When is the Right Time to Retreat? (Part II)

Reality is a cliche from which we escape by metaphor ~ Wallace Stevens 

(This is part II in a VII part post about what it’s like studying at University while sensitive to chemicals. It could be used as a ‘How To’ template for people sensitive to fragrance chemicals—or other types of chemicals—who need to become the creators of change in a school, workplace or their local church or hospital enviroment. That’s where we, us fragrance crusaders (warriors, if you borrow from that mythology) come in. We are the pioneers, whose job it is to be the ones who stand up alone, in a crowd and speak up, not only for ourselves but also for all who will come after us. What we do today, will serve our fellow sisters and brothers tomorrow! (Disclaimer: I’m not that good at standing up and speaking in front of a group of people; but I’m learning. And here,  just for you, is what I’ve learnt so far… )

In part I of this post, I was a devastated mess. When I wrote it, I’d been considering quitting my course, even though, it was my everything: my rock in a world of chemical onslaughts. Last year, in my melancholy mess, where thoughts of ending more than just my education subsisted along with this innate desire for fighting for my rights (my right to go to class; my right to breathe; my right to clean air; my right to hang out with other humans who have similar interests.), I had no real intention of quitting. Anything. (There were other challenges beating me down, gut issues, low vitamin D, and, I was sad, mourning a life that I’d struggled to get back; and had, then, it slipped through my hand-cream-scented fingers.) So, in answer to my question, when fragrance chemicals are beating you down, ‘When is the Right Time to Retreat?‘ The time for me to do this was during August to December 2012 (that year being my Annus horribilis); so, let’s ‘retreat’ back to that time period, shall we?:

There has been many a day, running into weeks, where I have sat on my bed, laptop on my legs (nine pillows surrounding me as if I am Cleopatra, herself, awaiting Mark Antony!), lost in my writing or the research of my novel ‘Chaos and Adversity‘ (the working title). I’ve got this amazing desk but, frustratingly so, cannot sit at it: a chemical irritant—that hurts my head like aerosol-solvent-based hairspray does—is embedded in the wood. Mostly, it’s inside the draws; but if I sit there long enough, the sharp pain in my temples, and ensuing agony breathing through my nose, will distract me out from my writing zone. So, even though writing while sitting on my bed is a health and safety concern (as I learnt in Victoria University’s TAFE Professional Writing and Editing online module: Industry Overview I), I have always been comfortable—especially when my dog Bella, jumps up to warm my feet (and my heart)!

Here it is my beautiful writing desk:

My writing desk. It's a copy of a Louis IV, circa 1890, or so I was told

It’s a copy of a Louis IV, circa 1890. When I recovered, end of 09′ – 10′, I could actually sit at it and write! So, of the 6.3 years that I’ve owned it, I’ve only been able to use it for two of those—ergo, I still adore it, and cannot bare to part with it!

My writing is everything to me: it’s how I sort out the world: my past, my present, my future. It grounds me. Going to Victoria University has been the most phenomenal experience: it has enriched my being, made me a better, much more empathetic person. I understand the world differently: its many shades: when I look at a problem I see it from so many different perspectives. (I know longer think that I’m right about everything.) This is a gift.

For a long time, right from when I was born and put up for adoption, I felt as if I’d been misplaced—cast adrift with no compass. Because of my experience at VU, I feel that I know who I am. This has grounded me: instead of feeling lost with no sense of belonging, now I feel free, connected to all the writers—dead and alive—whose work I devour; whose work I feel connected to. This connection to all the budding and established writers that I’ve met at school (and online) is something that has sustained me through turbulent times. This connection. I want to be a writer; I am a writer; I want to interview other writers; I want recognition; I want to live in a writerly world; I want to help others; I want to be part of change. And I’ve touched on many of these qualities, qualifying them to this part of me that desires to belong; and I have achieved all of these things, to some degree.

But, here are two questions that were posed to me last year… The first question, thrown inadvertently at me by life: How much do I want this education that can give me a writer’s life? (I’ll get to that answer last, because that’s where the challenge, the point of this post, lays.) And, the second, posed verbally to a class of students, including myself: Do I want money for all my boiling and toiling with words, or, do I want recognition? (Because, apparently, unless you’re really, really lucky, rarely can a writer have both.) Well, I was hoping… I imagined that money would come with the territory. (If you too are a writer, then perhaps, I hear you laugh.) It appears that non-fiction is the path that I must walk for this.

A discovery was made this year: as soon as words, sentences and paragraphs worthy of even trying to pitch to an editor or publisher, need to be elegantly crafted (or hastily spewed up and onto the page (depending on my feelings on the day)), my internal pressure, my drive changes and it doesn’t feel like fun anymore. Looking for this pathway paved with gold has me straying from the direction of my newfound internal compass. It’s not like writing my blog entries, or daily rambles in my personal diaries, or the creative chunks of time spent crafting my novel. No, and it’s not like working on poetry either. With poetry, there’s imaginative freedom, pools of thought, flowing words trickling into a beautiful pond of deep satisfaction from my efforts. Every time. It’s a sure thing. Another teacher said to us, as a class, this year: If you can find something to do for work that you love, you will never work another day in your life. So that there, my darlings, is the answer to second question: Write about things that I love, things that can make the world a better place. My novel may not bring me money but it will make the world a better place. And for money? Write about things that I know to be true, and then pitch them at my targets. And if they miss? Try, try again. Elsewhere. Not at Mamamia. Somewhere where they pay actual money.

As for journalism? Perhaps, I’m just nervous and don’t believe I’m good enough; or maybe I don’t want to add to the lies and deception that shape people’s views in this media driven world (You see, I wanted to be a health writer, but I read so much spin. Spin spun for money. And being a person suffering with ill health, I know first hand that desperate feeling of being robbed by charlatans. Why add to that? And if I tell the truth, who would believe me? We wade through so much information, looking for the truth, whose to say my truth is the truth?) Why can’t I be free to just write poetry and gritty realistic fiction? Or memoir. (Or whatever genre my writing gets pooled into next week.) And pour my heart out (occasionally or frequently) into this blog? (And, eventually, get paid for doing what I love?) This pressure to make a living from writing? It’s a let down, but I’ll try not to think about that, even as I have my head down in an assignment that could, if I’m brave enough, be submitted to Weekend Notes, and if accepted, I could actually earn real money. Who knows? The act of getting cashed up for something I love doing could create a monster within‽ Thanks to the Professional Writing and Editing TAFE course at Victoria University and my bombastic thirst to get an education!

In answer to: “How much do I want this education?” Well, that just centres my mind on all these other questions: How much am I prepared to suffer? How far will I go? Does it bother me when people don’t understand about the fragrance situation? Don’t I just feel like I’m this person who is just so annoying; someone who is different from the pack; someone who just will not go away? How can I ask a group of people not to wear fragrance? Who do I think I am? Isn’t it the same as asking someone not to smoke a cigarette in an enclosed space? (Fragrances and cigarettes both contain benzene, formaldehyde, Ammonia, Butyl Acetate, and many other ingredients. That. Are. Exactly. The. Same.) Don’t I have the same rights as everyone else? Am I really that different? Is this even a ‘real’ disability? (As apposed to a person in a wheelchair. Or someone who needs constant care?) What about that person who said to me (in my very first non-fiction class at VU): “I’m so tired of people like you who claim the disability angle, then pretend to study, so they can get more money and don’t have to work.” (Look, the person who said this worked in an unemployment office; so, as a writer (who can gaze at things from many perspectives), I can understand this one. But only just. This comment hurt and shocked me. Then it made me stronger. And what about all the people whom I’ve inadvertently educated on the matter of Fragrance and Health? People who have changed their lives, the products they use? All because they met me, and saw and heard first hand what personal care products have done to me? Those are cases of, me, the educated becoming the educator. Not something I imagined doing when I enrolled in Professional Writing and Editing (PWE)!

So the answer to all these questions regarding my education: it depends on perspective. And as a writer, this will change as do the days I wake up. However, the blood running through my veins making me a writer cannot change:

So, with writing being the essence of my life, how could the option of retreating from my education even be an option?

In my safe room, in my bed, my head stuck in assignments, reworking my 2nd draft of the short story, possibly a Novella, Cinderella and the Happy Hooker Mythology (Something I’ve now mixed with the chapter workshopped in Novel II class, 2011, ‘The Kindness of Strangers’.), trying to ignore my first draft (190,000 words) of Chaos and Adversity (An easy task: Just the thought of looking at it made me cringe.) and floating in and out of the idea of an Anthology of Poems, now almost finished, called Beauty verses Pain. My head was a mess, and I didn’t get much done, apart from reading other people’s writing, and every article in The Age  (even if I wasn’t interested in it) every single day (now I think I must of been pre-preparing for this year’s Advanced Non-Fiction class!), every online Overland Magazine article, and Griffith Review. My problem was, even though the work in the classes was delivered to me electronically at home (thanks to Victoria University Disability Services (VUDS)), the Professional Writing and Editing Course at VU is not designed to be taught that way—via digital recordings of the class. There are some modules that are offered online. And I had done those already. But you know? After almost completing certificate III of Business Administration online (I couldn’t get my head around the finance part, so I left that course, missing out on finishing it because of that one last too-hard module), I’d already realised that I just don’t learn that way. I’m fortunate enough to know that I’m a visual-kinaesthetic learner. Besides, I need human interaction. Don’t we all? Okay, J. D Salinger didn’t, but I’m no Salinger: I’m Michellina van Loder!

Coming up: Part III of When is the Right Time to Retreat?

Michellina Van Loder is a Professional Writer, Journalist and Blogger. This is where she shares her tales about trail blazing her way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities and Mould. This is also where you will find the latest Research on related topics.

About Michellina van Loder


  1. A non-toxic natural sacred spiritual way

    Hey nana Hey

    Ha-ving be-en on deaths do-or with chemical poisoning by toxic chemicals, a number of ti-mes, and on-e ti-me is far far far mo-re than en-ough.
    With ho-melessness and then clothlessness, with death beco-ming ev-er mo-re welco-me and the full fa-ce redpirator mask no longer of any help.

    The na-me I u-se for this chemical poisoning is: blo-od bra-in barrier damage (3BD)

    Avoidance and escape from tox chems, and then calming the reactory process down has and is my sacre (sacred) focus.

    I am now with sacre (sacred) Creator path, which is a beautiful Creator gi-ve sacre simple natural non-toxic way, with sacre company of sacre He-arth (hearth) pairs, where the combined sacre He-arth pairs become beautiful Creator guided, Creator hon-or, sacre community, that support we are all one family in Nayana. (my sacre name for God and Creator).

    With sacre Creator path, I ma-ke or am ma-ke be-a-ut-i-full Nayana gi-ve natural non-toxic garments from fo-ot wear to hats.
    To ma-ke the-se, I receive Nayana gi-ve sacre leaves from a local plant he-re.
    The leaves are about 3 fo-ot long, they are dried and retted and then can be used for sacre weaving or dressed and used for sacre knitting.
    All glory to Creator. Hey nana Hey.

    I ha-ve included a link to so-me pictures of the Nayana gi-ve sacre garments I am with, below.

    Also I am focused with a Nayana gi-ve sacre garden and a Nayana gi-ve clay walled sacre shelter

    For my sacre Creator path future, no Nayana family member has to suffer in a toxic factory, local or other, such as china, etc, to cloth, shelter or fe-ed me.

    I li-ve in a be-a-ut-i-full Nayana gu-ided pla-ce in a remo-te area in what is called new zealand, and the-re is a pla-ce he-re for a sacre focused fe-ma-le to jo-in me in sacre Creator path.

    With sacre Creator path focus there is no ne-ed for capitalist money.

    All glory to Creator. Hey nana Hey.

    My contact can be fo-und through the below website.

    Website: Nayana gi-ve sacre natural non-toxic garments

    May Nayana (sacre name for Creator) guide us all in Creator’s original life path,
    for Creator’s sacre Creation Earth of;
    Creator hon-or sacre simple live,
    Creator given, Creator hon-or, sacre hearth (sacre hearth pairs),
    that there may be Creator guided, Creator hon-or, sacre community.,
    on all Nayana’s sacre Creation E-arth,
    that we may all be as one family in Nayana.

    All glory to Creator. Hey nana Hey.

  2. Michellina Van Loder says:

    Thank you for your kind words. Yes, we can have both, but unless they fall in my lap, I think I need to choose which one I want to chase. I’m writing some articles on organic farm gate shopping!

    PS: who wants to get out of bed in the mornings? It’s too damn cold here in Melbourne. And on school days I get up at 3 am so that I can drive down to Melbourne and miss the traffic. Then go to class at 9.20 am. It’s a long day for me, but VU has been so worth it. You just wait and see all they have done for me. They are not an ordinary institution. x

  3. You write very well and it shows you have a passion for writing! I will be honest, I have not read the whole thing so far, I’ve scimmed it but got the fel of it…. hope that doesn’t offend you, I’ve just been exhausted lately but have a desire and drive to accomplish something everyday. I started writing poetry out of necessity, as a therapeutic release. It started out as a few poems and a journal and ended up as a book yet to be published but it’s a story I know that is worth telling and I know it could help many people. Just don’t have the means to get it published….. I feel and can understand your frustrations having to retreat, slow down and rest. Thanks for sharing your struggles and story. Hope all is well!

    • Michellina Van Loder says:

      Thank you. I do that too: skim read. Never would I be offended; sometimes that’s all it takes to get the gist of something, besides I’m sure that everyone does it. Exhaustion is something that definitely needs to be heeded: rest, recharge, and then on with the show! I always say. :) Ooh, I’d love to read your poetry sometime. Feel free to contact me by email if you’d like to swap some for feedback. You could try pitching your story to a publisher, or go down the self-publising path. Personally, I’d try the publisher for my novel, and self-publsih for my anthology. I hope to have a cookbook that I will be giving away free on this blog soon. Yes, all is well; that post I wrote is actually 7,500 words long. That’s why it’s split into parts. When it’s all up, then I’ll do another post with just bullet point lists so that people can use it as a guide if they are going through the same or similar struggle. Poetry is good for our heart, mind and soul. It’s the scent of life…

  4. Kudos to you Miche for all that you are accomplishing as well as your advocacy despite this illness and strange world of MCS.

    You will be a writer! I also believe you will be a very successful one.

    • Michellina Van Loder says:

      Thanks for the kudos. Coming from someone who is already there, it’s much appreciated. Thank you, you author you :)

  5. I think you are doing wonderfully. It is so hard to stay focused when constantly ‘hit’ by chemical fragrance and diesel and other particulates which we cannot readily put a name to, but they constantly try to floor us. Maybe there is a way you could complete that last module of the business certificate surely, some full on tuition where you could cram it all in over a shorter time with a tutor from the VU who understands the obstacles you/we with MCS face each and everyday.
    Yeah sometimes we kick ourselves for not saying or doing something extra at the time, but don’t be too hard on yourself, just keep moving forward the way you have.
    I recently found out that Edgar Alan Poe suffered with mcs from the gaslights vapors he unwittingly breathed as he worked into the night. Restrictions and ill-health..but as in the hero’s stories, this is a challenge that has become ours to deal with. All you/we with MCS can do is keep holding on to what we want to do as best we can.
    People who make ridiculous cruel comments like the person you quoted in your post, are so out of touch with their own human reality it’s not worth giving them a second thought, but now you may have learned that there are a lot of ‘them’ out there, unfortunately.
    I would love to write something, I have done some poems/prose, but you do need peace and a calm environment where you can breathe easily for a start.
    With technology the way it is, I think working from home would solve many problems for a lot of workers, especially in the newspaper journalism field. Maybe for you there are the Natural Health Magazines, I would love that you were able to write for them.You have done so much research for your Blog and the info you give is tried and true. Stay as well as you can.

    • Michellina Van Loder says:

      The finance module is with another institution. If it was with VU then I’m sure they would help me get through it if I asked. The problem with that last one: I did the MYOB with a class at a community centre, but the 2nd part of it was were we had to learn the way it worked from scratch. I’m not finance minded, and it was just too hard. If I had been in a class for that one, I may have made it through. You’ve got me thinking though: maybe I should try and do it somewhere; maybe at VU?
      Yes, I know: kicking oneself does not help.
      That is interesting about Edgar Alan Poe
      Here is a list of famous people with allergies http://mn.environmentalillnessnetwork.org/page/celebrities-food-allergies-sensitivities-intolerances-list It seems that chemical sensitivities misses them?! Although, I do know that Kate Grenville who wrote the Secret River has fragrance sensitivities. I guess that’s why being a writer is a good job for someone with this condition, yes? I’d love to read some information about Edgar Alan Poe. It sounds fascinating; and sometimes just knowing that someone else has had to live with this makes it just that much easier.
      I’d love to read one of your poems one day…
      Thank you, your comments are so inspiring. It’s my dream to be able to work from home doing something I love. You too, stay safe and well. x

  6. What a GREAT post! I have thought so many of the same things as you – education – being in the arts and not knowing if I wanted recognition/money, and of course all the self-doubts about asking others to accommodate this sensitivity. What a terrible thing that woman said to you about your disability. It’s really messed up to think people who are disabled in any way are lazy and don’t want to work! Complete nonsense. We want to participate in life like everyone else. Why else would we put so much effort into being accommodated?

    Also, I really like your office 😀 The pink theme is lovely!

    • Michellina Van Loder says:

      Wow, that was quick. I feel live to air! It’s so good to know that there is someone else who thinks these things too. Making money from our art = selling our soul? I guess it’s something we have to work out early on. Oh, and the self-doubts about asking people to accommodate this fragrance problem, well they nearly swallowed me whole. Meaning, I was so sick, and it was my own failure to speak up that caused it! Because now that I have spoken up about it, Victoria University have been so lovely and accommodating about it. It really is about other people’s health and not just our own. But I guess you already know that, Twoteacups. And as for that comment? After the sting faded, it inspired me further to go for broke at gaining employment from home. You are so right! Why else would we even bother going through all that?

      Pink, Fuscia and shades of purple make me happy :)

      • Haha yes that was quick! Sometimes your new posts pop up right when I’m checking my email. I always look forward to reading them! I love your insights and the way you write! It’s good that the woman’s comment didn’t discourage you. Sometimes we have to get angry enough to really fight for something and stand up for ourselves.

Information, products and views presented by guest bloggers @The Labyrinth are not necessarily the same as those held by this blog's author, Michellina van Loder. Reviews are my own personal opinions (unless stated otherwise); and satire is used throughout personal posts. Any health topics discussed are not to be taken as medical advice. Seek out medical attention if needed and do your own research; however, you're welcome to use mine as a start.
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