My MCS Journey

By Janine Ridings

In February 1993, my husband and I decided to have the interior of the condo we were living in painted. A quick dry oil enamel product was used which turned out to be highly toxic to me. The paint affected my nervous system. In addition, I experienced chest pains, various gastrointestinal problems, fever, and chills. We were forced to move out of the condo after several unsuccessful attempts to get rid of the paint odor that was making me ill. We lived with my parents for about seven months until we were able to purchase a home.

After moving into our new home, the next unusual episode occurred one night as I was out in the garage, getting ready for a garage sale. All of a sudden I started experiencing similar symptoms to what I had had after the paint exposure–anxiety, chills, tremors, and gastrointestinal problems. This time I was unable to pinpoint the cause of my symptoms, so I consulted an Environmental Specialist who figured out the source of my symptoms. It was determined that a weed killer in the garage was the culprit. At this point I joined a support group for people with MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity) but did little to change my lifestyle.

The next crisis came when I decided to clean my carpets. After the carpets had been cleaned, I returned home and had an extremely bizarre reaction to the cleaning chemical used. When I walked into my home, I felt a burning sensation all over my body. In addition, I experienced gastrointestinal symptoms along with the inability to concentrate. After numerous failed attempts to get rid of the chemicals that made me ill, I was once again forced to move from my place of residence. My parents were gracious enough to let us stay with them for four months and then we stayed in a hotel for another four months. During that time, we were forced to sell the home we loved and we purchased a different home that I could safely live in.

Having been displaced from two residences due to reactions from toxic chemicals, I finally started realizing this was not just a simple allergy problem I had. This was a major illness that was having a significant impact on my life. I finally started to change my lifestyle dramatically, ridding my home of any potentially toxic chemicals and replacing them with safe alternatives such as baking soda and white vinegar. I also started being careful about where I went so that I would not continue to expose myself to toxic environments such as dry cleaners, print shops, and remodeled or moldy buildings.

Even after making attempts to live my life more cautiously, I still encounter unforeseen exposures to chemicals. In February 1998, I became very ill after an airline trip where I was exposed to jet fuel fumes. My symptoms included seizures, debilitating fatigue, and various other ailments. I was bedridden for about three months, during which time I had to have people take over my duties as wife and mother.

Looking back, it saddens me to think that so many of my problems could’ve been avoided if I would have had proper information warning me about the potential danger of chemicals. Being displaced from my places of residence twice was a very devastating experience for me and my family. Prior to becoming ill, I had never heard that paint, weed killer, new carpet, fragrances and other chemicals could cause people to become ill. After my airplane trip, I learned that 1,000 other cases of chemical injuries had been reported to the airline I had flown on, yet no warning was given to me about the potential danger before I stepped on the plane. More education is needed to make people aware of the risks of chemical exposures.

At the present time, my lifestyle is very limited. I stay home a majority of the time in order to avoid chemical exposures. A simple trip to a mall, a doctor’s office, or even someone’s home could trigger symptoms such as migraines, seizures, tremors, difficulty breathing, and blurred vision. I am thankful for each outing I am able to go on. My church has been very helpful in providing access to me so I can attend Sunday services. They put occasional notices in the weekly bulletin asking people to not wear fragrances to services. In addition, they have provided a designated room next to the main auditorium which is a “fragrance free” zone for those with MCS. I also am able to attend some outdoor events such as my son’s baseball games and picnics.

One of the most difficult things about having MCS is having to miss events such as my children’s performances in school concerts, weddings, and other parties. Most often it is the toxic chemicals found in fragrances that prevents me from attending events like these. Halifax has become the first major center in North America to prohibit the wearing of all cosmetic fragrances in most public places such as hospitals, classrooms, libraries, courts and massive transit buses. The rest of society needs to jump on the bandwagon and follow their example in having “fragrance free” public places so people with MCS can be assimilated back into mainstream society.

Even though the challenges this illness brings to my life are often overwhelming, some positive changes have also occurred in my life as a result of having to live with MCS. One of the best things that has happened to me through the challenges is that it has forced me to reevaluate the priorities in my life. This has caused me to reflect on what really matters most to me in life which are the three F’s: faith, friends, and family. I feel I live a more balanced lifestyle now as a result of having to live with a chronic illness. In addition, instead of focusing on all my losses I try and focus on the blessings I still have left in my life.

It’s time that consumers demand that manufacturers of potentially dangerous products label them as such, with possible health risks explained. Just as drug companies put warning labels on their products, so should manufacturers of carpeting, air fresheners, perfume, pesticides, and other products containing toxic chemicals.

Categories Special Subjects | Tags: | Posted on January 30, 2012

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