A Mysterious Illness – What Happened To Me?

I have a little story to tell you today.


It has been a very strange summer for me – a few months ago I became unwell, and it has taken a lot of research, and a lot of determination, to figure out what was wrong, and to work towards restoring good health again. Here is a collection of snapshots of all the different versions of me who have worked together to get to this point.


Healthy Me – In Which I Celebrate And Support My Health Every Day

I am a strong, fit active woman, I value my health, and actively seek to support it in everything I do, everything I choose. Prior to getting sick I was exercising 6 – 7 days a week; teaching at least 4 Nia classes a week and swimming twice a week. I was growing my business and had hired a couple of instructors. I was involved in a project for filming for NiaTV. I was healthy and fit and rarely got sick. If I did get sick (and when you have two young children in school, germs are plentiful in your life!), symptoms were mild and usually only lasted a couple of days. 


Unwell Me – In Which I Have Lots of Questions

There were multiple other stressors in my busy life, at the time I became ill, and so it took a while to figure out why I wasn’t getting better. After what initially seemed to be a cold continued to manifest with worsening fatigue and lung pain, I was diagnosed with reactivation of EBV (mono virus). I thought maybe I had done too much with multiple work projects as well as renovating the upstairs of our home and dealing with a cat who had been sick for months. Given my slow journey towards recovery, I started to question whether I had the capacity to do a large scale project and work alongside well-known professionals. Maybe I wasn’t as capable as I thought I was? Maybe my health was not as resilient as I had believed? Whatever the reason, I was not feeling like myself, I was not able to live the way I wanted to – I wasn’t ME!  


 My illness was initially blamed on pneumonia, but even after antibiotics, with normal lab results (except for EBV), I still felt something was wrong. The one thing that concerned me was that my lung capacity, when tested with an Incentive Spirometer, was abnormal. My doctors explained that it was due to inflammation but I still had more questions – what was causing the inflammation? Pneumonia continued to be ruled out by multiple providers. And yes, there was the reactivation of EBV, but something else seemed wrong. I wasn’t getting better, if anything, I was feeling worse. 


The final straw was waking up early on a Monday morning and having great difficulty breathing. I felt I couldn’t take a full deep breath and started getting anxious. After an hour of not being able to sleep and struggling with breathing, I had my husband take me to the ER. My vital signs were stable and since my previous lab work and Chest X-ray were normal, the doctor didn’t know what else to do. I remember starting to cry, because I knew something was wrong, but I wasn’t getting the answers I needed. He sent me home with a prescription for steroids and antibiotics (though he thought infection was unlikely the cause).


When we returned home from the ER, I noticed that the house smelled nasty –  our new floors had been smelly, for sure, but that day it seemed to be smelling worse. I didn’t think any more about it and just went back to bed.


Curious Me – In Which I Begin To Unearth Answers To My Questions

After getting some sleep, I started doing more research trying to figure out what was going on and I learned that the floors were off-gassing more with the rise in outside temperatures, which explained the smell being worse. I learned that this is a common phenomenon, people complain that it smells bad in their house, especially in summer. But what was I smelling, what was I breathing, and was this linked to my illness somehow, was it the floor that was making me so sick? 


MORE research, and a discovery that the Swedish Finish we had chosen, for its beauty and durability, contains formaldehyde, a known toxin that is banned in 18 US states!


Reflective Me – In Which I Diagnose My Whole Family

After talking with a couple of healthcare providers, and telling them about the flooring, and the smell, they confirmed that this was the likely cause of my symptoms. I moved outside and started sleeping in a tent (we are blessed to own a beautiful tipi) and started spending most of my time outdoors.

Our tipi has been my home all summer long!

I would only go inside to shower, grab clothes, or get some food. While my symptoms didn’t go away, they stopped getting worse (which was a huge improvement for me). Then I started focusing on ways to help heal from the damage caused from the Swedish Finish. Two months after I began having symptoms, we finally discovered the cause – and we can finally begin to address it, so that we can heal!


When I reflected back I realized the first symptoms I experienced were difficulty sleeping, nausea, poor appetite, headaches, and difficulty coping with stress.  Thinking about it more, I realized that my daughter, who is 6 years old, was also getting headaches and we now know why. My 9 year old son was having stomach aches and my husband was having increasing muscle pain (which he blamed on all the labor he had been doing). At this point, our family then moved outside into our tipi for the summer and we limited our time upstairs where our new floors had been put in. We had a nanny come to our house one day and she was spending some time upstairs cleaning up because she knew I was too sick to be up there. She also noticed chest tightness and a headache, and the next day was completely exhausted.  I bought a detector to monitor formaldehyde levels and discovered that the levels were above the WHO recommendations. We continued to track levels and eventually towards mid-August they started decreasing.


However, levels in my daughter’s room were staying the same.  Further investigation led us to the conclusion that her new furniture was the cause of the continued high levels of chemical. We returned her new furniture, and bought some used solid wood furniture – the levels in her room dropped significantly.


We were never told about the risks of this finish by the flooring company, we had no idea that it wasn’t recommended to be used around young children. We also didn’t know that new furniture could pose the same hazard. 


Healing Me – In Which We Move Forward

Five months after this all began, I continue to work on healing the damage that occurred from my body. While we ate healthy before, we have drastically changed our diet. I mainly eat fruits and vegetables and a low-fat diet to eliminate foods that can worsen my symptoms. While I am teaching 4 Nia classes a week, there are days where I definitely need to modify more (especially when the air quality is poor or I get a cold from my kids). I am not able to swim at this time as it is a lot of work on my body and I need to conserve my energy. I had to cut back a lot on my business during this time and am still limited on my ability to market my business. My primary focus is on healing and helping my clients live a healthier life. Family activities are generally limited based on my energy. I’ve recently hired a “mother’s helper” to come to our home a couple of times a week to relieve some of the burden from my husband who has had to pick up a lot more on the household duties.


“Moving To Heal” Me – In Which I Share My Experiences In Order To Help Others

I am concerned that a product that is illegal in 18 other states is allowed to be sold and used in Washington. I can’t help but ask how many others have gotten a chronic illness from Swedish Finish and not even know it. Formaldehyde is known to cause health issues by the CDC, yet consumers are not required to be informed about the risks of this product.


My advice – while hardwood floors are marketed as a healthier option, be mindful of the type of finish you use on them. There are much better or more natural options available and it is not worth risking your health for something more shiny or durable.


If there is one thing that I have learned from this experience, it is that viruses, pathogens, and toxins play a greater role in chronic illness than medicine really realizes or addresses. Many people are being diagnosed with illnesses such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Hypothyroidism, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lyme, Diabetes and other autoimmune diseases. But what is really the cause of these illnesses? Are the labels a way to categorize symptoms that misdirect providers from addressing the root causes (e.g. EBV, heavy metals, chemical and radiation exposure, and more).


The tipi is a place of good cheer, and peaceful healing.

If you are tired of the labels and want help getting to the root of your symptoms, please contact me to learn more about how you can take charge of your health and feel better. Your body does want to heal, and with the right tools and information, you can live a healthy life without limitations.

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1 thought on “A Mysterious Illness – What Happened To Me?”

  1. Thank you Pauline, for sharing your healing journey and I am so happy you identified the cause. I am grateful for your input on diet as well. Hearing your story helps me in my own journey as does the supportive sharing session after class. There was an exchange of positive ideas and resources. Thank you!

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