By Caryl Schonbrun
Imagine having to leave your home because it becomes contaminated with fumes from your next door neighbors home remodeling. Imagine having nowhere to go where you can feel safe and well. Imagine living in a tent on a mountain because it’s the only place you can tolerate. Consider - just for a moment - having an illness that keeps you away from the people you love and the places you call home, because of fragrances and toxins that make you severely ill.
This is now the life of my friend Jill, who suffers from an acute and severely debilitating growing sensitivity to chemicals. I know this story all too well myself. I suffer from the same and have had to move four times in the last five years to find, what for me is, a safer place to live. As a former nurse who once handled a break neck speed life, balancing a husband, daughter and career, my body inexpilicly began failing and frightening me. After years of searching for a diagnosis, my family and I came to realize that I had become intolerant to chemicials, even the most non- descript lurking in the particles of my kitchen cabinets. I thought we had finally won a reprieve when my husband and I built a non-toxic house in Colorado that would keep me safe from everyday exposures. It seemed to work well until I realized that herbicides being sprayed in my neighborhood were drifting in through my open windows. Most people don’t realize that some of the same products that they use to kill weeds, can potentially harm some people as well. A whiff of common spray that kills a pesty nest of ants and may not be even a nuisance to you... can leave someone with chemical sensitivity struggling for breath, in fear it might be their last.
In my case, my safe haven...a home built specifically as non-toxic in a rural community in Colorado, became my new prison. An open window left unguarded for a moment resulted in a chemical drift wafting into my home. A walk outside and an unexpected encounter with herbicides being sprayed, left me calling 911 for help more than once. In the ambulance I wondered why my body was betraying me and whether I would ever find a safe place to hide from what might harm me.
After a year of living like this, my husband and I now find ourselves forced to move once again. We will now build a new safe house in a rural area with 40 acres to keep all toxicities away from me. We will have to live further out from family, medical care, organic groceries, just so I can try to have some quality of life. We will finally be able to open windows again and try to heal. We must be ever mindful though that airborne toxin can still find its way to me and make me ill. It just has to go farther and try harder.
I had been working for the last two years to get my local city council to assist in curbing spraying and toxic practices when there are alternatives. And there are. We so did not want to leave our new home. But it was an uphill battle and the reason we have to relocate once again.
With all this moving and seeking a safe place to live, we are still considered the lucky ones. Lucky that we can manage to build a safe house not once, but twice. Lucky that we found some land with acreage only 20 minutes from town. Lucky that we have some resources left even after bearing such a huge financial burden. We are in the minority.
Others with this confounding and chilling condition end up like my friend Jill. A former executive, she has had to abandon her home, left to wander, still searching for a "safe place." She is litterally now pitching a tent on top of mountain property where she hopes she will build a new home.
The more we saturate our planet and its atmosphere and our homes and schools with chemicals, the greater the chance some precious vulnerable bodies could pay a price. Their lives forever changed like mine. While odds are I can't meet you at a conference or meeting, I can offer you my voice. For years I kept my thoughts, my anguish, my hopes to myself. Now I will still live in isolation but I will speak out because I don't want you to joins the ranks...of the new homeless.
Caryl Schonbrun lives in Ft. Collins, Colorado with her husband Bob and daughter Jill. She has become an activist for Chemical Injury and works to bring awareness and solutions for people struggling with it.