Friday, October 24, 2014

The Healing Process (Step 1: Avoiding Triggers)

If I go back to the root of my health problems - the aching muscles, the incapacitating fatigue, the brain fog all started with toxic black mold. You couldn't see it. The water damage was hidden in the walls of my childhood home, but when the air was professionally tested, the results meant we had to leave everything. It was too dangerous for us to keep living there, breathing there, too dangerous to keep our possessions. I walked out, not realizing it was for the last time, holding only a trash bag of clothes.

My symptoms improved when I lived with a friend, but the damage to my body had been done. When I attempted to return to my summer office job, I began to appreciate that air quality would be something I'd be conscious of for a long time to come. Though I'd previously worked there without issue, I found that I now couldn't think straight during my shift, couldn't remember short-term details, couldn't concentrate or multitask in that office. With tears and embarrassment, I had to ask for a transfer, demoting myself to manual labor.

My first semester of college, I faced repeated pesticide spray applications to all the buildings and dorms. Like one of the bugs, I became so ill that I was ultimately driven away from that school for good. On medical leave, I transferred to a college that would work with my disability, but it was not easy avoiding multiple buildings with serious air-quality problems, especially when one of them housed the department of my major.

Avoiding environmental triggers has become a lifestyle for me. It's an awareness I take for granted because of 16 years of experiencing reactions and learning what "innocuous" products can set off a negative response of neurological, gastrointestinal, and/or flu-like symptoms. Something as simple as a neighbor's lawn being sprayed for weeds can have a serious effect on me.

With the discovery of intestinal permeability, I have also come to understand why these environmental triggers overload an already overly stressed body. When the liver and the kidneys and the immune system are already working hard, fighting a war within, the added insult of chemical exposure from without can be the tipping point between functioning and being incapacitated.

Before healing can begin, it is often vital that environmental triggers be identified and avoided.

Triggers I try to avoid:
This list is just a sample. Things like car exhaust, cigarette smoke, the detergent aisle at the store, gasoline at the pump, new paint, varnishes, new carpet, and new cars are all in this category.

Take a look at the ingredients in the personal products you buy. Do you want to absorb those ingredients through your skin? Please read what is burning in your candles. Do you want it in your lungs? Test your house for mold if you sense any damp or musty smells, see brown stains in the ceiling, or have a history of water damage. Check out your work environment if you are employed. Do you feel better when you are away for a few days? Is your time spent in a basement? Do your eyes burn? Do your lungs feel tight? Do your ears crackle? Does your face feel hot after leaving? Do you feel kind of "spaced out" but can't figure out why? Think of mold. Think of pesticides. Ask questions.

The bottom part of that list, medications like antibiotics, birth control pills, steroids, and NSAIDs are all common causes of worsening intestinal permeability. I've been prescribed all of these. If you have taken them and suffer chronic illness, read about how your intestines may have been affected.

The main message here is that avoidance is possible and necessary for recovery. Can I avoid all of these things perfectly? No, but I'm continually trying to educate myself and find alternatives. The process of healing chronic illness is not one dramatic change. It is a series of small choices that add up. Avoiding harmful triggers is one of the best things you can do for your body to begin the healing process.