The holidays are approaching; are you ready?

The holidays are approaching.  Are you ready?  Someone googled “Christmas with multiple chemical sensitivity” and found my post on mold spores and cross contamination.  I googled it myself and found my blog post on page 6.  The holidays are hard for everyone with the craziness of shopping, decorating, wrapping gifts, preparing for company and planning dinners.  For those of us with multiple chemical sensitivity life becomes even more difficult and we have to be so much more creative.

My sensitivities had peaked by the end of 2003 when I came home after being in Dallas at the Environmental Health Center-Dallas for nearly a year.  My husband had been working on a safe house for me without carpets and other toxic substances.  I had rented a computer in November while still in Dallas to try to do some Christmas shopping online.  I was determined that there would be a Christmas someway, somehow.  My family would not go without some gift from me.  I arrived home on December 22nd.  The house was not finished.  The only rooms tiled were a bedroom for me to sleep in and the guest bathroom.  I had my cot and a washer and dryer.  I arrived home to a stack of boxes and two days to get it together.

Christmas morning arrived.  My family (daughters, mother, dad and sister) arrived.  The living room floor was just concrete.  There was no furniture so I borrowed some metal folding chairs from my sister.  There was no tree so I tied a bow on an oscillating fan that my husband had been using while working on the house and gently placed a few packages down around its base.  My husband made coffee at the house next door and brought it in for my family to drink.  The house was cold because the heat wasn’t hooked up yet, made even colder by the cold concrete underneath our feet.  The only heat I could provide was from a small ceramic heater that I used in the bedroom.   We survived the opening of gifts and then everyone left me alone in my room to go to my mother’s for Christmas dinner.  Oh how I wish I had a picture of the fan to share with you all.

The following year was Thanksgiving.  By this time I had some wicker furniture in the living room and a table in the kitchen.  My house was now to be my safe place and no one could enter without wearing the beautiful and elegant white tyek suits to protect me from possible mold and fragrances.  They also wore white painter hats and booties to cover their hair from fragrances  and cover their shoes from whatever they might have on them.  The photo I am sharing is what Thanksgiving looked like at my house.

My point in this post is to let others know that yes holidays are hard  with multiple chemical sensitivity but there are ways to make it work.  If you can’t go to shop like me, there is an abundant amount of online shops.  The trick is to have an idea of what you want to buy.  The first time I tried it, I became panic-stricken and began to cry.  It isn’t like going to the mall and picking up something you see that you know would be perfect for Aunt Ginny or cousin Susy.  It takes time, patience and practice but it can be done.  Wrapping paper is another issue.  Solutions can be something as simple as plain tissue paper or kraft paper that doesn’t have all the inks or shine of traditional wrapping paper.  My second Christmas after my family all graciously endured the tyvek suits, hats and booties from Thanksgiving, I wanted something better.  I purchased pajama pants for the entire family and plain simple t-shirts.  I laundered them so I could stand them and one by one my family entered the garage, changed from their “stinky perfumed things” into my safe clothes and walked into my living room.  For the first time Christmas felt a little more normal.  We all looked like we had just gotten out of bed and went straight to work celebrating Christmas.  We just had a pajama day.

Christmas dinner was what I could eat and what anyone else wanted to bring as long as the aroma from the food wouldn’t bother me.  I ate what I could eat and left the other food to everyone else.  We have continued this way of celebrating the holidays.  It may not be everyone’s normal, but it is our normal.  I am so fortunate and grateful to have a loving family that supports me and gives me the opportunity of celebrating holidays with them even if it means that they have to step outside their comfort zone to do it.

I would love to hear what others with multiple chemical sensitivity do to celebrate Christmas and other holidays.  I hope that I have answered the question for the next person that searches out chemical sensitivity and Christmas or given hope that there are things that can make it work.

18 responses to “The holidays are approaching; are you ready?

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this. I’m pretty much wrecking Christmas with not being able to be around food smells or people. Good for you for finding ways. I can’t even open new things in the house anymore because they smell too much and have to go straight outside. Most of the family is far away and I can’t travel. Anyway, early days yet for me I will find ways around things

    Did you improve while you were in Dallas? Your family sounds wonderful; I am so impressed. How wonderful that your husband built you a safe house. What a long terrifying journey it must’ve been for you!

    • It took me a while to improve. Dallas helped me find out what was wrong and to work toward avoidance and slowly toward being able to tolerate more. It has been a long journey and nowhere near over. Every day is a new day and every day I wake up wondering how much I will tolerate and be able to do.

      My family is wonderful and accommodating and understanding. Early days for you but you will find ways that work for you. Keep working at it and don’t ever give up. I came close but had to make a decision on whether to give in or to fight. I have learned that I am a fighter.

  2. Kathy! What a great post! The picture of you and your family decked out in their “Holiday Finery” reminds me of a “stage setting” for a live play. Pehaps Broadway needs a play deplicting the “Chemically Sensitive”! Have a Happy Thanks Giving! Ann


    • Hey, I have the book and we just need to turn it in to a play. Maybe a comedic farce rather than a drama. I already have all the costumes for the play (a whole box of beautiful and fancy white tyvek suits). I may have to buy a few new painter hats but the costume department could do that. May you and your family also have a Happy Thanksgiving.

  3. PrincessandthePea

    Thanks for sharing your ideas and struggles. I can very much relate to what you are saying and the challenges you face as I’ve been dealing with this for 15 years.
    I too am amazed by your family and their willingness to support you, that’s fantastic!!
    My kids were very young when we were exposed to the toxic mold and I became ill, so we’ve had to have many birthday and Christmases, most often on our own.
    In spite of trying to communicate my needs, people, particularly family, generally shun us and we are met with judgement and anger. I try my best to keep things as normal as possible, always to my own detriment. Like your husband trip to England, I too become very upset when faced with events/celebrations that I can no longer fully participate in. I think it’s partially our ‘Hallmark/Norman Rockwell’ initiated ideals of what a birthday or Christmas or life ‘should’ be. Its also a reminder of how sick we are.
    Over 15 years we have tried a variety of different things. Having people here works well BUT not if they don’t adhere to scent free, as that causes days or weeks of acute reactions and then more recovery time. Whatever we plan IE eating at a relatives, we always have a back up plan, as generally I have to leave. I’ve experimented with a variety of masks but again for the sake of my kids, it is embarrassing for them, so generally I just opt to not go, which of course isn’t ideal either. Instead of people trying to accommodate what I need (which I realize isn’t EASY) I am shunned/excluded. I think it’s partly a thinking that there is an underlying psych cause to all of this so they don’t want to ‘encourage me’ and partly just that people have their own things to deal with in their own lives and they don’t have the time/energy to take this on. I too do have a loving, supportive husband, without whom I’d never have made it this far! I do hate what this has done to him and the kids, not fair how much their lives have been impacted. Of course there are far worse things that people face and cope with every day, however, that doesn’t minimize the reality of 24/7 with the demands of this illness.
    I will start to read through all of your archives as I’m sure we have similar experiences. I also have done a lot of research and spent a long time living with this so am very willing to share any tips you may need. I did, by hook or by crook, ‘recover’ and was functioning quite highly in spite of the ever present challenges. I have been knocked back a few pegs over the last couple of years so am trying to crawl back to my former recovered level. I too would like to know more about your treatments in Dallas and if they helped you improve.
    The more our terrifying journeys are shared perhaps the less taxing of a journey it will be AND perhaps will serve shorten or eliminate the journey for others!!

  4. I am so sorry. My children were at least college age (either in or beginning) when my ordeal started. Still it is not fair to them. I was not able to attend my younger daughter’s graduation because it was 2 1/2 hours away which is doable but it was a huge graduation so I stayed at home and cried while my husband and my parents went. He called me and said you might have been able to do this. Then he called back and said there was no way. They were stuck between so much fragrance even he was bothered by it.

    I have my book “Allergic to Life: My Battle for Survival, Courage, and Hope” about to be sent to the publisher for printing. My goal is by the end of this year. I had thought earlier in the summer but things happen. I wrote it because I wanted to tell my story and get out to the world that yes mold does, indeed, make one sick. Not just the sneezy kind of sick, but really really sick.

    I would love to learn more from you as well. Please read my archives and comment when you feel called upon to do so. We need to get the word out.

  5. Thanks for replying. Did you/do you take the desensitization shots?

    I am also mainly doing avoidance. I’m still on some antihistamines etc but hope to taper off those in time. I can’t believe how much unscenting my house has helped.

    Take care.

  6. I am touched to read all the comments here today and hear for the first time that I am not the only mold survivor to be shunned and accused of being crazy and needing psychiatric care instead of taken seriously that the mold has made me sick. I does somehow help to validate my own situation of no longer having any holidays for the past 4 years with my kids and grandkids because they have been convinced to shun me by the person responsable for one of my mold exposures due to his fears early on that he was going to be held financially liable for my care. And although I never once intended nor have “attempted” to hold him financially accountable for my care….even after he turned my children against me….he continues to this day to maintain that my mold illness is all in my head and that I am crazy 4 years later … 2 years after the statue of limitations has run out on a civil litigation.

    I have long respected Kathy and her family for their support of Kathy and their approach to keep Kathy part of their holdays and applaud her decision to share her courage and their love of her this year with all of us as we approach a very difficult time of year for some of us.

    For my husband and I there will be no Thanksgivings, Christmases, Birthdays, Mother’s Day or Father’s Days celebrated with our children it would seem ever again because of the mold….and so for the 4th year now….we chose to spend these days alone as it is just still too painful to be with other families at this time and be so painfully reminded as we watch them celebrating “family” times and love together of what we do not have any more. I keep hoping the pain will subside enough one of these years that we too might find a way to be “ok” with celebrating the holidays again but so far the pain has only increased each year….

    • Patricia

      I feel your pain not because I have experienced being shunned by my family but because it is painful to hear and to think that family can do this to another who is ill. I have heard your story before. Others who have family that don’t “believe” them and make no accommodations to be with them. You know that although you are alone for Thanksgiving and Christmas, I am thinking of you and wishing you well. I also hope that one day soon the pain will be less and you can enjoy the holidays with others.

  7. Christmas is best in PJs anyway. I have dinosaur footie pajamas, and I always wear them to christmas morning at my mom’s house. I’m glad Christmas is getting more Christmassy for you! 🙂

    • I agree about the PJ’s. I have been trying for several days to do some online shopping but just can’t get myself motivated. I guess my Christmas mojo isn’t here yet. My daughter and I are going to get up early on Black Friday and maybe I can get something going then. I am usually a little more motivated and a little further in my planning shopping by now. Not sure what is going on. I just hope Scrooge hasn’t cast a spell on me.

  8. Love the PJ idea too. We have christmas outside and everyone who is invited is asked to go fragrance free. It’s all close relatives, and even though there is the ‘odd’ one who does not agree that they shouldn’t wear it, there is now–after nine years–a group mentality: it’s wrong to wear sprays that make Miche sick! So it’s usually okay. Besides, I’ve learnt from other sufferers that it’s a great idea to buy family a lot of fragrance free products all year long for birthdays and christmases (and just because). There is still the odd washing powder and fabric softener and fragrance residue but it’s better than being gassed by sprays. If I had to put up with people wearing sprays, I’d cancel christmas all together! Because we sit outside, the only problem is the weather, I’ve been known to have people inside but with the air conditioning on full blast while we are all cold — and I won’t back down and turn it off. I hate saying this but I suppose I’m lucky in that I get the most horrid red blotch across my whole face when I breathe in most fragrances or fabric softeners at close range. This freaks family members out. (I’m thinking of the blog: Do I Look Sick. And I’m having a giggle.) It’s never funny or a good thing for me, but it does take away a part of the invisible illness-ness of it.

    It’s a lovely topic to blog about, Kathryn. And I too, feel for people who have to stick it out alone or suffer the symptoms from exposure to loved one’s products.

    Another tip: when buying fragrance free products for others, it’s easy to start doing it early in the year; that way products can be collected, put into a lovely basket, wrapped in cellophane and tied with a ribbon. And people who are addicted to their products love it because they get to try more products. And you never know, they just might change their chemical based product for something more natural. I’ve had this happen.

    (Thank you for the blog award. And you SO deserve it!)


    • Thank you Miche. Having Christmas outdoors could be a good idea but it is usually finally cold, damp and possibly even foggy by then. One year I bought the pj’s and kept them for the next year. At the end of the second year they all took them home. Sometimes I buy things that they can wear and just take home with them and include it as part of their gift. You really have to be inventive to make it work. I am just thankful that my family is so supportive.

  9. Pingback: 20 Ways to a Fragrance Free Christmas

  10. Pingback: 20 Ways to a Fragrance Free Christmas | allergictolifemybattle

  11. Wow! You’ve had some unique challenges to celebrate the holidays! I love the pajamas idea! Thanks for sharing this with us over at Together on Tuesdays 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s