Today, I’m re-publishing an article I wrote for AESSRA’s Sensitivity Matters Magazine way back in 2007 when I first bought my Subaru, which was lovingly slaved over until it became a safe enough car for me to drive. This car and I were so good together. We drove to Wilsons Promontory, and many other camping spots. We outdrove bushfire smoke quite a few times, sleeping down near the beach; and tackled dirt tracks just to find tranquility amongst clean air. Sadly, it’s no longer safe for me to drive. I now know what it’s like to live in self-imposed reclusion. Without human contact. I get it when other chemically sensitive people say they avoid contact with others for the sake of their health. I put off doing this for so long. I guess I need the business of human interaction; the sound of laughter; the visual palette of colour seen in peoples’ clothing; the warmth of a familiar smile; hearing snippets of conversation, or being part of a conversation (No, Facebook does not count (for me, it’s too awkward, but, yes, Skype does!).
This year is my hiatus from Victoria University, sure, I’ve got a house to build, so taking a year off is a good idea. But due to the situation with my car, it’s a forced hiatus. I can’t say I miss the occasional fragrance exposure or wrangling a fragrance free learning environment, but I can say I miss the interpersonal relationships, the teachers, the other students and most of all the assignments. Even though I’d only go to class once a week, and on those days I’d Double Up on Chemical Exposures for the Sake of Convenience, that one little slice of life was enough for me–even if, at times, I did get sick.
After driving my car last Friday to go shopping to choose a floor tile, I ended up sick in bed until Monday lunchtime: that was the whole long weekend laid up with a smashing headache, depression-and-sadness-like symptoms, irritability, photosensitivity, exhaustion and nausea. I suppose the good thing about this–now that it’s over–is that I can see there’s a set of symptoms that are caused by the fumes (from the car’s own exhaust fumes, and other cars’ fumes) that are not what they seem. It’s only because I’ve had the last six months of respite to actually enjoy feeling like the normal happy-go-lucky person I am that I have the acuity to see that a mass chemical exposure can cause these type of emotional symptoms. I kind of worry saying this (here, on the internet, and to people I know, like my GP or specialist) because I, myself, find it hard to believe, so I guess others may find it difficult to believe also. What helps me to know about this is I’ve often (over the last two years) felt suicidal when recovering from chemical exposures, and to know that this is not how I actually feel and that my feelings are not a true representation of my life or my self-worth, despite my illness, that it’s just a set of symptoms is valuable. It also puts the concept of others not understanding, not being tolerable to our situation into perspective also: this too shall pass as will they. (This may be a part of why we are forced into living in isolation: we need to save ourselves!)
If anyone else goes through this, or has in the past, I understand, I really do.
When I went to the tile shop it was the fourth one in about a month. I tried to space each of the visits out around a week or two so that I had time to recover (which, in each case, was the very next day), therefore, not causing my chemical sensitivities to worsen or spread to other substances (or worsen food intolerances). I wore a mask (two actually!). I took someone with me who could steer me away from fragrance wearers, or quickly out of the shop if there were petrochemicals or solvents [think tile grouts and glues]. It’s possible there was something in the shop while I was in there (for around forty minutes), and they did sell carpet samples (Hello! Carpet samples! Yeah, I know.) Afterwards, on the way home, car fumes, diesel fumes, my car’s fumes, woodsmoke and damp air (it’s winter here in Melbourne) swamped me. I held the two masks over my face as tight as I could trying to filter out noxious fumes. I knew I was getting sicker by the minute but I also knew that a part of me should’ve been happy: after four tile shops in just over a month, I’d found my tile at my price. Sadness and depression can come over in an instant? Yes, and I lost all my cognitive skills and memory, couldn’t breathe without sharp pains deep in my head, behind my eyes, and I started to cry. Uncontrollably. The drive home (about fifty minutes) was like going to hell and beyond. The next few days were only better because there were no fumes gassing away my health, however, the shock of what happened still remains:
I’ve decided to drive my car as little as possible, and in fact, I’m mostly driven around in it due to having lost my memory a few times (once on a freeway). In a few weeks I have a dental appointment down in Melbourne; a trip that’s usually exciting to me (seriously, I don’t get out much!) I plan to wear a respirator mask all the way there and back; however, not into the dentist’s as they’re very accommodating.
I’m still excited about this trip because afterwards we can get some sweet potato fries from Lord of the Fries (I BYO my own sauce! The recipe can be found here.). I just need to not get sick so I can enjoy my fries and not want to throw up over them.
Anyway, here’s my article, hope it’s of help to someone! There’s also some information on the Foust car filter that I use. If your car keeps out fumes, it’s great to keep the cabin space free from outgassing chemicals!
If you know of a brand of car that’s suitable for someone else who is sensitive to chemicals, particularly petrochemicals, solvents, fragrances and moulds, a car that’s preferably an AWD wagon or van (an SUV is a possibility also), one that has a pollen filter (and possibly a HEPA filter), please let me and my readers know in the comments below…
The Labyrinth: Is Your New Car Smell Harming You?
The Labyrinth: How to Seal in Fragrance in Your Steering Wheel (Cause it’s not going to wash off, yeah?)