LIVING with Chemical Injury. It is Chemical Injury Awareness Month!
What is a Chemical Injury? It is the result of exposure to a large amount of chemicals at once or a small amount over time. Like me, it can happen to anyone who is regularly exposed to the chemicals in everyday products. Not just pesticides and cleaning products, but also chemical fragrances in perfumes, air fresheners, laundry detergents, deodorants, lotions, etc.
The chemicals attack the nervous system, immune system and organs, leaving the person highly susceptible to very serious neurological reactions to small exposures, which leads to severe isolation and abandonment by friends and family who do not want to adopt a fragrance free lifestyle.
For more information go to the Invisible Disabilities Association’s website: The Cleaner Indoor Air www.CleanerIndoorAir.org
Visit my website at: www.SherriConnell.com
Flying HIGH after having an INCREDIBLE Christmas week with family in Wyoming!!
Had such a great time with Wes, Melanie, the boys and Melanie’s sister and kids!
Thank you all for using fragrance free laundry and showering products!! What a beautiful time with all the kids and your sister and family!! Love you all SO much!! And thank you, Deb and Bree for house and pet sitting!!
Wait! I have more news! Wayne and I spent New Year’s Eve with family and friends and not home alone as usual! We had a great time laughing and playing cards! It was SO good to see the people we love again!
Praise God I was able to stay (usually too much chemical fragrance) and enjoy the evening! Been down with fevers and welts in my throat since then, but at least I was able to be there. Thank you everyone!! I have missed you all SO much! It has been WAY too long!
Many loved ones feel overwhelmed by the endeavor of going fragrance free. They don’t know where to start, where to buy products and often fear making someone ill by missing something. Thus, they often avoid the issue and in turn avoid the person living with chemical intolerance.
As I tell everyone I come in contact with, using fragrance free and natural products is health choice for everyone. In other words, it can be viewed as a positive change for all, rather than a sacrifice just for someone who has an issue.
For those who for whatever reason don’t want to change out all their soap, shampoo, deodorant, lotion and hair products, one suggestion I have for people is to keep a Fragrance Free Kit.
Of course, if they want their loved one to visit their home, it will probably need to not have any air fresheners, new carpet, paint, lots of candles, carpet shampoo, stains, harsh cleaners, smokers, regular perfume wearers, etc. On the other hand, if these are not an issues, often there can be some compromise.
First, if the loved one cannot tolerate fragranced laundry products, those will need to be changed long term. These do not wash out easily and linger for many months or longer even when washed multiple times.
Second, we can purchase fragrance free shampoo, soap and deodorant. We keep this under our cabinet and pull them out to use for several showers before visiting with our loved one. We can omit other hair products, lotions, sprays, etc or add fragrance free versions to our kit.
For more information on living with Environmental Illness, the Choose Friendships Over Fragrances Campaign, resources and more: Cleaner Indoor Air Campaign
Do you or a loved one live with debilitating illness or pain? Invisible Disabilities Association
Disclaimer: I am not an expert and this may or may not work for you and your loved one. Please ask your friend or family member what they can or cannot tolerate and what will work for them. Also note that most likely alternatives will not work if there are air fresheners, new carpets, paint, stains, carpet shampoo’s etc. in the home.
I am so thankful for my family who made it possible for me to spend the weekend in their home for Thanksgiving. The weekend was filled with being surrounded by my amazing nephews and I was loving it!!
I enjoyed every moment of the kids running around, playing, wrestling and most of all for their giving and caring hearts! It was incredible to be there with my sister, brother in law, their kids and Wayne’s mom (Karen). I have not been there for a long time, because they had some remodeling done and it took a while for all the new paints and carpets to out-gas.
What’s more, they came and stayed at our house for two days after Christmas. And, we were able to spend Christmas Eve Day with Wayne’s dad, mom (Eloise) and more family. Yay!
My friend, Ann, called me about a week and a half ago and said she and her husband would like to meet us for dinner in a couple of months. How awesome! She said they discussed it and wanted to wait until the visiting and calls started slowing down for me. Sadly, they know the in’s and out’s of grief and loss, because their 17 year old son passed away 5 years ago in February. They are now grief counselors and know this is what is “normal.”
However, as I told her, she was the third call I got and I hadn’t had even ONE visitor at my home or elsewhere since the day I found out my brother passed away. Now it is going on 6 weeks and I can still say the same thing.
My friend, Barb, who came over the day he passed was planning on coming, but she got sick. So, I am sure I will see her soon. Thank you, sweetie!!
But really? Did this really happen? Did I really go through 6 weeks of utter despair without people around me?
I am not hinting for people to call me now. Frankly, I don’t even want to talk on the phone. Yet, it is strange that people weren’t even trying to call and at least talk to Wayne.
People don’t have to come up with the right words to make someone feel better. In fact, it is better to pass on the platitudes and just love someone and be there for them. Laugh with them and cry with them. “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” Romans 12:15. Have dinner together, watch a movie or play a game. These are the kinds of relationships I yearn to have with friends and family, not just in this time of need, but people I can share my life with for a very long time.
I realize that I not only have 24×7 horrific pain and limitations which keep me from being able to get out and about very much, but I also have the chemical sensitivities which also keeps others from being able to visit me. Nonetheless, I have written until I am blue that as long as someone uses fragrance free laundry detergent, I can provide shampoo, soap and deodorant for them to use before we meet if those are an issue. I have offered my medical scrubs and even my shower. There are usually ways around it. Still, I often go months without spending time with people.
These Scriptures keep running through my head, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:39-41 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Matthew 25:44-46
What is really nuts is that with all I have been through in the past 20 years, I have kept my “self-esteem” together pretty well. After all, I am a giving, caring, loving, funny, pretty smart, talented person (tee hee). But now I find myself wondering why I am not worth the trouble. I see people on Facebook talking about having dinner, visits, etc with other people, but they tell me they are too busy.
With being isolated for 20 years and the past 6 years being so extreme, I have asked myself if people would miss me if I were gone. Now, I am not talking about people being sad, because I am sure they would be lots of friends and family who would be sorry to hear I was gone. However, I am talking about people actually missing me in their lives, on their path to church, work, social settings or at home, because I never or rarely see them if I do see them at all.
On the other hand, I am missing my brother everywhere! There is a hole on the big, puffy green chair he loved, a hole on my driveway where his Trans Am rolled in, a hole on my couch where we ate the Texas Roadhouse dinner he drove 300 miles to bring me and a hole in my doorway where he would say, “Hey kiddo! I’m here! Give me a big hug!”
He was always there for me when my friends scattered. I hate that hole! It is everywhere! I just want to wake up from this nightmare and leap into his arms.
ADDITIONAL RELATED STORIES
If we look closely, we can often find Providential Blessings, even in tragedy. What is a Providential Blessing? Well, a Miracle is something amazing that cannot be explained, while a Providential Blessing (PB) is an Extraordinary, Highly Unusual Occurrence that is given as a Gift from the Lord to encourage, even though it may be explained by natural means.
Here are the PB’s I have been given while in the midst of unfathomable anguish after the unexpected death of my brother. I hope and pray there are many more to come, as my heart, mind and soul are crying out in utter despair.
1) Needed a place to stay so that we could attend the memorial services. Because of my chemical sensitivities I had not been able to find a hotel to stay in (except Disney) for 8+ years. They clean with chemicals, often have air fresheners and sprays, carpet shampoos, etc. I had spent 4 months calling all of the hotels in Grand Junction for my reunion. Only one seemed to pass my lengthy checklist and agreed to appropriate preparations (cleaning room and linens with baking soda and vinegar, airing out room, etc). However, when we got there it was worse than anything we had ever been in. I had to turn right around and leave, while I was seeing spots and my legs were going paralyzed.
So, when my brother passed away, we had no idea what we were going to do. After asking around to doctors’ clinics, hospitals and friends, I only had one other possibility. On my previous list, I had passed up on a hotel the last time, because they were in the middle of orchards (which means pesticides). I figured since it was winter, they shouldn’t be spraying. I gave them a call and they passed my giant test! So, we were off and running. It was a nervous ride, with no other options but to turn around and come back with my mom battling lung cancer in the car with us. But the Lord supplied our need!
Wayne went in first to check it out, then came back for me to say that he thought it was OK! When I went into the lobby, I was hit with a mild bit of chlorine from the hot tub and the public restroom was definitely off limits. Yet, the room was great!! Not perfect, but very tolerable and wonderful!
Very shortly, we turned a corner and we were up on a hill looking down into a valley with two sharp peaks on each side. From the very bottom of the peaks, way past their tops and far above our heads was a blast of colors all layered on top of one another! Orange, red, blue, yellow, purple! It was the most incredible thing we have ever seen!
There was no place to pull over and take pictures, so I took a few pictures through the front window and showed up. WOW! A rainbow came down from the sky and into our car! Thank you, Lord!
3) At the grave-site, I leaned over the casket to give my brother a hug. It was very cold out, with snow on the ground, but I honestly felt my head lay up against his warm chest and his arms wrap around me. I didn’t want to let go!
4) Also at the grave-site, my dad and I were both attempting to take a picture of the amazing casket my sister picked out (all black onyx with silver columns). The trees had a dusting of snow and the sun was at the horizon. Both of us when looking through our cameras, saw multiple straight, vertical beams of light coming straight down out of the clouds from above and not from the sun. We both tried taking pictures of these beams, but they would not register on our cameras. I have may times in the past taken pictures with beams of light from the sun. We agreed they were God’s gift shining down on us as we said goodbye.
5) The day after the services, I was lying on the bed while Wayne was working on the computer. I was on my stomach facing the window and trying to enjoy the beautiful scenery. I closed my eyes and prayed silently that God would bring a large bird to my window to encourage me that He is with me. I stayed there for a few minutes, but then realized that was a silly request. So, I got up and forgot about it.
Suddenly a gigantic shadow engulfed our window and slowly flew by. Wayne yelled, “Did you see that? That was huge! It shadowed our whole window as it went by. It was so close!.” I then told him about my prayer. Incredible!
6) Also the day after, my great niece (Avery) came to the hotel to spend time with us. We needed her and she needed us! She wanted to see the rest of the hotel, so we walked her down to the gift shop. It was just a tiny little space with lots of things such as postcards, wine bottle openers and cases and snacks.
I turned the corner and saw this bear dressed in a leather jacket, pants and boots! I picked it up and showed it to Avery. Her eyes lit up and she exclaimed, “Uncle FUN!!” That was what she called my brother, Jim. She quickly gave him a hug and started say things like, “Uncle FUN is giving me a HUG!” Of course, I purchased him and as we walked, she talked to him and told him she loved him and now she can hug him anytime.
When we returned to my mom’s room, she looked out the window to see that someone had made snow angels where the closed, gated and pool was. She said, “Grammy, I think Uncle FUN made those snow angels!” I said, “Wow! I think you’re right! And, look how the footprints go back to the door where the gift store is. He must have known you were coming over, so he made the angels then went into the store to leave the bear just for you!” She thought that was amazing!
7) My brother’s best friend and love, Cindi, went to the grave-site on New Year’s Day. She asked God for a sign. When she looked up, there was a cross in the sky above his grave. I have never seen anything like this with a line going straight up and another across and look at the customized racing flames coming out of the top!
8) Also on New Years Day, my mom was very distraught. She looked out the window to see the sun dip behind the mountains and paint the sky with deep, rich oranges, blues and reds, with Pikes Peak silhouetted and glowing. She heard Jim’s voice say, “I’m okay, Momma! Don’t worry about me. I’m at peace!” … Wow!
9) Two days later, my husband got off the phone with my mom and asked, “Did you hear what happened to your mom this morning?” I said, “No.” He continued, “She was awakened by an intense beam of orange light shining in her bedroom [which faces West]! She said everything looked like it was on fire outside.” I exclaimed, “What?” I ran and got my camera to show him pictures that I had taken that very morning! I, too, was awakened by red beams in my North facing bathroom window. I got up and looked out to see that all of the houses literally looked like they were on fire, like in the Ten Commandments movie! I ran and got my camera and took some pictures of the sunrise, but when I went back to photograph the houses on the hill, they were no longer lit up.
10) That same day, my sister called her granddaughter, Avery to arrange picking her up. Avery said, “Grandma, I miss Uncle Fun!” Deb said, “I know sweetie. How about if I pick you up today in his Trans Am and we go for a ride?” Avery was thrilled. Now, my brother never let Deb drive any of his vehicles, especially not the Trans Am. Yet, he left this car to her! Deb picked up Avery, got her all buckled in then turned on the radio. There was a short silence, no commercials, no talking then suddenly a song burst out right from the beginning! It was by a band, Steppenwolf, that she and my brother had gone to see together and even worked at on many occasions. This was also the band that recorded the song that I used for Jim’s memorial video, Born to Be Wild! This time, another one of Jim’s very favorite songs played called Magic Carpet Ride! My sister couldn’t believe it! She turned to Avery and said, “This song is for YOU, from Uncle Fun” as she sang the words, “Well, you don’t know what – we can find? Why don’t you come with me little girl – on a magic carpet ride!” Avery wiped away her tears and a big smile emerged as they drove off to take a ride on Jim’s magic carpet!
Now, I know these things can be explained. Extraordinary can sunsets happen once in a lifetime and giant birds fly by windows. Even bears dressed in a motorcycle outfit can show up at a fancy country inn with a winery at just the right time and a staff member can certainly go into the pool area to make angels the night my brother was laid to rest. Nevertheless, I believe that God made these things happen and I praise Him for these gifts! We just have to be watching for them and give Him all the glory!
“What we see of God’s provisions teaches us to trust Him for what we cannot see of His purposes.” RBC Ministries Devotional
Thank you Lord for your gifts of hope as we live with crushed hearts and must trust in you for our every breath.
I live with Multiple Sclerosis and Lyme Disease. I get extremely ill from chemicals in cleaning products and synthetic fragrances. This is not rare, as millions report mild to severe reactions to these (even more so with those living with chronic illness, asthma, allergies, chemical sensitivities, cancer, autism, PTSD, migraines, etc). Other than Disney hotels, I have been unable to stay in a hotel for over 10 years due to air fresheners, cleaners and sprays.
Just before Christmas, my brother passed away, so we needed to go to Grand Junction. From several previous failed attempts to find a place to stay anywhere in the area, we were quite scared to try again, but it was imperative that we find a place to stay.
We certainly did not need a hotel this fancy, but had exhausted all of the other options and chains. When I called the manager of this hotel (Jerome) and went through my very lengthy list of qualifications (no smoking, no air fresheners, no sprays, room can’t be near laundry, exhaust or outside smoking, etc), he didn’t even blink an eye. He was happy to answer my questions. Once we decided to make a reservation, he didn’t mind cleaning our room and linens in baking soda and vinegar!
The trip there was nerve-wracking as we had to go and we couldn’t just sleep in the car! We also had my mother with us who is battling lung cancer. When we arrived, my husband went in to check out the room and soon waved us in! We were greeted at the door by Joe and found our room to be fabulous!! The room was clean and comfortable and they had a very nice condolence card for our family signed by the staff.
Another great thing I would like to report is that the chefs were well versed in gluten sensitivities and were also able to accommodate our other food allergies.
HOWEVER! Although the room was absolutely fantastic, I do have to share the negatives and warnings about the things we did encounter for others who live with chemical sensitivities, toxic injury, asthma, allergies, etc.
1) They do have an automatic air freshener in the public restrooms off of the lobby (but none in the lobby, halls or rooms). They will be receiving a nice letter from my husband with information about the chemicals in these units, along with several alternatives based on the information found in this website, the Cleaner Indoor Air Campaign.
2) Even though they use a low chlorine type hot-tub, a slight to moderate chlorine smell is in the lobby and lower levels.
3) The neighbors in the winter use wood and pellet stoves; we did not detect this from inside the room, but could when going outside or opening the windows when it was cold outside.
4) This in is in the middle of vineyards, in which pesticides are used in the spring and summer (we went in the winter).
Even with these hurdles, we were able to secure ourselves in the room and get a good night sleep. None of the other hotels my husband tried stepping into in the area were even a slight possibility.
We cannon thank the Colorado Wine Country Inn enough for taking such great care of us!!
WARNING: I can’t guarantee how your experience will be at this hotel or any other. Please try ay hotel at your own risk after calling to ensure they do not use what you cannot tolerate, asking them to make accommodations and having a back-up plan in case it doesn’t work out! We went through all of the proper steps last summer, but still could not tolerate the room whatsoever.
TIDBITS: Nearly 38% of the population reports some sort of adverse health effect from chemicals in fragrances. Approximately 15% or more knowingly live with chemical sensitivities; it is suspected that many more do as well, but do not make the connection between their symptoms and the source. According to a 2010 study, of the 133 VOCs found in 25 everyday products, “24 are classified as toxic or hazardous under U.S. federal laws and each product emitted at least one of these compounds” (2010 Anne Steinemann, Ph.D).
Earlier this year (2011), my husband and I had to take a trip to California for medical reasons. Since we were already going to be there, we decided to first stop in Disneyland for some much needed fun!
This was a huge endeavor, not only because I have Multiple Sclerosis and Lyme Disease, but because I also have severe chemical sensitivities and food allergies. Turns out that they were extremely knowledgeable about food allergies, so that was awesome. Read more here!
The biggest fear was that we had never taken a long road trip and we had no idea if I would even be able to stay in a hotel, because of all the chemicals commonly used to clean them. However, they were extremely helpful regarding the room! In fact, they are accustomed to cleaning rooms without chemicals for those who request it and they even have linens and towels that have not been washed in fragranced detergents.
Even arranging all of this, it was a gamble, because the regular use of chemical cleaners and sprays usually linger in carpets, walls and beds. Nonetheless, I am elated to report that the room was delightfully wonderful! I didn’t notice and residuals at all!
The only issue I had was when the housekeepers cleaned the room below me, it wafted up into the vent. We shut it off and left the room. It was fine later.
Of course there were other concerns that could not be helped, in which I had to take care to avoid. For example, housekeeping carts and other sprays in halls. Also, being exposed to laundry detergents, soaps, lotions, deodorants, sunscreens and more from the people in the parks. So, we scheduled the stay during a very quiet time and thankfully I only ran into it briefly a couple of times. In addition, there are rides and shows that have fragrances emitted; but the accessibility crew helped us map those out so that we didn’t go near them.
Finally, the last concern on the agenda were the air fresheners in the park restrooms. Since I am unable to enter a bathroom with those in it, I wouldn’t have have anywhere to go.
My husband (Founder and President of the Invisible Disabilities Association) was able to share information with them about chemical sensitivities, asthma and allergies through the Cleaner Indoor Air Campaign. After Disney reviewed the statistics and details, they made a permanent change at all Disney Parks for the sake of those with environmental illness. Read more here!
I can’t guarantee how your experience will be at Disneyland or at any other hotel or resort. In fact, after our wonderful stay at Disneyland, we booked a hotel so that I could visit family I had not gone to see in over 5 years. Even though they claim they cleaned with the products and did not spray anything, the room was thick with chemicals. We had to pay for the room even though we immediately left. My husband drove up and down the road checking out other hotels, but none were tolerable! It was a nightmare!
Video above of Sherri interviewing Pluto and Minnie and thanking Disney for all they did.
In 2009, I created a poster just for fun to place on my Facebook Page. It occurred to me that in the scheme of things, it all boiled down to friends and family choosing the relationship over the perfume, laundry detergent, soap or deodorant. All my friends living with chemical sensitivities went nuts! Even my friends who do not have MCS thought the whole idea and slogan were very thought provoking and cleaver. They all loved it!
So, in 2011, the Cleaner Indoor Air Campaign decided to launch the Choose Friendships Over Fragrances project, with this poster and several variations. The posters are available to print at no cost and I do not receive any pay for these. However, it is priceless knowing many people are able to express their desire to preserve relationships that are often broken due to the fragrances that are prevalent in so many personal care products. In the end, I hope that people are not offended, but instead come to realize that their friend or family member’s health and inclusion in holidays, get-togethers and simple visits is much more important than a few fragranced products.
Read More About My Environmental Illness
For more information on the Choose Friendships Over Fragrances Project, go to the Cleaner Indoor Air Campaign.
The Cleaner Indoor Air Campaign was launched by the 501(c)3 non-profit organization, the Invisible Disabilities Association. Due to the extent and severity of Sherri’s illness, she is not an employee nor board member of IDA. Sherri does not receive any royalties or compensation from IDA nor any other party.