In this post, I would like to talk about some of the things that people go through after they are injured by chemicals, toxic mold, and other toxins inside water-damaged buildings. I also want to share helpful tips for friends and family members of those who are suffering through a series of impossible illnesses.
I say impossible because it seems almost impossible that hidden toxins can destroy and or severely impair a healthy body. However, they can, and let me tell you something, for the person on the receiving end, it is devastating.
This past year we have seen a growing number of families affected by toxic mold and other airborne contaminants. From military families living in moldy housing to moldy hospitals and operating rooms, the stories just keep coming. It seems like each year, the problem gets worse, but I do not think that the problem is getting worse per se. I believe that more people are becoming aware of the dangers of living, studying, or working in a sick building, so they are reporting symptoms, getting their homes tested, and perusing chemical and mold avoidance.
To make it easier to grasp the devastation and loss experienced by those of us in the mold and chemical avoidance community, I’ll get real for a moment and bluntly share some of my own experiences and a bit about what happened to me.
I started as a healthy woman in my early twenties. At the time and for years before becoming sick, I exercised several times a week and ate a healthy diet rich in healthy fats, plants, and nutrient-dense foods. I worked full-time and had hobbies I enjoyed. I gave educational wellness talks several times a year and handcrafted herbal products, including several dozen organic tea blends, salves, tinctures, beauty products, and other herbal remedies. I had the energy to go to the beach, go shopping, play with our kids, cook, read one to two books each week, travel nationally and internationally, and volunteer at my local church.
So what happened? Well, in the prime of life, I decided to switch jobs and do something more meaningful with my 9-5. I started a new and fulfilling job in an old building. What was unbeknownst to me was that the building had a history of water intrusion and mold issues. Another problem was that the walls around my desk area were being remodeled. I would arrive from lunch and find my desk covered in construction dust.
Within the first year of working in that building, I started having all sorts of symptoms, and each year my health got worse and worse until I could barely drive our kids to school and walk up to my office without struggling to breathe. I experienced pain all over my body, light and sound sensitivity, chemical intolerance, low blood pressure, cardiovascular issues, extreme fatigue, repeated respiratory infections, ear infections, vertigo, bleeding scalp, itchy skin, eye issues, and a bunch of symptoms too long to list.
I remember holding my head and crying when the kids were playing loudly. The sounds from their playful screams felt like daggers slicing through my skull. Then came the severe chemical intolerance. I began to throw up and have fainting spells around gasoline and after using perfume. The reactions were so intense my throat would swell up, and within minutes, I would be in pain with muscle spasms and praying that I would not throw up because I hated throwing up. My husband had no clue what was happening to me; I had no clue what was happening. I started visiting many different doctors, getting scans, and doing tests to find out what was wrong with me. It was a long and exhausting journey.
Not all people who are mold injured react badly to chemicals, but from my research, I’ve found that the majority of people do seem to develop some sort of chemical intolerance.
The same can be said about M.E. (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis). Not everyone exposed to mold will go on to develop M.E., aka CFS but some do. M.E., in essence, is the original name for mold illness, but much has been done to cover it up over the years.
For me, a simple visit to a new theater or a doctor’s office could land me sick for hours or days. Mold, air fresheners, new carpeting, VOCs from furniture and paint, perfumes, hand sanitizer, and anything that contains chemicals would cause an unwanted reaction which pushed me into isolation and recovery mode. This, in addition to the symptoms from M.E., creates a recipe for disaster.
“People with ME/CFS experience debilitating pain, fatigue and a range of other symptoms associated with post-exertional malaise, the body and brain’s inability to recover after expending even small amounts of energy.” Source
It’s also important to note that children exposed to toxic mold can go on to develop PANS and other neurological and neuroimmune conditions. Mold exposure from clothing, toys and sick buildings can cause horrible reactions for both children and parents. It’s a vicious and exhausting cycle that few people understand.
So what can you do if you are a friend or family member of someone who has developed one or more chronic illnesses after environmental exposures?
My first recommendation is simple, just listen. Listen, and then listen some more. Be present, and let them know that although you may not understand what they are going through, your love and friendship will not fade away. Listening means that you don’t get to throw a bunch of thoughts or solutions at them, especially if they aren’t well or are trying to recover from a recent crash or exposure. Understand that their brain and body aren’t functioning the way your brain and body are functioning, so unless asked for, hold your suggestions and questions.
When they are not feeling well enough to cook or do house chores, offer to stop by and pick up their kids for a movie or a park visit. I can’t tell you the times I yearned for someone to do this when we had young children in the house.
Often children of parents who are suffering from one or more chronic illnesses miss out on so much. Having a close friend or family member to babysit or take young children out is so important. Offering to come over and help with cleaning and cooking is also important. The person who is sick will most likely struggle for months or years, and they will need all of the love and support that you can offer. This isn’t the flu that will come and go or a broken wrist or having wisdom teeth removed; it is a constant, hourly, and daily struggle that is often fought alone and in the dark.
Don’t get offended. If I collected a twenty-dollar bill for every time someone has gotten offended because of my health situation, I would have enough money for a lavish vacation in Tuscany.
I am not joking, and I hear this also from many of my friends and fellow bloggers who suffer from chronic illnesses. Situations can pan out like the example below.
- I made plans for lunch at your house, but that day arrives, and I’m in pain and can’t even open my eyes, let alone drive to your house for lunch. Reluctant and almost feeling ashamed of myself, I ask my husband to send a text and say that I am sorry, but I just can’t make it. Feelings are hurt because it’s not the first time I’ve had to cancel plans, and sometimes unkind words are said by friends who mean well but just don’t understand what we are going through. If you are that friend or that family member, how about offering to drop off lunch to your chronically ill buddy? Maybe even ask if you can go inside to help with laundry and dishes while they rest.
I remember one day, I had just been seen by a paramedic and had done about two hours of IV fluids. I was feeling very sick but made an effort to sit and eat lunch with friends in a secluded space. One of the people we were sitting with expressed how intolerable I was being because I said that we would have to get up and leave the spot where we were sitting due to a large crowd of people coming out of a building, and I wanted to avoid getting hit by their fragrances. I don’t think the person who called me intolerable meant to hurt my feelings, but I was so hurt and frustrated by her comment because I was trying my best to be somewhere even though I felt miserable, and all they could see was the inconvenience I was causing them by saying that we would have to leave.
There is so much more I could say, but I will leave you with this. Be kind and offer your love and compassion because so many people are struggling through situations that you can’t even begin to comprehend. Pray for people who are suffering and offer your help and support even if you’ve done it once or several times, continue to show up. Your chronically ill buddy will appreciate it.
If you’d like to hear more about my story or learn about toxic mold, healthy eating, and or chemical-free living, please feel free to contact me for an educational consultation by clicking here.
Chemical Free Gal
- How To Reduce and Avoid Problematic Exposures for Chemically Sensitive Individuals and Toxicant Induced Loss of Tolerance Sufferers
- Mold Facts You Need To Know by Dr. Jill Crista
- Chemical Sensitivity: The Illness Crippling People, Dismissed By Doctors – Dr. Anne Steinemann Media Coverage
- My Experience & Using Diet to Combat the Health Effects of Mold Exposure