Saturday, May 14, 2016

If only people could see

Today, as usually is the case, my husband, my daughter and I went out for breakfast to our favourite breakfast restaurant.  We look forward to this family time together, and we rarely miss the opportunity, unless prevented by sickness or distance.

This time, we were enjoying our breakfast when a middle-aged fellow, whose face we recognized as being one of the "regulars", walked in and sat at his usual spot.  This would not have been a problem, except that we had been assigned a table which placed me five feet away from this man's usual spot.  It was then that I noticed the billowing waves of after-shave or cologne emanating from this man like Pigpen's dust clouds.  It was cloying.  It was so strong I could taste it on my tongue (when I immediately started breathing through my mouth to slow down what is usually an immediate neurological reaction.)  I groped for a napkin and held it over my nose and mouth as I ate, lifting it up only to put food in my mouth.  I finished my meal as quickly as I could, and tried switching my seat - but it was too little, too late. Leaving my coffee only half-consumed, I ended up having to leave the restaurant to sit in the car while my family hurried through their meals to join me.  

I have explained the condition I have (multiple chemical sensitivities or MCS) a few times, and I have had to re- and re-explain it to every person individually, because until you suffer from this, you have no idea what it is like or how all-encompassing, all-limiting it is.  

Chemical scent is everywhere, and it is toxic.  Some brands of perfumes contain as many as 300 chemicals, some of which are classed on Hazardous Materials sheets as neurotoxins.  These chemicals include such nasties as benzine (listed on shampoo bottles as "sodium benzoate"), toluene (closely related to benzine), and aldehydes (in the same family as formaldehyde, AKA "embalming fluid.") These toxins are cumulative in the body, and one day, usually after a concentrated exposure, the body says "ENOUGH!"  Basically, the body has been taking in so many toxins from being around so many people over the years wearing them, using them, cleaning with them, "deodorizing" (should be called RE-odorizing) with them, moisturizing their skin with them, spraying them, drying them into their clothing, and plugging them in (yes, even Glade plug-ins and Febreeze products) that it rebels.  And MCS is born.

These are not mere allergies.  With an allergy, the body decides something is an attack on itself and creates a histamine response: the nasal passages get congested, the eyes get watery, and so forth). One can take anti-histamines to relieve the symptoms, and that is the end of that.  However, with MCS, there may be an allergic reaction, but that is not the primary reaction.  It is neurological - there are nerve symptoms like headaches (up to and including migraines), dizziness, disorientation, "brain fog", even muscular cramping and the formation or aggravation of trigger points - such as is common in fibromyalgia.  And taking an antihistamine might clear up the nasal congestion, but that only allows more of the toxins to reach the system and cause more reaction, not less.  

The last seven-plus years for me has been about self-care, and educating people about this illness is part of that.  Granted, due to a bona fide miracle back in the fall of 2009, where a good 70% of my symptoms just "poof" disappeared as someone was speaking words of encouragement and love to me, I do not suffer nearly as much as I once did.  Before, I had to pretty much wear a hospital mask to work and to church, anywhere there were people other than my own family.  (I remember in early 2009, one adolescent boy at church thinking that I had the H1N1 influenza virus until his mom explained it to him.  And then he got mad for me.  It was touching, actually!) 

Photo "Female Doctor Wearing
Surgical Mask"
by stockimages at

The problem is NOT the smell.  That is only secondary - and in a way I am grateful for the smell.  It alerts me to what is coming ... and that is the ingestion of the chemical into my body, which results in those nasty symptoms I mentioned.  The real problem is the fact that companies no longer exclusively use natural scents when they make their products.  Synthetic or artificial scent is what most companies use because it is so inexpensive.  

Which leads to the questions I get.  "Well what about skunks? don't you react with them?"  The short answer is NO - not like I do with perfumes.  Of course the skunk smell is entirely unpleasant, and it might even cause me to stuff up and be all teary - like it is supposed to do with every other creature on the planet.  But I don't get brain fog from skunk spray.  "Oh - are you allergic to flowers?"  Ummm, NO.  Like I said, it's not an allergy.  I might have a reaction to the bug spray you put ON your flowers but not to the blooms themselves.  

And one more question, or should I say a statement I get a lot. "I use unscented products, why are you having a reaction?"  Simply this: unscented products contain chemical scent, and something else: a chemical product designed to take the SMELL away.  So in reality, unscented products actually have more chemicals in them than scented ones do.  Again I say that the SMELL isn't the thing that is bothersome - it's the CHEMICAL.  

And the chemical, dear friends, permeates the surrounding area, is carried by people who walk through that cloud to other areas of the room, and stays in the air long after you have left the premises.  Artificial scent has those chemicals in them because those toxins are proven to linger in the air and on the skin.  That's why they use them: staying power.  For those of us with MCS, that's a game-ender.

So by now you're wanting to know (or I HOPE you are wanting to know) how to pick products that are not toxic to me ... OR to you, whether you have a reaction or not.  And I do have some suggestions, but with a warning - beware product loyalty.  Sometimes a product can be fine and then the company goes and changes the formula (this happened before with one kind of soap we used, and then most recently with Pantene Shampoo & Conditioner 2 in 1 "Sheer Volume").  

Anyway, here are the suggestions:
  1. Look for the words "Fragrance Free" on the bottle or tube.  If it doesn't, see suggestion number 3.
  2. Perfume isn't the only thing that contains chemical scent. Be aware of laundry products, room freshener products, personal care products, skin care products, sunscreens, cosmetics, etc.
  3. If choosing lotions, shampoo and/or conditioner, or other liquid products, take the time to read the ingredients listed. If one of the first eight to ten ingredients says one or more of the following: parfum, sodium benzoate, laurel sulfate, or toluene, those are neurotoxins that will cause a reaction in people like me. Choose carefully. It might take a while to find something that works for everyone.
  4. A word about any product that claims to be "unscented" - it isn't.  For example, Dove Unscented bar soap causes me to have a reaction.  Dove SENSITIVE doesn't. It says "Fragrance Free."
  5. Consider using alternative solutions for your personal hygiene products. About 6 years ago, I switched to a fragrance-free Crystal Rock product instead of underarm antiperspirant ... it's mineral salt-based and works as well as most deodorants. And it lasts SO much longer (my first rock lasted 4 years), so you'll save yourself a bundle of money. I bought it at the Bulk Barn for EIGHT DOLLARS.
  6. Anything that says "deodorant" ... ISN'T.  It is merely another word for fragrance that is used to cover up another odour.  This includes underarm deodorants, soaps, and deodorizing sprays, the three biggest offenders.
  7.  By far the biggest suggestion I have is to re-examine why you wear or use products with artificial scent if you know that this is going to cause yourself and others to build up a toxicity in the body, leading to such related illnesses as fibromyalgia, chronic pain syndrome, and chronic fatigue syndrome. These are all interrelated with MCS, which means that a large percentage of those with MCS also have one or more of these conditions. Is your health really worth it?  Are you that insecure in your own acceptability that you feel that you have to cover up your own body's scent with something else?   

One last word about this issue, since my audience in this blog is largely believers.  There have been well-meaning people who have reacted - usually badly - to me talking about this issue.  Some don't want to change; others ... I don't know what they think or IF they think about it at all.  However, from some of the reactions I get, I do have a few things to say. 

  1. I do want to be healed, because I am suffering and because I am limited in where I can go and who I can hang around with.  But I don't want to be healed to make you feel more comfortable around me, or so that you can continue to wear your favourite product.  Be considerate.  Leave it home, or better yet - throw it out.
  2. Don't assume that because you don't wear perfume or cologne, that you aren't wearing or using scent.  Many products contain it, not just the ones I've named but also mousse, styling gel, foundations, lipsticks, hair spray, ... the list goes on and on.  And it could be something that you have in your home that is clinging to your clothing and causing a reaction.  Educate yourself. Please.
  3. For those who pray for me, for those who reach out in love, and for those who refrain from wearing "product" because of me and people like me, I am truly touched by the loving care you demonstrate; it does not go unnoticed. I pray that whatever load you carry is lightened. 
  4. Finally, if your solution to the "problem" of me not being able to be around scent is staying away from me, then I fail to see how that is truly demonstrating love - although if you ARE going to continue to wear and use your products, I'd prefer that you stay away, thanks.  A more appropriate way to show that love, though, would be to refrain from using or wearing chemically scented products - not just around me but around everyone.  It not only does good in a gathering where you KNOW I will be there, but it also prevents me from entering later, and running into a cloud you might leave behind long after you are gone. I go to the grocery store, the department store, the clothing boutique, the hardware store, and the pharmacy too.
I have often wished that people could physically SEE the clouds they leave behind when they use these products.  I'm sure it would shock them.

People stay outside of Pigpen's dust cloud (in the Charlie Brown comic) because they can see it.  At least his cloud moves away when he does. And it's natural. I'm just saying.