positive that much of my meltdown last weekend was directly attributable to the masses of dusts and odors I've inhaled over the last two weeks (in addition to the physical work, emotional stress, environmental distress, political chaos, and situation-induced nasty attitudes)... MOST interesting.

    THANK YOU for venting!

  6. I don't know why people don't get wise to this - even "save the planet" type advocates continue to use these products. I have to hold my breath and then run really fast to another room after I even pour Cascade into the dishwasher - and I refuse to use her little scented dryer sheets. Gives me chest pain to breathe it.

  7. It's difficult. But hang on in there! Keep doing the things that you can do! As I get older, the list of things changes.

  8. Sue, I'm so sorry you have these troubles. I can't imagine what it must be like. We always had to be careful with my Mother. We'd come in the back of the church and scope out who was there, and where we could sit without exposing her to too much perfume or cologne. Many was the time where we would have to just up and leave when conditions weren't right, or she would be coughing all night. If you give me some guidelines, I would be more than happy to copy the newest Gwen and Freddy book, put it all in page protectors and send it to you. I would! Just say the word.

  9. Well, you must be feeling better by now. I have found with headaches that are really bad, like migraine ones, that 2 tylenol plus one aspirin helps. It's sold as Tylenol Migraine and includes a little caffeine but it's expensive to me so I just have tea or coffee with the tylenol and aspirin and it really seems to help when nothing else does. It helps my daughter who gets terrible migraines. She says it works better than prescription medicine.

    We all want to have fun. Who can blame you for trying. My sister is one of the lucky people as she has gotten much, much better over the last several years. It's a shame that staying away from so much doesn't help you heal.


I'm sorry it's difficult or impossible for some of my readers to leave comments. I do appreciate your visits and the kind comments I receive.