Now, Imagine How This Feels…

(This is a repost from 3 December 2013)

Imagine that it’s Tuesday, the one day a week where I am lucky enough to attend an Advanced Nonfiction class at Victoria University (VU), and I’m psyched! I don’t have to worry about air-borne fragrances or solvent-based particles from spray deodorants or solvent-fragrance based hairsprays contaminating the classroom air. I don’t have to worry about having to leave the class due to symptoms bought on by breathing in fragrances that other students may have used. I don’t have to worry about the molecules of these toxins sticking to my hair and clothes, making me sicker later on. And I don’t have to worry about sitting in class while wearing my mask and not even knowing if there are solvent or fragrance chemicals emitting from other students into the air of the room (My sense of smell is virtually blindfolded by the 3M mask that I sometimes have to wear to protect my health… If it wasn’t impeding on the ability of my olfactory sense, then sure, I’d be able to breathe it in and smell it, thus warning myself, but not before getting chronically ill. Sometimes for days.).

(Just so we are clear, you know it’s breathing in these chemicals that cause symptoms, not the actual ‘smell’, yes? Of course you do! Silly me for even asking that. Next time, I’ll ask it rhetorically.)

Imagine being chemically sensitive to solvents, fragrance chemicals and the petrochemicals used as ingredients during the manufacture of designer fragrances, the el-cheapo imitations, and in popular deodorants (like Lynx, and Mum), and  getting to go into class each week, safe in the knowledge that (retrospectively) 94% of the time)) people will have made the effort to go free of these products? (Sure the air may smell of scents, due to shampoos, conditioners and roll-on deodorants; and it may even be floating with notes of patchouli and jasmine from products containing essential oils because in our requests to get people to go fragrance free it has been explicitly expressed that it’s preferable for them to use products that contain natural ingredients. I know this is not an ideal situation for some chemically sensitive people but for me, it totally was! An essential oil could never impact on my health in the same way as a spray on fragrance does.)

Imagine that there is a notice in the Student Handbook explaining that some students are sensitive to chemicals and that there are some classes where people will be reminded to be ‘mindful’ of certain chemical-based products.

Imagine the teacher sending out an email the day before to remind the rest of the class to consider my need to breathe air unhindered? Sure, I could wear my mask for the whole class but as many chemically sensitive and immune compromised people know, there are a few problems with this: firstly, the lack of oxygen is not conducive to learning, thinking or contributing to discussion; secondly, there is the limited ability to show facial expressions, therefore, causing a hindrance in communication (not for everyone, a few people, mostly teachers, see past the mask and talk to me as if I am the same as everyone else); thirdly, and most importantly, it can be dangerous in that if there is a lot of fragrance in the room, it then gets on my hair, skin and clothes, and sometimes into the tear ducts of my eyes, but additional to that, if I sit in the room for the whole class, then leave and remove my mask, I become chronically ill due to solvents, petrochemicals and fragrance chemicals being all over me and in my airways. And lastly, what some of you may not know, and I’ve only just recently found this out from the Disability Discrimination Legal Service (DDLS) myself, is that wearing the mask is actually a forced impediment! I have a right to go to class and not wear a mask, just like everyone else. That’s on top of the law that states that it’s Indirect Discrimination to not be able to access the class (or any other area where people have equal access) due to air-borne fragrances.

Imagine the cleaning staff changing to using fragrance free products in the buildings that I use. (Perfume-free Library room and building 10.) And that they are doing this with the intention to change to using fragrance free products in the rest of the university when the other products run out. (Their theory behind this: the chance of fragrance free products impacting on other students health is almost none, the chance of fragrance chemicals impacting on more students health is higher.

Imagine they do the same with the hand soap in the toilets. (You see even if a student comes to school fragrance free, they won’t stay that way if they wash their hands in the bathroom unless the soap they use is fragrance free.)

(Note: Staff at VU have worked every corner of the boxing ring to accommodate and include me in the classes and lectures; and I’ve never had to use the ‘discrimination’ card to force them to fit me in. (I do know that they’ve injected the word ‘discrimination’ right into the main vein of bureaucracy via communications between various departments. All in the name of making shit happen! It’s like they know that I belong there. I really feel like that! Okay, there was this one teacher… but I’m not going to go there, today. This post is about being thankful!)

Imagine how I felt as I went to class, attending to my studies just like everyone else? At times I felt a tad guilty about the trouble people were going too. But do you know what I found? That speaking out about fragrance chemicals and their effects, gives others permission to do the same. No one wants to be a troublemaker. No one wants to complain—or seem to be complaining—about what products people use. No one wants to be seen to be different (for the wrong reasons).

Towards the middle of the last semester, a text went out asking people to be mindful about all staff and students who suffer health problems from these products. And it said that all classes are fragrance free!

I’ve already expressed how much I feel like I belong in this particular learning institution. So much, that I feel as if my experience and my illness have taught others; but more even more so, it’s taught me that that anxiety I feel in the pit of my stomach right before I speak up about the ‘fragrance issue’, that anxiety is a tool. A tool that I can tap into to help facilitate a positive outcome—for me, and/or for others. It could also be a tool that I use to run, hide, squirrel myself into isolation. But no, I use this ‘anxiety’ to spur me on…

Imagine going to class each week and finding that that anxiety has faded into the background. Sometimes mildly humming  back there, ready to remind me to remind people of the boundaries. Imagine it just hangs out on the peripheral of my attention, letting me focus on my studies, 100 percent.

Imagine going to class each week and finding—knowing that there is an air-purifier in the room that a teacher or security staff member has kindly, turned on an hour previously. Imagine that Victoria University Disability Services (VUDS) decide to put the air-purifier onto a timer, just to make sure it goes on at the right time.

Blue Air Purifier Supplied by Victoria University Disability Services (VUDS) for students who are sensitive and allergic to chemical irritants that are in fragrances and spray on deodorants

Blue Air Purifier Supplied by VUDS

Now, imagine they put a sign on the classroom door, reminding others that the room is fragrance free and that toxic chemicals contained in personal care products can and do cause and exacerbate symptoms in people who have asthma, chemical sensitivities and those who have immune disorders, and to please refrain from wearing them? Imagine they source that sign themselves, via the Allergy, Environmental Sensitivity and Support Research Association (AESSRA) website, printing and laminating it, placing it up around the building: in the main office and the two low-toxic classrooms.

The sign on this Victoria University Classroom door says: "Thank you for not wearing fragrance." And and other sign on the door says: "Please keep door closed at all times. (Noteworthy: people need two signs to be able to notice that there is a sign on the door!)

The Classroom Door with Signs Attached Alerting People to the Fragrance Irritants and Student Health.

Imagine that the Professional Writing and Editing Coordinator, along with my help, drafts up a bullet point list of reasons why students could refrain from wearing certain products; what happens to me if I breathe them in (in the short term) and what happens to me if I breathe them in (over the long term); what they could use instead; and of what benefit it would be to them and others if they could do that.

Imagine how validating that would feel…

Imagine VUDs loans out an iPad to me so that I can minimise my exposure to breathing in petrochemicals from the inks in books and on pages. Imagine the possibilities for utilising this as a learning tool? I can take photos of the notes on the board. And I can use it to photograph documents like class room handouts. This way I don’t have to air them later; or curse when the wind blows them away or they get rained on while out airing. OMG, and the books! And the newspapers I can read on it!!!

Imagine one of my amazing teachers goes to the trouble of putting printed material behind plastic for me?

I know, it’s probably a dream, yes?

No, it’s reality.

(And can I just point out that lately my health has been impacted less by printed ink? It’s been a few months since I opened the mail, breathing in ink fumes that are so toxic to my system that just the exposure to the petrochemicals wipes me out for the rest of the day. I still air my mail. Still take precautions. But I’m not suffering such intense symptoms with printed material. (Glossy magazines. Not so lucky. Massive headaches. Small steps, small steps… I’ll get out of here!)

Now, imagine that it’s the end of the last Semester and that I’m two subjects away from owning my Diploma in Professional Writing and Editing. Owning. My. Diploma. Me? Imagine the buzz radiating within. How awesome would that be?

Access to Goods and Services with MCS in Australia

Winter time, heating is on and I’m doing fine. I can even pop into the office where staff are fragrance-free

Now imagine that the weekly email that goes out to the students before classes no longer asks people to remember to accommodate me, Michellina van Loder. No, it asks that students please refrain from wearing chemicals so VU can accommodate all the students who suffer with this problem…

Imagine that all the anxiety and fear that’s been eating away at me as I collaborate with people to get my needs met, imagine it’s all been worth it. Imagine that it gave others permission to speak up. Others who suffer asthma, headaches, allergies and many conditions that flare when the person is forced to breathe in fragrance chemicals for hours on end.

Imagine this, my reality…

You see for me, this is a really lucky thing, for I don’t have a great support network of friends and family who will go fragrance free for me. Some will go without it for a visit or two. But these people are never really fragrance free because using fragrance is a daily thing for them. The scent is on every piece of clothing or furniture they own, so although it may give me only a slight headache being with them for a few hours, it’s not a pleasant experience. I guess theirs an element of respect, disrespect rather, that I try not to take personally. But alas… It’s in their cars. It’s everywhere, so even when they try their version of going fragrance, aftershave, perfume, scented-face cream, hair-gel free (they don’t use XYZ for a day), it’s still a problem.

I’m grateful for the few who don’t wear it, won’t wear it throughout their day to day lives.

So this sense of belonging I feel when it comes to attending classes and being a part of VU, it’s an important and valid part of my identity: a student, a writer, a poet, a professional blogger. It’s all wrapped up, right there!

Fragrance is the opposite of a social lubricant; it’s an emollient that rusts away, seizing up all working parts until things are just fucked. And each time you have a discussion with someone who doesn’t want to go without wearing fragrance, the talking—however gentle the persuasion is—causes friction over time. And that there, the resistance, is the rusty beginning of a solid relationship turning into a wasteland of broken hearts and hurt feelings.

But it’s really great that I have this, and I’m so grateful to the staff and students at VU who are up to speed on this issue. Now, we just need the rest of  Australia to catch up!

:)

AESSRA_Used-at-VU-FragranceFree-sign

AESSRA’s ‘Thank You for Not Wearing Fragrance Sign that I used for my classes at Victoria University

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.

My Good News

Today, dear readers, I would like to take the opportunity to thank you all while also sharing some great news. Before I share my happy news, let me say that without all of you I wouldn’t have this to share. You have all been here for me in more ways than you can possibly imagine, encouraging me, supporting me, spurring me on. Some of you have even contacted me to point out the wrong use of a particular word, or to pick me up on my spelling or just to tell me that I’m wrong, or should be ashamed of myself… I value all feedback; I thrive on it. Oh, and a few of you have said you enjoy my writing style.

:)

Anyway, without any further waffle, here it is:

I am now the proud owner of a Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing from Victoria University (VU)

More from my Instagram feed:

On the day I received the cylinder in the mail containing my Diploma, I wasn’t well but I was more well than I had been all year, so though the misty fog of my sickness, it was a bright and beautiful day; and the day became even more luminous for me once I placed this up on the wall and took this photo. It sunk in.

I did it. This is a monumental achievement for me; and I’m so proud of myself. I didn’t need, or try to go to the graduation ceremony: it would have been too much. Perhaps when I go back and complete my Arts Degree, I’ll be well enough to wrangle a graduation ceremony?

However, my boyfriend, Dan, ceremoniously, gave me this:

IMG_1614

The picture is not that clear, in case you don’t have your glasses on [LOOKING AT YOU SONDA!], it’s an owl wearing a graduation hat.

The last year of study, 2014, was tortuous. I recently shared some of what I was going through at that time; group that with a chronic sinus infection that turned out to be an infected root canal, mould illness caused by Pullaria mould and the burden of navigating disability accomodations for a worsening illness, and the chemical exposures (a car that’s like a gas chamber), and the recovery time for those exposures and the stress of dealing with them, and living (still!) in a foil lined house, and I have to wonder how I completed that final year at all. Without a doubt, it was my writing and my actual studies that got me through. VU staff—particularly disability staff (VUDs), awesome teachers and compassionate students also made this possible. But sharing my trials and tribulations as I try to make my way out of the Labyrinth that is chemical sensitivities with all of you along for the ride has been like therapy for me; but even more than that, this blog and its readers have helped me feel more at home in my craft. Thanks to all of you xo [hugs]

FullSizeRender

As promised, I do have some posts in my drafts folder detailing the strategies used by myself and VU, enabling me to attend school. I’ve been busy working on a cookbook that needs to go out, and an interview with someone very special and close to our hearts. Both these are close to completion—so long as I don’t have any major exposures and end up bed ridden for days, everything should go to schedule. Lol. (These tasks are actually distractions I’m using to stop stressing about the actual task of building a safe home; but as you may have noticed, there’s a lot about that going up on this blog already so I’m not really that distracted at all. (Also cathartic for me to share with you! xo)

More

Latest from Pubmed: Reliable Biomarkers for Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and Electrohypersensitivity

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.

Gratitude and Friendships without Fragrance

Yellow Symbolises Friendship

Yellow, the Colour of Friendship

I can’t believe the first semester of the Victoria University (VU), Professional Writing and Editing (PWE), Diploma Course is definitively and definitely over… It’s been a long wild brain squeeze. Probably, because I only missed one class and I was forced to actually use my brain, while writing, and focusing intently on my work; instead of trying to create and maintain a chemical free environment. My ‘Advanced Non’Fiction’ teacher had me enraptured. Can you believe that I’m learning how to write short pieces? Choosing my words judiciously? A blog post that’s just 300 words? A feature piece of only 1200 (mine was 1337) words? Yeh, well you wouldn’t know by the verbosity of my blog postings would you? Patience please. I will get there. But hey, I had to do all this in class.

I’ve blogged about the perfume free room, the safe place where I can go air quality in the classroom has been adulterated with fragrance chemicals. And, how these impact on my health… This year, the staff at Victoria University have put a system in place so I don’t have to ‘assess’ the air and find out for myself. Both of these implementations enable me respite (if needed) and stress relief (now, gone), but more importantly, these mean that I can work at becoming a Professional Writer in an inclusive environment the same as everyone else.

So I’m pleased to share with you this: I only had to go there once! When I say “had”, it’s not like the teacher’s make me go there. It happens based on my assessment of how I feel physically on that day, and whether there are chemicals in the room that are making me ill. Just because I can smell something scented in there does not mean I should go. No. I always hang about and monitor my body for symptoms. Hell, I’ve even been known to shove a pair of carbon nasal filters up my nostrils so that I can’t smell anything. That way I can focus on my work without having the apprehensive feeling of ‘Gee, does that scent contain chemical components that are going to make me sick?’ And, afterwards, if I do get sick, I either leave (going home or to the library) or I push on. (Having said that, if someone actually sprayed on a heap of fragrance before class, the top of my eyelids swell, the mucous function within my eyes and nasal linings dry up, leaving the parts that have contact with air (my eyeballs and nasal linings), to sting and burn; my chest tightens–all within a few minutes. And I taste it. It’s horrid. If that happens—because I now attend class sans mask—I’d be out of there quicker than you can say, “I need a carbon filter mask.” And this year, a fragrance exposure like that hasn’t happened once. Not. Once.

:)

That one time when I did have to leave, there was something in the room, not sure what it was but it had a floral scent to it, bringing on the beginning of a headache. It just so happened we had a writing exercise, and it was the type where they assess us (being worth 10% of our overall mark) and the general consensus is, that students who have a disability or are ‘access challenged’ can sit elsewhere to do it. So I left, going to the Perfume Free room, which is in the library (and has an air filter running in it). While there, it was obvious by the way my headache ebbed pains into my temples pulsating out throbbing beats up through the veins protruding out from my forehead, and the way my lower back throbbed, aching, expanding discomfort across my hips (a chemical based symptom caused by the inhalation of airborne solvents or/and petrochemicals (and sometimes woodsmoke)), I knew that I’d just made an agonising yet serendipitous escape.

One of the six Blue Air Purifiers provided by VU. This one's in the Perfume Free Library Room

One of the six Blue Air Purifiers provided by VU. There is one in the Perfume Free Library Room and a couple in my classrooms (the others are used for other students presumably). (The sign on it says: Property of Student Engagement. DO not touch or remove.)

By the time I finished the exercise, and had drank every available liquid that I had with me (a large flask of rose hip tea and raw organic honey; 600 ml of water; and one coconut water), along with a teaspoon of tri-salts, my bladder was about to burst. As I slapped on my mask, and took off to the nearest fragrance free toilet (a 2.5 minute walk away) and took a pee, the pains eased off. I emailed the teacher as to why I didn’t want to come back afterwards. It turned out, that the class was finished and I’d gone over time but the teacher said that was okay. Whoever wore that product didn’t wear it again. (It’s like the staff at VU have turned into magic fairies who just effortfully manage this situation, thus saving me the stress of confronting a room full of people and asking for them to help me. Again. And again. I no longer have to do this. (Immense Gratitude for this.) It’s not good Public Relations (P.R) apparently. And that’s okay. (Having said that, I think I need to do a course in P.R.)

And the last writing exercise we had, just a few weeks ago? One that was just a classroom exercise where we weren’t going to be graded on, but still required studious concentration, (We had to write an anonymous pretend blog post and then we all got to read them later on, wondering who wrote what.(I’ll post mine later. It’s about coffee!) I didn’t have to leave because, just like all of the other classes, there weren’t any chemicals in the room causing me to feel ill. The teacher asked me if I’d like to go elsewhere, and I replied, “No thank you. I’m find here.” We smiled at each other. We were both pleased. (I must tell you that I have the most awesome teacher. If I could write like her, and speak like her, I’d be as high (with happiness and self-satisfaction)  as that Gonzo Journalist in Fear and Loathing! But besides that, she has created the most inclusive fragrance free culture within the class. And minimised my exposure to petrochemical based inks. It’s magic. I’m in a place of peace and gratitude and it’s the one thing in my life that’s working out! I love VU.)

So it was just that one time, which was three weeks into the first semester (or there abouts). Isn’t that amazing? I know that my readers in Canada may think: ‘Yeh, this is normal in a school situation. We often go scent free.’ But this is Australia. And let me tell you, thanks to your leading exemplary examples, we are catching up! (Kisses and thanks to all my Canadian darlings xx.)

Anyway, people get it, they really do: the staff at (VU), the students there (in my classes) understand about the fragrance issue. This, I’m so grateful for. My heart swells with gratitude and I want to make the most of what I’ve learnt, so they can say: “We are so happy we helped, Michellina van Loder, emerge. She has made us so proud!” (Or something to that affect.)

Which brings me to the point of this post (finally). Early on, when I started this blog, The Labyrinth ~ and finding my way out, I posted: Choose Friendship over Fragrances. This idea resonated deeply because I was in the mist of losing a friend. (Oh, I’ve lost a few over this illness. But in the losing is the dark gift of realisation that they weren’t true friends at all). Apparently, this happened because (after 18 months of an intimate-sisterly-share-all-your-dreams-and-desires type of friendship) she absolutely had to go back to wearing her beautiful designer fragrances. At first she said it jokingly. (She’d just returned from overseas and had bought so many duty-free perfumes, she was flaunting the unopened, and unwrapped boxes, in front of me. On that same day, she also showered me with gifts, so I was feeling rightfully confused by this highly excited contradictory behaviour.) Additionally, she complained about how she wanted her house to smell “nice” again. This baffled me. But the look in her eye as she said it cut deeper than that because I realised that, perhaps, she was serious…

You see, we were never meant to be: *Dimka and I met way back when, before I became chemically sensitive—hell, it was fifteen years ago—and we never became close because our worlds were just too far apart. She was a homemaker; and I was—Anyway, five years later, I became chronically ill from a series of chemical exposures, so, on my treating doctor’s advice, my daughter and I moved away to Portsea, to live out near the ocean’s fresh air. Apart from a few understanding souls who befriended us, my daughter went to school, but I lived in virtual isolation for five years. I made progress with my recovery, then moved to an organic farm, where I near fully recovered, then, cocky with the joy of re-joining and rejoicing with the human race, we moved back to the city. My house was near Dimka’s house and we started hanging out. Just coffee, going to the shops, catching up once a week. Her attending my daughter’s dance concerts. Me visiting her dog while she was overseas. That type of thing. And, occasionally, we smoked cigarettes and painted our toenails together!? Stupid, I know. But I was *cured*, yeh? Besides, we did it outside in the fresh air and I thought I’d be okay. Duh!

So in the beginning of our friendship, Dimka new I couldn’t be around fragrances for long without getting ill; and she knew I couldn’t be around aerosol sprays without getting chronically ill. This woman was deeply respectful of that, and she changed everything. Just for me. And for that I am grateful. That was such a sweet thing to do. And it blew me away! Dimka set about removing every fragrance device from her house. Still, when I visited, mostly I stayed outside in her beautiful tropical cum Mediterranean garden. I am a difficult friend to have. I can’t just sit anywhere; and if I do sit somewhere, I often have to get up and move to somewhere else where I can breathe easier. Like the time her husband had painted the back gate a few weeks earlier. It was an oil based paint so I end up sitting far out back near the vegetable garden.

Once, she supported me by accompanying me to a funeral, making sure I wasn’t standing next to another mourner drenched in the socially, culturally and fashionably accepted ‘accessory’ expected to be worn with a suit or other mourning attire: designer fragrances.

She set an example to others in our immediate family and friendship group; and others emulated her lead. (Cause that’s how this ‘not wearing fragrance around people who get sick by it’ thing works: People follow!)

But still, between her shampoo and her hairdresser appointments, there were many times where we had to ‘do coffee’ outside and I had to keep a few paces back from her. She felt bad. I felt bad. So she tried harder. I enjoyed her company; and, seemingly, she mine. She was funny. And we got to laugh about the misogynistic values, held high amongst some of the men folk in and around our immediate social group. And, from a feminist perspective, together we compared cultural differences between her culture and mine. Even though English was her second language, and she couldn’t write very well, she was a highly intelligent woman. And a wickedly fast learner.

However, when I decided to enrol in my course at VU, I couldn’t make her understand my reasons. Her first concern was: “Why would a forty-year-old woman want to waste her time going back to school?” Mmm… Why indeed? (That is a whole other blog post.)

:)

Ergo, my writing life leapt on at a furious pace: it was my first year at University and, giddy with the taste of becoming a real writer, I was ambitiously busy making an idiot of myself writing essays that didn’t cut the publishing grade.

Although, later on, mid-year in my second year, I revelled in the discovery that by reading poetry out loud, I could charm her. Appearing delighted, she exclaimed how, in candlelight cafes back home, poets read their works, people sang, and how the atmosphere was so romantic.  She missed her country so much. And by the pride reflected in her eyes, I thought she finally understood why I ‘wasted time’ going to classes. Hurtfully though, another time, I read her an extract of my novel, with the working title: Chaos and Adversity, (which, purely for the protection of her chaste values, I explained that it was only a fictitious story). She liked my homeless character, Jack and his dog, but was concerned for his cleanliness. However, when she met Nicky, my main protagonist who, while pregnant and addicted to heroin, worked on the street as as sex-worker, Dimka kind of lost it: Her lips pursed in disapproval, while giving me a motherly stern lecture about how writing this type of filth could reflect on my character as a person.

(I wasn’t hurt in the way the fragrance issue between us cut me up. No, it was a slight on my novel as a whole. But you know? She’s not a writer, so her opinion was only of value to me as a reader; and with her choice of reading fodder being that of romance novels (in her language), what was I to expect?)

Later, when I asked her to donate some clothing to a charity organisation that I was collecting for, not only did she refuse but she said that I had to keep my distance from people like that or our family and friends will think poorly of me. Her lip curled in disgust as she said that. Something within me changed that day because sometimes my heart bleeds for those girls who are out on the street.

Then, three months into my third year at Uni, I began to get ill. It started during the holidays, after a trip to Thailand. The gist of it is here. One day, over coffee outside in my kitchen garden, while suffering physical symptoms bought on by Dimka’s hair products. She had just been overseas, I had sworn off the cigarettes because just breathing in second-hand smoke made me dizzy. And this coffee catch-up was no different. My face began to get hot, increasing to a boiling stinging over my whole face. Alarmed, Dimka exclaimed that my face was glowing red. Amused at her distress, I agreed.

Kind of like this. Same shit; different day...

Kind of like this. Same shit; different day…

“Yeh, I Know. It’s a histamine reaction to fragrance chemicals in the shampoo you use,” I said placing my cup onto a coaster with a picture of a frangipani on it.

“No, you’re going through menopause,” she said knowingly as she gave head to her frustrations by sucking on her menthol slim cigarette.

Then a few weeks later, during a visit, my eyes started smarting from her washing powder and fabric softener (as they had been doing with everyone else’s). I explained what was happening and she got it. Or so I thought. I gave her some of my products to try. She didn’t like my conditioner, which was fair enough. And she refused my offer of a box of fragrance free washing powder.  (It’s futile, trying to control people who you have no control over.) We began to see less and less of each other.

To cut to the chase: when she found out some truths about me via gossip from someone else, even though I didn’t admit to them, I didn’t deny them either. (I’m not ashamed but I’m not about to disclose my open heart for the crows to pick at.) And for all of these she judged me. So, I suppose that when she said:

“I need to tell you, I’m going back to wearing my expensive perfumes,” she said as her forty-five year old face crumpled into that of a petulant child. “I miss them so much.” And then she said she was going to go back to using scented plug-ins too. [think ‘Ambi-Pur’ or ‘Glade’ contraptions that plug into power points spewing out truly-potent-fragrance chemicals into the air and onto everything and everyone in their vicinity] “I miss my home smelling nice,” she said.

Obviously, it was just an excuse for her to break off the friendship. I could sense that. And I cried because this had happened before with extended family members (mostly teenagers, which is easier to understand) but never, ever had this happened with a close friend. So in Dimka’s case, I was grieving the loss of an ally, a confident of sorts but I was reassured in the knowledge that I hadn’t shared my truest of hearts. For that I save for my writing… and my blog!

(There are an abundance of slights and hurts in this life that have cut deeply into my heart because of my physical sensitivities to chemicals, and I know that’s just how it is: it’s like once you are sick there’s a line drawn between you and the rest of the world. If you are well enough and others are thoughtful enough to help you, you can walk along that line but if, for some reason (like the example above) you can’t walk it, then most commonly, you are excluded from life and most social activities. But, if others are compassionate enough to change their use of chemicals in your (*and other chemically sensitive individuals) favour, then you get to either cross it and partake in the world where everyone else is, or… not. Because if you don’t have that ‘group mentality’ on your side, then you are stuck on the other side of the line. Isolated. Alone. Excluded from the pack.)

(True friends are like angels. They go out of their way so they can cross that line and come into our world. Chemical free.)

Then, in 2012, as most of you, my dear readers know, I became so ill I had to live in isolation for a few months. So the wound Dimka dug into my heart, her human failing, blew away into the past, covered over by the crackling thunder of chronic pain.

Luckily, this year, I’m on the mend.

:)

Chinese mythology suggests five colours of the rainbow symbolises harmony on Earth

Chinese mythology suggests five colours of the rainbow symbolises harmony on Earth

And, surprisingly, I’ve made some new friends. Friends who used to wear fragrances too. Friends who have become educated about the harmful effects of fragrance chemicals. Friends who now feel better themselves for not using it. Friends who feel good about themselves because they wouldn’t want to wear something that could and would cause harm to others. Friends who have read, or heard about the content of my writing and they’ve withheld their judgement. Either that or that they just can’t care because they are so absorbed in their own writing.  Some care enough to edit, comment or share the joys and failures of the publishing grind but that’s as far as it goes. Ethics prevail:

We are writers after all. We are poets. We are journalists. These ‘elements’ of life are just ingredients for whatever pot is on to boil. Whether we came by them via research or life experience is of no consequence. It’s the emotive content of our writing that matters. The impact. The punch… And [as I cower down, frightened] getting published.

So when I met these new friends, friends like *Pat. ‘They’ are a student who has there own labyrinth to walk through. But they are amazing. Pat is an angel of immense light. When they found out about my condition, they inundated me with questions about fragrance free products, and how to actually go fragrance free. And they changed their whole personal care regime. And this time not just to accommodate me. No. They changed because they are smart enough to understand that this could happen to them. Or worse, as they told me from their perspective, they could seriously injure someone else and not even know it, and that horrified them. (How compassionate is that?) And another day, they even rallied in my defence with some other students when a minor issue popped up early in the semester. It was—well I’d love to say, but for privacy reasons… Just imagine it as ‘office politics’ but the sort that surround fragrance issues in the same way that ‘office politcs’ surrounded the smoking issue in days long gone past… (Progress for us all is in sight!)

Outstandingly, they offered to go to the supermarket and conduct research on my behalf about exactly what fragrance free, and unscented products were available in the leading supermarkets of Australia. I was astounded!  Pleased too: I could add them to my growing list of ‘Fragrance Free and Unscented Products’ that I, and the staff members of VU were distributing around the classes and the main office. (I’m also creating an eBook, which I will give away for free right here. (After I finish a couple of reviews, and interview and a Vlog.) Pat blew me away. (As did around 59 other students.) Such compassion. Such empathy. Pat healed the wounded part of me that Dimka had crushed. And for that I’m truly grateful.

Angels do walk amongst us…

Words cannot express enough gratitude for the belief, now restored in the existence of grace and goodwill in others. My perspective of humanities’ capability for compassion is restored also; but I hope with all my heart that my words have at least touched on expressing this. In regards to friendships and my schooling, I’m truly amazed at how this year has gone so far. It’s almost like a dream.

These are the flowers that *Pat gave me a few weeks ago!

These are the flowers that *Pat gave me a few weeks ago!

Oh, the flowers? Pat asked me if I could have fake flowers around the house. They new that if I had real ones (even though I collect and love plants and scented flowers, I can’t have them inside), when I’ve had to many chemical exposures, and I’m sick, exhausted, and my sinuses are inflamed and throbbing, inhaling any scent can be painful. Thoughtful much? I’ll say!

And, this is how much this friend gets it:

Money in a zip-lock bag

Money in a zip-lock bag

When Pat gave me change for some fragrance free products that they were kind enough to buy for me at the supermarket (I got to try new hand soaps, liquid hand soaps, and a washing powder (amazingly they were all fine!), they put it into a zip-lock bag so that I wouldn’t have to touch it just in case it had fragrance on it. (I hadn’t even mentioned that problem; they worked it out for themselves!) Now, my dear friends out there who have chronic chemical sensitivities will know how much of a problem money can be. New money is usually okay. But most money is covered in fragrance (or the smell of the chemicals in cocaine). Weird, I know…

*Names have been changed to protect the angels and ignorants that walk amongst us…

How have you had your faith in humanity restored by friends who understand how difficult it can be to socialise when you suffer physical symptoms to chemicals and/or fragrance?

What are some of the kind acts that friends have done for you?

If you’ve had a friend who shut you off because of fragrance, you’re welcome to share?

Or, if you are not sensitive to chemicals, how far would you go for a friend who has this problem?

My Soapbox is your Soapbox!

Is someone missing from your life?

Source: usodep.blogs.govdelivery.com via The-Labyrinth on Pinterest

 

For Your Perusal, There’s So Much More on This Topic

Ichigo Ichie: Human Canaries and Friendship

Allergictolifemybattle: Cookie Baking and Friendship

SondaMCSchatter: The Secret to Friendship is Being a Good Listener

Linda Sepp: Friendship and Fragrance

Invisible Illness Week: Let’s Choose Friendships Over Fragrances

Disability Blog: Friendships Over Fragrances (The Disney Holiday)

Cleaner Indoor Air Campaign: Choose Friendship Over Fragrance

The Labyrinth ~ and finding my way out: Choose Friendship Over Fragrances

Sherri Connell: Going Fragrance Free When Visiting a Loved One

David Lawrence Dewey: Are Perfumes and Pesticides Slowly Killing You?

Letter for Churches. The Cleaner Indoor Air Campaign

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.

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.
Translate »