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What a Toxic Hit is Like

When I go somewhere, I never know how much it’s going to hurt me, or for how long.  This is one of several occasions when I have tried to document the process of recuperation, to support others in understanding the symptoms, and what kinds of environments will prevent this.

People often get confused when they meet me one time and I’m engaged and vivacious, but they meet me another time and I avoid their eyes, don’t stop to talk, or seem like I’m brushing them off.  I’d like to walk you through my experience of the gradual loss of function, the fading into the fog that happens when I’m exposed to things like my neighbour’s laundry fragrances from the dryer vent, or the personal care fragrances at an indoor event.

First, I’ll often feel a little nauseous, but guaranteed, I get a sharp and growing pain in my forehead. That pain both grows in strength, and spreads further and further into the rest of my head.  The next thing to happen is usually a growing ache in my muscles and extremities, as the toxins I’m breathing in faster than my liver and kidneys can remove them begin to accumulate in back-waters.  This is when I’ll usually excuse myself and leave, if it’s not an event I’m trying to learn something from, or obliged to stay at.

If I can’t get away from the toxic fragrances, solvents, pesticides, or other manufactured air pollutants, my thinking and reaction times will begin to slow down.  The amount of time it takes me to understand what someone has said to me, and formulate a response, gradually exceeds the length of time people are willing to wait.  And my short-term memory begins to cut out.  At this point it’s debatable in terms of how much learning benefit I’ll gain by staying, because even if I’m taking notes they get very disjointed.  So this is the next window of opportunity for taking my leave and stopping the intoxication process.

If I’m committed to staying at an event such as a family wedding, or somewhere I’m giving a talk or training, sometimes I’ll stay beyond this point.  This is when sensory distortions begin to happen.  Sometimes my tongue swells.  Sometimes sounds become distant and echo.  Sometimes my vision and balance get messed around, so I go to pick something up and knock it over by being in the wrong place.  But just about guaranteed, I reach a point where I begin to react emotionally, as the hormone-mimics in the fragrances begin to drive my emotions from the outside.  This is particularly disturbing.  If I can, I leave at this point.

I’ve decided that I don’t care how alienated people are, any more.  When I go to give talks and trainings, if the organizers are unable to successfully negotiate with their attendees for a scent-free environment, I’m taking my gas mask.  But it makes me so sad, thinking of the kids who can’t avoid these fragrance-covered educators, health professionals, and others.  The kids who are so “intoxicated” by the chemistry surrounding them that they never even realize what’s making things better or worse.


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