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From our volunteer, Paul- Living with Chemical Sensitivities: A Blessing in Disguise

I had just been selected as Assistant Principal of a middle school.  Little did I know how my life was about change.

Long story, short version. Due to an environmental toxic exposure, my nearly 20 year education career and personal life were turned upside down. I had to leave work because the toxic exposure caused a brain injury that required out-patient neuro-rehab. I spent several months receiving speech and occupational therapy due to my newly acquired

cognitive deficits, and I spent close to year with a neuro-psychologist to try to understand how and why my life had gone crazy, or, maybe, more appropriately, why was I feeling crazy.

I’ll never forget Dr. K’s response, which he repeated over & over: “You’re not crazy. You are reacting normally to a crazy situation.”

Eight years later, I work hard to navigate each day in terms of my cognitive deficits, but there is an additional challenge I must navigate every day. You see, my immune system was altered by that toxic exposure, and my body can no longer handle any chemical exposure.

I have become one of those people who can’t stand being near people wearing perfume or cologne.

I can’t tolerate being in a room where there are people who have used fragranced laundry detergent or dryer sheets and the residue is on their clothes. When my neighbors have their dryers on, and they used fragranced laundry products, I get sick.

New furniture. New cars. New carpet. Car deodorizers. Cleaning products. Shampoo. Soap. Floor wax. Gasoline. Paint. Planes. Malls (what’s with the stores that spray some sort of fragrance all day?). Hotels. Yup, they all make me sick.

For years now, I would battle this illness, this “multiple chemical sensitivities” those like me call it. I used to be angry about it. My personality changed because I couldn’t go most places without getting sick, and that made me angry.

The tide (and I’m not talking laundry detergent) is changing, though.

Now, I realize that I should be avoiding all these “smells” because at the root of them is some inorganic or synthetic chemical or toxin that not only makes me sick, but is most likely impacting everyone in this country. Our livers, our bodies, our brains are absorbing all these chemicals, every second of every day.

And so, my journey has turned a corner. I have taken up the cause, to the best my brain and body allow, to fight back against the onslaught of unnecessary chemicals we breath every day.

I don’t want your immune system to shut down like mine has. I figure the best way I can help you stay safe is to help get rid of the everyday toxins we have filled our homes, schools, workplace, and environment with.

Thus my volunteer involvement with the Environmental Health Strategy Center. Thus this blog entry which I plan to be the first in a series I’ll be writing for EHSC. From the perspective of a middle age man who was at the “top of his game.” . From someone who is convinced we are truly poisoning ourselves. From the angle of a very concerned father of 2 beautiful and special teenage girls. From someone who was ashamed of his environmental illness and brain injury.

Along the way, I’ll share some personal stories, some insight, and some humor.

I’ll ask questions. I’ll seek answers. I will think aloud.

You are welcome and encouraged to do the same by adding a comment.

Welcome to my blog series which I’m calling “Living with Chemical Sensitivities: A Blessing in Disguise.”

Paul

Comments

  1. Posted May 27, 2010 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    Paul! So well-put…can’t wait to read the future installments! I’m very glad you’re working with the EHSC — a perfect fit. Thank you for speaking out on behalf of us “canaries” and working to protect others from suffering what we have, for no other reason than not knowing…

  2. Posted May 27, 2010 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    I like it! Is there a way I can sign up for email updates when this blog is updated?

  3. avatar Kristine
    Posted May 28, 2010 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Hi Kate! If you go to the right-hand upper corner of this page, you should see “Subscribe to RSS feed” – click on that and then you will be able to click on “subscribe to mail” under “Actions”. This should work to have automatic blog posts sent to your e-mail. Please let us know if you have any trouble doing this!

    -EHSC

  4. avatar Leanne
    Posted August 1, 2010 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    Hi Paul,
    A friend forwarded your site as they know that my brother was chemically poisoned years ago. He rented a car that was spewing antifreeze via the car heater. This was not noticeable and the exposure went on for 8 hours. Ever since that day, his world was upside down. For the reasons you list, he is not able to work due to chemicals/scents ladden in the workplace. The average person does not even notice. In the fall, we cleaned our carpets with a carpet freshener. 4 months later he stopped in to visit and needed to leave immediately as he was having a reaction. Even some essential oils which are pure plant extracts can cause headaches and flare ups. Consequently, he metabolism is messed up and he lost alot of hair….not normal for the men in our family. He has found that there are some great doctors in Dallas. Supplements and infared saunas are helpful. Good luck with your journey of bringing awareness to others…maintain hope on what you want and not what you do not want!

  5. Posted September 3, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    use of dangerous or hazardous chemicals should be strictly inspected and properly handled. thanks Paul for sharing this.

  6. avatar Karen Hare
    Posted April 7, 2011 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Your story is so touching and I am so happy you have been able to share this with so many. I also experienced a rather slow build to multiple chemical sensitivities. I used to wonder why my lips would tingle when I sprayed the little bottle of weed killer. I used to wonder why I lost my voice for nearly a month every spring and would burst into uncontrollable coughing tickles during meetings at my work. It wasn’t until I overcame many of these sensitivities with regular Bikram (hot) yoga, avoiding chemicals and eating organic, non-processed foods, did I realize it was chemicals that did this to me. Then when I was “clean”, my neighbor’s tree company sprayed a huge tree that hung over my yard and next to my open bedroom window. They also sprayed me when I accidently walked down my driveway and under the spraying. That same month I flew to Argentina and was sprayed with pesticides on a plane. It became clear. My reactions were to chemicals and pesticides
    Today, I smell perfume and my throat closes and usually the next day my joints swell up. I used to wonder what I did athletically to cause my stiffness. Now I know it is something I came into contact with – maybe in food, maybe in the environment.
    I believe we are the canaries in the coal mine and it is our job to let others not so sensitive know the risks that are around them. Change will come, but we must share our stories and be persistent. We are not the ones at fault for having this issue, we are just reacting to a very toxic world.

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