Which poison will change your life?

Today, I came across the book Which Poison Will Change Your Life by Glenna Chance. She’s an illness activist who has written this book seeking to reverse society’s toxic trends.

Due to an illegal pesticide application in 1988, Chance was poisoned. At the time she was pursing a career in music; the life-changing diagnosis of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity sent her in a new direction where she has had to deal with the physical implications and lack of legal parity that often accompany MCS disability. She has worked hard to bring attention to the disease and support those who suffer with it.

From the PR website:

“The book introduces and explains the author’s own illness, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, and related “invisible illnesses” which include Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Autoimmune Disease among others. Comprehensively addressing government involvement in these illnesses and the problems they create, Which Poison Will Change Your Life encourages readers to question the medical status quo, seek scientific truth, and support environmental and disabled law.”

Which poison will change your life? That’s an interesting question. The poisons that may have been responsible for changing mine—in this order—would be: swimming pool chlorine (Yep, I accidentally inhaled some while servicing a pool. I kid you not.); the solvents used in the application of artificial fingernails, their removal, and their decoration; the use of perfume (Oh, but mine were designer brands; surely that makes a difference?); and the use of *normal* household cleaners—Spray and Wipe, Morning Fresh dishwashing liquid, that type of thing—and finally, the use of more *normal* products out in the garden such as RoundUp, and Weed and Feed. Apart from the chlorine exposure, these were supposedly normal products to be exposed to. I didn’t have a clue that these behaviours would one day contribute to me being sensitive to chemicals. And if someone had told me, or I had come across a book like this one, I can’t honestly say if I would have absorbed the warning …

Anyway, Chance is the founder and director of MCSAdvocacy.com, an agency which advocates for the MCS-disabled and their families who need assistance in finding housing, benefits, non-toxic products, and medical and legal resources

Interestingly, while digging for research, I found these House Rules (no, not Jodi Picoult’s House Rules ) on the MCSAvocacy site. These remind me of the time I had my boyfriend over and I made him take his clothes off while standing outside in the driveway (it is closed in from the street’s view) because he had those artificial-rose-aromatic-solvent-air-freshener type fumes emanating from him. He’d already come into the house, and my eyes were already itching, and the inside of my nose was burning, and I’d said, “Get the hell out. You stink!” So there he was outside, butt naked, while I turned the shower on, got him a towel (verbally bounced him into the shower), turned the air-filters on high, and threw his “contaminated” clothing into the wash. It’s all about being an assertive woman, I tell you! You should have seen him afterwards, wearing my pyjamas while his clothes were in the dryer. Funny! If only I had a photo to post. (If I actually did that, I don’t think I’d still have a boyfriend—well, not this one anyway.) The point is, we now have house rules. Because it’s pretty shitty if I’m wearing a mask while out shopping, driving, and going to Uni, doing my best to not breathe in chemicals that cause symptoms, and then I let my *honey buns* into the house with aromatic solvents on his clothes, and then get affected. Isn’t it? (Note: the Rose smelling air-freshener was sprayed out over him (by a fragrance emitting device (FED)) in the toilets at his work.)

Perhaps I should do a post titled, ‘How to have a boyfriend while sensitive to chemicals’? It has been a hard won battle that’s for sure! And boy, have I got some tips. The first one would be: it’s not like it’s necessary to wear a mask (just so I can breathe without getting sick around my boyfriend) in my own home, when I can persuade him to be fragrance free instead. And besides, I could always just take my bra off and wear that over my face, I’m sure that’d convince him!

I digress, if you’d like to read more about the book, click here: New Perspective on Big Issue: Why Are We So Sick?

Cheers

Here’s to going mask-less and braless!

If This Were Only Possible

If This Were Only Possible (Photo credit: live w mcs)

Choose Friendships Over Fragrances

Often, asking someone to forgo using his or her fragrance products (such as perfume, aftershave, washing powder, or hairspray) can be awkward. You just don’t know how that person will react. I’ve had all sorts of responses, from kind acceptance of my request, to utter outrage—stemming from their perception of ‘my’ breaching of ‘their’ human rights. (Like breathing air unhindered is not a basic human right? And it—the outrage—just goes to prove that breathing is something that people take for granted… that is until they have problems doing it!) Asking a friend to skip using fragrance (so you can access the friendship, so to speak) and asking a professional such as a doctor, dentist or lawyer (so that you can access a service, and/or building) to go without fragrance are completely different challenges. One is required (by law) to help you, but the other one (the friend) has to have your best interests at heart to be able to help you. It’s easier to find a new dentist than it is to find a new friend. I’ve found that it helps to set the bar high, I don’t have a lot of friends but the ones I do have would never wear fragrance around me. It’s about education really!

Just because, the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has included reference to MCS in their revised Guideline, Access to Buildings and Services (Guidelines and information (HEREOC 2007) does not mean that knowledge about MCS, chemical sensitivity, and Environmental Illness is common among the general public—yet.

This, taken from HEROC’s website, states:

“The Use of Chemicals and Materials section of the Guidelines state: A growing number of people report being affected by sensitivity to chemicals used in the building, maintenance and operation of premises. This can mean that premises are effectively inaccessible to people with chemical sensitivity. People who own, lease, operate and manage premises should consider the following issues to eliminate chemical sensitivity reactions in users:

  • the selection of building, cleaning and maintenance chemicals and materials;
  • the provision of adequate ventilation and ensuring all fresh air intakes are clear of possible sources of pollution such as exhaust fumes from garages;
  • minimising use of air fresheners and pesticides;
  • the provision of early notification of events such as painting, pesticides applications or carpet shampooing by way of signs, memos or email.”

Now, why can’t we get the general public to do this? Am I kidding? No, I’m not. It’s all about creating a balance. And education (did I say that already?). And it’s about repeating yourself. And repeating yourself. And… you get the idea. People are bombarded with adds to scent things: their washing; their hair; their armpits; their houses; their cars; their dogs even. If manufacturers used only non-toxic ingredients (whether they be natural or not) that have been proven safe for asthmatics, the chemically sensitive, the allergic, and the immune compromised then life would be easier for all us. But it’s not, and unless the people who can’t breathe comfortably around these products, pack up and move to Halifax (a city where council/government have passed regulations to make the place fragrance free so that people affected by fragrance chemicals can access the city without getting sick) then we had better get our education hats on.

Asking a medical professional (especially now that we have the Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: A Guide for Victorian hospitals) or other type of professional is one thing. Often this goes down well, and in the event of not making someone sick, they are happy to comply; however, asking a friend or extended family member is another box of tricks entirely. I’ve perfected the art of convincing people in the professional domain, but when it comes to family and friends, I still struggle, even after nine years. Because of the lack of education in this area, I’ve had to be the educator, and I can tell you, it is frustrating at times and sometimes easier—especially when I’ve had a severe exposure and everything is making me ill—to just recover in isolation. Friends and family can be bias against you, or use excuses like, “Well, she was fine around me the other day [Read: she didn’t say anything about my shampoo/hairspray/deodorant.].” Or, “She’s just having a bad day,” or even (from the people who can’t conceptualise the idea of someone being made ill by chemicals), “She doesn’t like the way I smell.”.

My tips for helping others to help you?

Give them a list of all the products that you are okay with. Products that are safe for you to breathe around; products that don’t make you ill; products you know they use (just find a different brand without the nasty ingrediants). Or my personal favourite? Buy them two or three of each of these products and give them to them at Christmas (and on birthdays). Every. Single. Year. For some reason, this really works…

In this video, from the Invisible Disabilities website Cherri and Karen have a great attitude and some helpful tips to go along with it. Check it out!


And this from the Cleaner Indoor Air Campaign (CIAC) website:

Research done in 2004, 2005 and 2009 by Stanley M.Caress and Anne C. Steinemann “… found that nearly 38% of Americans report adverse effects when exposed to some kind of fragranced product.” With approximately 310 million people in America in 2010, that is almost 117 million Americans who report adverse effects to normal, everyday products.

As we can imagine, people living with Environmental Illness (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, Chemical Injury, Toxic Encephalopathy) often experience limited access into public places, issues at work and inability to attend functions with friends and family. Regrettably, these barriers can lead to loneliness, isolation and feeling abandoned when loved ones choose not forgo the fragrances that cause these problems.

Therefore, if our loved one is telling us they are getting debilitating migraines, dizziness or fatigue from our laundry detergent, maybe we should consider simply switching it out so that they may remain a part of our lives.

For more information on the Choose Friendships Over Fragrances project, visit the Cleaner Indoor Air Campaign (CIAC) and look under “Campaigns.”

Cleaner Indoor Air Campaign (CIAC): http://www.CleanerIndoorAir.org

CIAC is a Campaign of the Invisible Disabilities Association – A 501(c)3 non-profit organization that encourages, educates and connects people and organizations touched by illness, pain and injury around the globe.

Invisible Disabilities Association: http://www.InvisibleDisabilities.org

Resource: Caress and Steinemann.http://depts.washington.edu/exposure/article_faqs.html

They further state:

The people in this video are not employees of IDA. We are simply sharing their story in order to help others living with Environmental Illness (Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, Chemical Injury, Toxic Encephalopathy). The opinions expressed within are not necessarily those of IDA. IDA is not a legal or medical authority nor are we scientists. Please seek the advice of a physician.

You can visit Karen’s website here

Information on the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Advisory Notes Access to buildings can be found here.

And a suggestive list of fragrance free and unscented products available in the US can be found here

And an Australian list, from AESSRA can be found here

And here is one from The Labyrinth ~ and finding my way out.

And here are some fragrance free products that are available in Germany

Update December 2012: You can read another post about friendship and fragrance, here

Here is an extract from it:

Do you know someone who says fragrances bother or disable them? Chances are pretty good that you do.

Fragrances used to be made from pure plant extracts. Not so anymore, in fact they have become increasingly toxic over the last decades. And they are virtually everywhere now, even outside emitted from dryer vents everywhere.

When your friend, family member or colleague informs you that something you use has an adverse effect on them, how do you respond?

Do you choose the friendship?

Or the product?

Are you willing to stop using your perfume or cologne and other scented products to be “safe” near your friend? Are you willing to stop using fabric softeners, dryer sheets and fragranced laundry products? What about your favorite moisturizer or lipstick if they are causing the adverse symptoms? Are you willing to shop around for new ones that don’t have toxic fragrance chemicals and other harmful ingredients? How willing are you to do these things for your friend, family member or colleague?

When you choose the friendship, you also choose health; your health, your friend’s health, and eco-system health! And when you do, we are able to enjoy your company, your self, your gifts and your services, your experiences, your sorrows and your joys. We can enjoy being WITH YOU!

When you choose the products, we can’t!

Why not?

(Hint: it’s usually not because we don’t like you anymore)

That is from Linda Sepp’s Life with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: The importance of safe housing blog. You can read more here

Do you have any tips on getting friends and family to NOT use products that make you ill? Have you ever been asked to not wear a product that’s been making someone else ill?

Copyright Michellina van Loder 2012. All words & photography by Michellina van Loder—unless otherwise stated.