One of the most disturbing conversations I have ever had with a doctor was during my month at COEM (Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine). That was an overwhelming time for me, and I suspect many of my fellow patients can relate to that. After years of failing health and the medical profession failing me, I finally had a diagnosis. But that diagnosis was complicated and controversial. It was a lot to process with an already damaged brain. So in that blur of a month, while I did testing, learned as much as I could, and did daily detox treatments, I also tried to wrap my head around the scope of what had and was still happening to me. What did it mean? Nobody could really answer that; I had to find some sense of it amidst the sensory overload.
I did, however, ask Dr. Lieberman what kind of recovery I could expect. He sighed; I am sure he had been asked that a million times and of course there was no simple answer of healing timeline or percentage of success. Instead, he replied that even if I was one of the very lucky few to heal to some degree of functionality, that I must be prepared to age faster and earlier than my peers. I was 29 at the time and was still hoping for a return to career, family, travel, and retirement. I finally had a physician experienced in my kind of problem and he told me there was no way to know how much health I would recover, but regardless it was going to catch up to me in a brutal way when I got older. His response was so beyond what I was thinking – lifetime permanent damage – that I wanted to throw up right then and there. I was reaching for small daily victories and he told me I was going to lose the war.
Regardless of which etiological theory you subscribe to with MCS, we can all agree that chemical injury is damage and it ages you. In some ways it is like taking the cumulative effects of a decade or two of modern living and forcing it all on your body at once. I found that concept to be incredibly depressing but also one of the clearer ways to grasp the scale of what was happening to me. Certainly I had more immediate problems to deal with at the time. Like breathing without my rolling oxygen tank. Like the twelve foods I could eat without reacting. And I currently have more immediate problems, so I don’t mean to suggest that early senility is a foremost concern right now. But thinking of myself as being a decade older means I don’t get as frustrated with my body. I am 44 now and if you put me with a group of women in their late 50s doing a casual complaining session about their bodies, I fit right in. Then I can start to actually be proud of my body. “Alright” I say to myself and my body, “You survived some bad shit. You are hanging in there. Some wear and tear, even discomfort are to be expected. We are doing alright.” Directing my anger is important for my well being.
I can and should rage against the casual proliferation of untested new chemicals, beauty products with un-disclosed ingredients, and the frighteningly pervasive power of the pharmaceutical industry. But I should not rage at myself for feeling older than my birthday suggests. Age is just a number while renewed health is a commitment that we take on every day.