You might think I’m joking. Or you might even think I’m exaggerating for effect. But no. Sending mail as physical letters and packages in Canada has recently become a guaranteed toxic hazard for people with autism.
Why? Quick refresher:
Standing in line to mail a parcel or purchase stamps in a large, airy, old post office made of wood and stone used to be just a minor-to-moderate toxic hazard. Not everyone wears man-made scents and fragrances (in their deodorant, laundry and dry-cleaning products, shoe polish, water-repellant fabric finishes, and so on).
And in cooler or cold weather, people’s fragrances are often muffled under thick outer layers, reducing transmission into the air around them. So in those old post offices, I very seldom felt like I needed a gas mask, or got “intoxicated” and “hung over” from poor air quality when I got in the queue to pick up a package.
Fragrances are in the same class of chemicals as neurotransmitters. This is one of the biggest reasons that essential oils (natural oils distilled from fragrant plants) have so many health benefits. When we breathe them in, they are speaking directly to our nervous system — and often our hormones, too.
Unfortunately, man-made fragrances are almost all neuro-disruptive, or neuro-toxic, and many are hormone-disruptors, too.
Many people notice that they don’t like specific scents. That dislike is chemically valid; their noses are telling them that some chemicals in that scent are causing them harm. And different people are more — or less — vulnerable to different kinds of harm.
All autistics have some degree of impaired detoxification, and therefore are accumulating toxins faster than everyone else. It takes less toxins to overwhelm our autistic bodies’ ability to squirrel toxins out of the bloodstream into fatty tissues (and hopefully keep them out of our brains and cell membranes), or to alter toxins so they can get moved out of the body.
Several years back, in an effort to keep cutting costs, Canada Post decided to form an alliance with Shopper’s Drug Mart. With Shopper’s to maintain the physical space needed, Canada Post could then close down increasing numbers of its old, graceful, non-toxic, postal services offices.
Now, Shopper’s Drug Mart architecture is modern and toxic. Shelves, counters, and other furniture are often particle board, off-gasing nasty glue vapours. Paints are not chosen to be low VOC. Plastics surround almost every product, leaking estrogen-mimicing resins and hydrocarbons into the air. And so on. But that’s really not the worst of it.
The worst? Shopper’s locates its perfume counters right by the door. People are actively encouraged to spray these fragrances on themselves and in the air from sample containers. In addition, these stores have aisles of chemically-scented products, from facial tissues to shampoo (by the way, that’s why I use a hanky… can you imagine getting intoxicated from wiping your nose or eyes? Blech!) You literally cannot go into a Shopper’s Drug Mart without toxic exposures — though maybe your body handles it better than mine.
When I need a toothbrush, some cotton swabs, or replacement hair ties, I do everything I can to avoid going into a drug store. Usually I can get what I need from our local food buying club, or from a health food store, or even occasionally a large grocery store (which has fewer toxically hazardous aisles). But when it comes to sending mail, or receiving packages, I have no choice.
Actually, I do have three choices.
Canada recently added MCS, or multiple chemical sensitivities, to its list of disabilities. Most people don’t realize MCS (or impaired detoxification) is one of the five root causes of the challenging symptoms of autism.
But it’s going to take a while for the regulations to catch up to MCS being a validated disability. And catch up to what a “barrier-free space” actually means for people with MCS, in terms of scent-free policies, non-toxic home-building, non-toxic schools building and maintenance, and non-toxic public spaces…
Like post offices.
So, you might be wondering, why is this an issue for me, right now?
Canada is putting some anti-spam legislation into place, something I heartily approve of… and of course, it affects my newsletter. Among other things, from now on, I need a real physical address to put on each email I send to my mailing list.
Now here’s the challenge. Susan has let go of her office, and my office is in my home. Where I live. And I HAVE to keep my home a protective, peaceful space.
It’s been over 20 years since I began giving talks and answering questions about autism for parents, educators, health professionals, and spectrum adults. At the beginning, I didn’t mind people knowing where I lived. But in the first couple of years, I got burned.
When some people hit a crisis, even if they don’t know you well, sometimes they’ll give you a phone call, and sometimes they’ll come by, desperate for an answer on what to do. They don’t mean harm. They’re desperate, and I understand that.
I feel pretty desperate myself sometimes, despite all I’ve learned about how to live well with autism. I have a tough time keeping my life stable, never knowing when things like the neighbours’ toxic laundry products will steal my physical comfort and ability to work.
When I reach out to help other people, adding their stress to mine has to be done carefully, so I don’t overcome my body’s ability to deal with the extra metabolic toxin load from stress. When people bring their crises into my life randomly, it gets much harder to keep my health in balance, and not have a system crash… and sometimes, I just melt down, which doesn’t help anybody.
My home, vulnerable as it is to neighbourhood toxins, needs to be as safe, peaceful, supportive, and non-toxic a cocoon as I can possibly make it. Without that, I have no place to nurse myself back to health and full function, when the world hurts me too much. And without that, helping others hurts me too much.
It was a big deal to finally get my official autism diagnosis in 2008. I had to trust enough that I wouldn’t be randomly institutionalized when I had a meltdown, and that people wouldn’t use my diagnosis as an excuse to hurt me. I’m now at another one of those points of trust.
I can either pay for a post office box, where the only available option is inside a nauseatingly toxic Shopper’s Drug Mart store, or I can give you my home address. Susan’s office is gone. And I can’t afford an outside office, while I’m investing so much of Bill’s and my resources in trying to learn how to help people like you through the web.
So I’m going to make a special request. I’m going to do another experiment. I’m going to actually put my cell number and home address on my newsletter emails. Please, please don’t use these as ways to contact me when you’re in a crisis. If you want to get in touch with me, these are my requests:
On my end, I promise to:
I really do want to connect with you. It’s been hard, moving so much of my work online. I deeply miss getting to know you in person through the Thrive With Autism courses, and bumping into you on the street for big smiles and impromptu progress reports.
But I can only do so much at once. This webwork is so new to me, and takes so much learning. And it’s not exactly in my genius zone, the way content creation is (sigh)… and it’s seldom even in my competent zone, difficult when pockets are tight.
My new website should be up before the end of the summer (and it has my social media links in the header). But until I move to the new website, just so you have them, my social media links are:
I’m really looking forward to hearing from you in a way that supports us both. Thank you, so very, very much, for caring about someone with autism!