Finding Courage and Strength in the Darkest Moments

A Personal Journey into the Unknown with Chemical Sensitivity

On a Friday afternoon I venture to Portland excited to be attending a writer’s workshop over the weekend. I arrive at an AirBNB at 6:30 pm and as I’m walking up the stairs to the apartment notice a fragrant smell, but it isn’t where I will be sleeping. I get into the room and something smells off, but maybe it is just stuffy with the windows closed. It’s late, I don’t think about it and instead open the windows. It takes about 30 minutes to unload my stuff since my car is parked a block away and then I unpack. I go out for dinner, sweat on my infrared mat and am in the shower around 10 pm. When drying off I notice a scent on the towels. This concerns me a bit. I put on my underwear and top and cut up some apples and then I get to thinking. What about the sheets? Fuck! That is part of the smell.

I’m in communication with the owner and end up calling the property manager to find out the detergent they use is Tide with Fragrance. I have only a small thin blanket and I’d have to keep the windows open. I have to make a quick decision because it is now 10:30 pm. I call my husband who encourages me to get out and the owner says it is okay to leave. At 10:45 pm I start packing up and when I’m ready to load up, I ask for help from Robert, the property manager (as the owner had offered).

When I try to explain what is going on he says “I don’t care” and hate radiates his whole body and tone. He comments that I had used the kitchen, the bathroom and the bedroom and now he was going to have to pay someone to come in and clean. I call him out on it and say “You are more concerned about this place, than my safety…”…..though he barely lets me get a word out. I am furious and he treats me like garbage. I am 3 hours from home with no place to sleep and he is worried about the place being dirty. I am furious. There is sexism in his nature and I know in a heartbeat that if I was a man he would not treat me like this. I’m crying the whole time I am packing. I am crying the whole time I am loading up the car and he is one of the most evil hateful people I have ever met. I’m honestly in shock. I would not have expected this from someone in Portland.

I am anxious. I am depressed. I can’t think clearly. My facial pain and scalp pain are returning. I feel as if I am walking through deep mud and wondering if I will I find clear waters. I am overwhelmed. I am scared. I’m not sure how I am going to get through the night. I just keep focusing on the one thing I can do in the moment. Packing up. Taking things one muddy step at a time.

At about 11:30 pm at night I am loaded up in the car just after loudly shouting “Fucking Asshole”. I am livid and I don’t care who hears me. I do not deserve to be treated like I was. I call James and then I start looking for hotels. In hindsight, I could of had him do this while I was packing, but I can’t think. I am holding on to some hope I can attend the workshop. He tells me I should come home. I reach out to my friends Christina and James and they start searching for a hotel who can accommodate fragrance free bedding. This late at night some hotels have no idea what their sheets are cleaned with. I stop by one hotel and smell the bedding. Yep, that’s Tide. My friends do find some places who can accommodate with advanced notice, but it is too late. Plus any friends who I may have in Portland are likely asleep or use fragrances that would make it unsafe for me to stay with them.

It’s now 1 am and it’s clear I either have to drive 3 hours home exhausted as I am or sleep at some rest stop in my car. But I have no warm blankets. My dear friend Christina than offers to drive and meet me halfway in Centralia. She tries to find clothing that is fragrance free and knows there is a possibility she may have to sleep in her own car. She grabs some blankets from my husband and just a few minutes apart we meet at a rest stop. I feel relief to have someone familiar with me. I notice a fragrance and it becomes clear we will not be able to sleep in the same car. But I am comforted as I lay down in the back of my car looking out at the moon knowing that I am not alone.

I’m not able to sleep for a while. It’s cold and uncomfortable. How do people sleep in cars? Eventually, I move to the front seat so I can turn on the car when needed to stay warm. At 5:15 am I get on my phone and share with our online Facebook writer’s group that I won’t be able to attend the workshop. I am saddened, but know that my safety and health is more important in this moment. And the Universe has other plans for me. I finally fall asleep after this and wake up at 7 am feeling rested. All I can see are trees outside my window. I am emotionally drained and raw, but so grateful for those trees.

But the night isn’t really over and I’ll still need to get home. Christina and I go to Olympia to have breakfast. I take off my coat at the restaurant and realize I am in my pajamas and am not wearing a bra. Lol. She helps me process the craziness of the night. This is a story we will never forget! With love and compassion she says to me “I’m sorry you failed. But you tried. You will be more prepared next time.” We are human. We will make mistakes and I am so grateful to someone who can honor and celebrate that with me.

At 12:30 pm on Saturday (not even 24 hours after I left), I return home exhausted but safe. Comforted by an amazing husband and kids. I eat a snack and then fall asleep for 5 hours. Self-care is even more critical after this event and I take it easy. I go for a hike on Sunday. Get some energy work from the amazing Kari Jo Ryder and come to terms with what happened to me over the last 24 hours.

Lessons Learned

During one of the scariest nights of my life I encounter 2 people along the way who seem compelled to knock me down even further. The property manager as well as someone within the writer’s Facebook group who told me I should have been better prepared. That this situation was all my fault and I shouldn’t blame anyone. I’m was not blaming anyone. I am learning. I really didn’t understand the full extent of my illness until this past week. I wasn’t thinking about all the traveling details as there was so much other stuff going on with 2 kids, a husband, classes to teach, clients to see, my health and more to address. I didn’t realize how common it is for people to wash laundry with scented detergent. We have always used free and clear laundry soap. I had asked the owner if they used organic cleaning supplies and she had said they have not had problems in the past. At that point, I realized I needed to ask more specific questions.

The hyper-vigilance that is required of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity is overwhelming. I don’t like being OCD, but I now realize for my own safety, that I have to be and I will need to be better prepared. It’s a tough lesson to learn. But if we are not willing to step into the unknown, learn from our mistakes, we can’t change or grow. Even in the darkest moments, there is always something good that can come from it. There is always something to learn. When we regret, is when we fail. When we can learn from an experience, is when we can be empowered and move forward so that hopefully we find the clear waters.

Healing takes courage. Healing takes determination. Healing takes a willingness to never give up. Healing takes unimaginable strength even in the darkest of situations. We can either choose to lift each other up during these moments or tear each other down. I learned a lot in a very short period of time. I found I have the strength and resilience to survive even in the toughest situations. I just needed to focus on what was in front of me and take it one second, one minute, one hour, and one day at a time. I needed to reach out and while I was physically alone, receive the loving energy and comforting voice of my husband who talked with me on the drive to the rest stop. We can’t do this life alone and no one deserves it. Be there for each other. Share the light. There will be those who want to dim it. You must stand up and rise above it. Giving voice and speaking up was freeing and is just what we need to do in the darkest of times.

Be the light.

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