Back in 1991, I was injured on the job by some paint fumes and my whole life changed. I developed serious food allergies and sensitivities to everything in my environment. I became allergic to everything in my own home, I reacted to plastics of all kinds, and I couldn't breathe outdoor air. I was literally a captive in my own home for the first year. When I couldn't go out, all the air inside my own home had to be filtered especially for me and I had to wear charcoal face masks to breathe. Also, I began to experience depressions, mood swings, and a lot of confusion and memory loss. I would go into one room and forget why I was there. I know a lot of people have that complaint, but I had it consistently throughout the day. I would lose my memory about what I was doing. I couldn't go out in the car and drive myself to the store because I wouldn't be able to find my way. I lost the ability to read normally. Still now, two years later, I have to read things over and over and give my brain a lot of opportunities to retain the material. I still have that deficit. I have trouble dealing with numbers.
Unfortunately, because my chemical exposure happened to me on the job, I became a workers' compensation client. This meant that I was very often sent to doctors who were unwilling to believe that there was something wrong with me or who didn't understand what the syndrome was all about. So for months at a time, because of their diagnoses, I would go without any treatment at all and I would just get worse. My lifestyle changed so that I literally became a hermit in my own home. I had my family doing all my daily activities for me, such as shopping. I just became a captive in my home for about a year.
Luckily I found several doctors who were able to diagnose and treat me with various methods. Dr. Wunderlich was one of the first doctors that I saw and he helped me quite a bit. He administered vitamin C drips, a vitamin supplement program, and allergy treatments, because every allergy that you can think of was triggered in my body. I had a total allergy syndrome. Everything that I breathed in and everything that I put on my skin I became allergic to. To this day, I cannot use any kind of lotions, cosmetics, fragrances, or hairsprays, and I doubt that I ever will be able to use them.
Very, very slowly I began to get better. I still have a lot of setbacks because of chemical exposures. I can't tolerate anything like gasoline fumes, new plastics, or any kind of new materials in a building. I have very restricted access to public places because of fragrances that are often used in offices, stores, or public restrooms, and because of cleaning solutions and sprays used in public places. So now, after two years, I am still very, very slowly making progress. But from everything that I have learned, I have several more years ahead of me before I can bring my immune system back to where it should be.
I like people and I have always, all of my life, been around people. One of my greatest frustrations has been that now I find I have to dodge people because of the cosmetics, perfumes, and sprays that they use. A big part of my life is spent dodging people in order to protect myself from these things. They set off severe migraine attacks that can put me into bed for two and three days at a time.
I was forced into changing my lifestyle. I had to change my way of eating, and my way of living. I had to change a lot of the products that I used in my home to nontoxic products, like baking soda and vinegar solutions. Now, that is all I use in my home. I've gone to a semi-vegetarian diet. Most of my vegetables are organic. I eat very little meat, and no flavorings. I have to be on a completely yeast-free and sugar-free diet. It is an extremely restricted diet. But I have gotten used to it and I realize now that it's an extremely healthy diet. It's a natural diet, the type of diet that people probably ate 50 or 60 years ago.
My experience with various doctors has made me see the need for more physician awareness. It was frustrating when I ran into, or was sent to, so many physicians who saw me as a neurotic middle-aged woman because of the symptoms that I had. The symptoms that go with environmental illness are numerous and have to be taken seriously by the medical profession. It is not all in our heads.
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