Mold can make you weak if you don’t know how to fight back…This is an incredible story of transformation involving mold exposure.
I’m one of the rare individuals who developed chemical sensitivities as a child. Migraines were one of my key symptoms. How miserable this was for my parents, as well. I still remember an experience that was so potent a memory because it involved all my senses.
I was four years old and I went with my family to a local holiday market. The odors were so memorable—synthetic fragrances mimicking pine, clove, apple, and cinnamon that most people associate fondly with Christmas—and in a few minutes, a migraine came on. I was suddenly extremely light, sound and smell sensitive, nauseated, dizzy, with a bad headache, and of course, crying pitifully and begging my parents to leave—just about five minutes after walking in the door!
My parents dealt with this pretty well as I grew up. My mom and sister are also chemically sensitive, though to differing degrees, and both also get migraines. My Dad, he’s just very understanding.
Over the years, it slowly worsened. At first, it was hard for me to pinpoint why. I spent my adulthood learning what I could and could not do, but my world kept shrinking. It became harder and harder to go in stores, into houses, and go to movies. The migraine triggers increased, along with a scratchy throat, burning eyes, and soon new symptoms appeared. I’d get spasm-like gut pains, stabbing pains in my chest and lungs, and spinal pain that became so extreme I had to quit yoga. But worst of all was brain fog—the feeling you can’t think or process a thought.
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I’m a real estate broker. The funny part is that I chose this job in part to be able to control my environment. I still had to be exposed to people’s very chemical-laden homes, but at least it wasn’t everyday. After being exposed, I could take necessary time off to heal up afterwards. This method only worked for a few years. Taking time off to heal meant being home sick a lot, and then exposing myself once I was well enough again—not a way to live a happy life, but I thought it was necessary. I knew I couldn’t work a regular job with daily exposures. Eventually, the healing time took so long I didn’t have “healthy days” anymore, and I was no longer able to work effectively.
By the time I was in my early thirties, I couldn’t live a normal life. My world was a maze of avoidance and decontamination from aromatics, chemicals, pesticides, and fragrances, including essential oils. I never felt like I could avoid enough things!
Besides migraines, I developed bad fibromyalgia, CFS, dramatic food sensitivities, chronic chest pain, and developed an autoimmune disease of the skin at an early age . I also became completely resistant to treatment. I was what is sometimes referred to as a “universal reactor”—a person who reacts not only to inhaled chemicals, but also to almost anything ingested, whether chemical or food. Even a tiny amount of a problem food, such as the corn-sourced dextrose found in iodized salt, would make me extremely ill if I accidentally ingested it. At my worst, the only safe foods I could eat were cooked cabbage and beef bone broth. I finally was no longer able to work at all, and grew so ill that my husband spent most of his time caring for me.
A Funky Discovery
But then, two years ago, I stumbled upon the cause, with the help of a friend. I read the book Mold Warriors, by Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker. In it, he tells about how he discovered a syndrome in his chronically ill patients created by exposure to biotoxins —toxins made by living organisms, like some molds, algaes, Lyme disease bacteria, and venomous animals, like spiders. These patients had “multi-symptom, multi-system” illnesses like mine, often with severe headaches, gut problems, pain syndromes, CFS/ME, brain fog, and memory issues. Mold exposure in our home, which was my childhood home, as well, was possibly causing this illness!
I was most astonished to learn that he himself also developed MCS from exposure to biotoxins produced by mold—and that he had cured himself by getting out of the exposure and detoxifying his body. That was the first account I had heard of a person healing from MCS. I was amazed. I spent a lot of time reading research and methods of defining biotoxin illness, websites about mold-induced illness, and eventually met more people who had experienced the same thing and recovered.
In 2014, we had our home tested and found high levels of 36 different types of molds, including Stachybotrys, Chaetomium, Penicillium, and outrageous amounts of several species of Aspergillus. I left our home for a trial period, which authors Lisa Petrison and Erik Johnson call a “Mold Sabbatical”. (They wrote a book detailing this process called A Beginner’s Guide to Mold Avoidance.)
A mold sabbatical is a testing period where you leave your home, possessions (including clothes, shoes, books—everything), and if you can, region behind, for about two to three weeks. During that time, you see if any symptoms change. After this trial separation from your belongings and environment, you re-expose yourself to some of your belongings, one at a time, and see if you have a reaction.
A sabbatical like this is really hard to do when you have MCS, because it means finding a safe place, buying new clothes, new bedding, etc—and not exposing any of these items to your potentially contaminated home. Many people camp during this process because it’s so hard to find a safe place to stay. Already having MCS, I totally got the concept of avoidance. But now I needed to avoid something I couldn’t completely detect—mold.
When you are living in it and it’s on your belongings, you become accustomed to it. You are “masked”. Being “masked” is similar to being “noseblind”. It means that both your senses and reactions to a problem substance are dulled. Your senses don’t detect things that you are constantly exposed to, like mold or fragrance in your home or on your belongings. Getting away from those exposures for a long enough period, like with a sabbatical from your home and belongings, allows your body to reset and your senses to “unmask”.
After a week, I felt quite different. By week two , I was having more clear, migraine-free days than I’d ever had in my life. It was remarkable.
Toxicology Expert Dr. Jack Thrasher on Mold Exposure :
Shock and Awe Begins
The day of reckoning arrived. I knew that any reaction I developed upon returning would have to be from mold since none of my old belongings were scented in any way.
I’d lived with MCS almost my whole life, so nothing chemical-laden was ever allowed in my home. Just to be safe, I sought out the best air purifiers for removing airborne particles. I recommend doing the same. Just keep in mind there are many models out there, so be sure to do your research ahead of time. I found this review list to be an excellent resource. In a strange combination of both horror and relief, I found I reacted terribly to my own clothing. I became radically ill with extreme symptoms (migraine, swelling feeling in my head, wacky visual disturbances, Parkinson’s-like movement issues, and chemical sensitivity worsened), just from brief exposure to my normal clothing.
My husband had his own reactions, also very distinct. We repeated the “tests” to make sure we believed our own senses. I consistently developed a migraine, as well as all my normal MCS symptoms, and more symptoms I didn’t even realize were related to toxicity. But now I knew the cause, and I realized I wouldn’t have to live with this illness forever.
Another big surprise—I could smell my clothes were moldy! I was so shocked, as I have an extremely sensitive nose. Yet before doing the sabbatical, I could not smell mold in my own home. I even reacted being outside of it. This was deeply saddening, but would eventually become incredibly freeing as I healed from this terrible illness. I have not set foot in my house since leaving it in May 2014 for the sabbatical. And that marks the beginning of my life and healing journey.
Healing From Mold Maddness
That was two years ago. My husband and I have found this is a long healing process. We both needed a lot of detoxification. Biotoxins lodge in the fat, just like most petrochemicals, and they take a long time to leave the system. We tried many treatments designed to speed the process. We’ve used silver extensively. It helped clear nasal fungal infections. Using it in a neti pot, I added it to a 1/4 cup of salt water, done once a day for a couple of weeks.
We also used prescription and non-prescription binders to absorb the chemicals, as well as nutritional supplements that aid liver and chemical metabolism, and coffee enemas (which also aid the liver). Saunas and baths became part of our daily routine. Eventually, we healed enough to reduce our regimen down to the treatments we found most effective for maintenance—coffee enemas and nutritional supplementation.
As I healed, my sensitivity level increased. Interestingly, so did my husband’s—and he is not chemically sensitive. Soon we could detect more and more types of problem mold exposures. We were unmasking new levels. But there was a problem. We were still both highly reactive to exposures, and that kept our lives and health unstable. Going into a problem building could leave us feeling sick for days, with nerve, joint and muscle pain, nausea, headaches, dizziness, gut pain, and for me, a brief return of more serious symptoms, like my autoimmune disease, POTS and CFS.
In March 2016, we took a trip to Palm Desert to visit a doctor who has treated people with mold-induced illness and MCS. Travel is hard for me, but I was very motivated. My husband and I even made a tent, because I need to avoid chemical exposures both in the environment and fabrics. (Many tents are typically made with toxic substances like fire retardants and waterproofing chemicals.) We drove down to the Southern California desert taking the cleanest route possible east of the Sierras. Essentially, we were doing a second sabbatical!
Our first day camping, I felt quite different. Even though I’d barely slept, I woke up refreshed and, incredibly, not achy at all. When we got to the desert I noticed more changes—I became less light sensitive, my energy increased, and my digestion normalized. Then we saw the doctor and he did something I didn’t think was possible. He gave me a homeopathic which dramatically reduced my lifelong chemical sensitivities in less than a day. It was truly phenomenal to me, because I’d seen many skilled homeopaths in Oregon, with no success for MCS there. But down in the desert, I was experiencing what some mold avoiders call the “locations effect”. I’d found a place where my body was less compromised, a place I could heal in new ways.
When we returned home to Oregon, my husband and I both had a regression. Our doctor and other people experienced with mold illness had warned me about problem locations that have powerful outdoor toxins. That was in part why we made the trip to Palm Desert, to see if there was an effect to my being in a new environment. As we drove back into the Willamette Valley of Oregon, I developed a migraine, heart palpitations, Parkinson’s-like shaky movements, nausea, exhaustion, and my chemical sensitivity increased again. We repeated this trip two more times, with the same, convincing results.
A pattern has been documented by other mold avoiders showing problem outdoor locations, mostly cities in the U.S. One outdoor problem has to do with an airborne toxin, which is believed to be “Penitrim A”, a mold neurotoxin that has been studied by Norwegian researcher Angel Moldes-Anaya. That toxin can be produced by a few different molds, but Penicillium crustosum is one that commonly produces it. Testing found high levels of P. crustosum in my moldy home—the home I grew up in, and lived my adult life in, where I developed chemical sensitivities from an early age. I now suspect this was my MCS trigger. It may be what caused me to get sick upon reentry into the Willamette Valley, the exposure that undid the effective homeopathic I was given. This location-related experience was so convincing we moved to the desert region where we found I do well.
At my worst chemically sensitive time I was an eight (with ten literally “living in a bubble”, and eight meaning I could leave the house, but I would get very sick with every exposure and have a long recovery period). Now I’m about a five or six and I keep improving. I was able to go into a shopping mall this week! Briefly, but still, that was unbelievable progress.
I’m healing and feel stronger everyday. What’s more, I’m healing from lifelong MCS—something I never thought was possible.
Kim Crieger Goodwin has sold real estate for 20 years, while studying herbalism and health. She is currently focused on helping mold survivors find healthy homes. Since recovering from biotoxin illness herself (mold-induced illness), she is learning to live with less stuff and loves it.
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