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My Life with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity
By Gary F. Zeolla
I had allergies all of my life, but they began to worsen in the fall of 2000. By the summer of 2005, they had worsened to the point of best being described as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS). I am now terribly allergic to any kind of chemicals, including any kind of cosmetic products. As a result, I have a hard time being around people as people have chemicals on their bodies, clothing, and coats (perfume, cologne, make-up, hair spray, cigarette smoke, remnants of detergent, soap, etc.). As such, I live a mostly isolated life.
To be clear on the seriousness of the problem, not only can not handle being anywhere near someone who is smoking, it bothers me to be near someone who was smoking, or even near someone who was near someone who was smoking. The same goes for perfumes and the like. I need to steer clear of anyone wearing perfume or cologne or even someone who was near someone who was wearing such scents. It would just about kill me to go into a beauty shop, but just being near someone who was just in a beauty shop would be very problematic as well.
But the worse is probably make-up as the use of it is so so widespread. Women don't think their make-up smells, but for someone like me, there is a very definitive smell to it, and I can smell it from several feet away. That is one reason why I never got married and have not even been on a date for many years.
People simply do not realize the problems they can cause sensitive people with the chemicals they put on their bodies. They might also be causing themselves problems as the chemicals can be absorbed into the bloodstream through the skin. Natural alternatives are available, but I wish the use of them would become more widespread.
I rarely leave my home as anywhere I might go I would risk being exposed to something I am sensitive to. I especially have a hard time going into crowed public places in closed spaces as the smells build up, like in a grocery or retail store or a church building. Thus despite being a Christian, I have not been able to go to church in many years, and just going grocery shopping is very problematic. I rarely go to brick and mortal retail stores. I instead order stuff off of the Internet.
Also very problematic are people's coats, hats, purses, book bags, gym bags, and the like as they are generally never washed, so they accumulate various contaminates. That adds to the difficulty of being around people and in public places. Cushioned chairs and sofas, along with drapes and carpeting carry the same problem. Chemical cleaning products only make the problem worse, so I have a difficulty visiting people's homes. This is why I rest during the day on a daybed rather than a sofa, as I have a dust cover over the mattress, and I can wash the sheets and mattress pad on the daybed in a natural detergent, or I sit in one of my wooden office chairs, which I wipe off regularly.
I would not be able to work outside of my home as any public work place would be problematic. I thus set up a home office and do my writing for my websites, newsletters, and books at home. But due to my fibromyalgia fatigue, I am very limited in how many hours I can work each day and week even with working at home.
The smells at a commercial gym especially were causing me problems, so I was only able to continue my powerlifting training by setting up a home gym. But again, due to my fatigue, I need to be very conscientious about my training so as not to overdo it while still working hard enough to make progress and to be successful. Over the past couple of years, I’ve conditioned myself to handle longer workouts, and my training has been going very well as a result. I've learned where the dividing line between training hard and overdoing it is for lifting, but I can easily overdo it when doing something other than lifting that I’m not accustomed to that is at all vigorous.
I can also have problems if I stay at a hotel for a powerlifting contest for the same reasons as visiting people's homes. Moreover, waiting around in a crowed airport and being trapped in an airplane for hours would be very problematic, so air travel it out of the question. That is why I only enter contests that are within driving distance of my home.
Especially problematic are public rest rooms, locker rooms, and even bathrooms in people's homes. I am allergic to commercial soaps, shampoos, and the like that are of course used in bathrooms. Compounding the problem is bathrooms are where people generally put on deodorant, make-up, hair spray, and the like. Moreover, strong chemicals are often used for cleaning purposes. I personally only use all natural toiletry and cleaning products. I might do so anyway as such products are healthier than their chemical-filled counterparts. As with make up, I really wish the use of such natural alternatives were more widespread.
I also only eat all natural and generally organic foods, as pesticides and artificial food ingredients are chemicals that I also need to avoid. In fact, I need to be meticulous about my eating plan in order to feel good enough to continue with my writing and to make progress in my training. This compounds the problem of eating at a restaurant or at someone else's home. Not only would the smells in the building bother me, but the food might do so as well. That is why I take all of my food with me when I compete, so as not to depend on restaurant and concession stand food.
When I do go out anywhere, as soon as I get home, I seal all of my clothes in a small garbage bag until I can wash them, jump into the shower, and then put on clean clothes. I need to do so to get all of the allergens off of my body before I contaminate anything in my home.
Another strange problem is garbage day, which is Wednesdays, usually about 6:00 am. There is a dead-end alley perpendicular to and upwind from my home. The garbage truck goes up and down the alley and then usually stops at the end of the alley, compacts the trash, and then sits there for a few minutes. I can only guess they are taking a break. But whatever the case, that means the garbage truck is in front of my home for 15-20 minutes, and that leaves behind a smell that bothers me so much I am unable to go outside or to even open a door or window the rest of the day.
I never have visitors to my home as I cannot risk them bringing in allergens and contaminating my home. That can cause me problems even after they leave. That is why I do not have a workout partner as many have suggested to me. The only way I could have visitors if they agreed to shower right before coming, to wear clean clothing, to not use any kind of cosmetic products, especially make-up, perfume, and the like, and even to air out their car before getting into it and driving to my home. But even then, I would be taking a risk by letting them into my home.
Also very problematic is new stuff. When I purchase new clothing, blankets, sheets, and the like, I always wash them before using them. Actually, this is not a bad idea anyways as new clothing can have bacteria and other contaminants. I also can have problems with new non-cloth items like furniture. I need to leave such items outside for at least a day or two before bringing them inside. Actually, it is a good idea to let any such new items air out for a while as they can outgas toxic chemicals. For instance, I saw a report on CNN Headline News a while back about shower curtains. That new curtain smell contains chemicals that can cause liver damage. I learned a long time ago to hang a new shower curtain outside for a couple of days before hanging it up in the bathroom.
Despite my best efforts, my home still often gets contaminated. But thank God an overhead fan was installed long ago, before getting A/C. Rather than to cool my home off, I now use that fan to draw smells out of my home. But even with that, I need to frequently clean my rooms and wash the bedding on my regular bed and daybed. With my fatigue, all of the washing and cleaning is very difficult, and I have often been left extremely fatigued as a result. This has caused me to miss more than one workout and even contest.
Surprisingly, I have never really had a problem with my allergies during a powerlifting contest. The best I can figure is the adrenaline suppresses the allergic response while I’m competing. But of course, there is no way to keep that up long term, so immediately afterwards, my allergies really begin to bother me. As such, after a contest, I need to wash all of my gear, including my gym bags. And if I stayed at a hotel, everything I had with me will need to be washed as well. And non-washable items need to be wiped off. Needless to say, this is very difficult and is why I only enter one or two contests a year.
My allergic reactions to all of these items include the "normal" reactions many get, like a stuffy and runny noise, and sneezing. But things go far beyond this for me. There are times when along with being congested, I feel like I have a cotton ball in my throat. As a result, it can be it difficult to breathe. Sometimes I feel like I have bugs crawling all over my body, and at times, I get rashes and itching.
The allergic response worsens my fibromyalgia fatigue. I have even had episodes of becoming completely paralyzed as a result of allergen exposure, due to another condition known as Stiff Person Syndrome. My insomnia, restless leg syndrome, noises in my head, and "tics" all get worse as well. As a result, when I am exposed to something I am allergic to during the day, I often have great difficulty sleeping that night, and I often feel just terrible the next day. Basically, the allergic response makes my various health problems more severe.
As for treatments, I have been allergic to every allergy medication I have tried, along with every supplement that is purported to help with allergies. A while back I underwent a long and expensive series of NAET treatments (an alternative form of allergy treatments). That seemed to help initially, but then things got much worse. I also went to a homeopath, but that again was a complete waste of money. Chiropractic treatments were recommended but also proved worthless. I tried a traditional allergist, but it is not possible to get allergy shots for the type of things that bother me, and again, I cannot take any of the medications that were recommended.. As such, there really is not much that can be done at this point.
As a result of all of this, my life with MCS is very difficult and lonely. But I thank the LORD that I have been able to continue with my writing and powerlifting, as those two things give me a purpose in my life. Otherwise, I try not to think about all the things I cannot do and instead focus on the LORD and what I am able to do. I discuss this line of thinking in detail in my book The LORD Has It Under Control. It truly is my faith in the sovereignty of God that keeps me going.
The above article was posted on this site August 1, 2008.
It was last updated July 21, 2016.
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