|Laura BlakerArtist, WVE member|
I remember when I was little, I asked my mom why she started smoking. She replied that at the time, no one knew it was bad for you. Well, I will probably be telling my daughter the same thing about why I put my hands in photo chemicals and solvent, and spray painted without a mask.
I knew something was wrong after my daughter was born. There were days when she wanted to go to the park and the thought of getting up off the couch seemed as challenging as climbing Mt. Everest. At first I thought it was fatigue from wrangling a small child and working a lot, but I realized after a couple of years that there was more to it.
At the time, I was traveling around the country painting murals for a restaurant chain. The chains were in the construction phase, and I was painting around dust, glue, and spray paint, and big guys with lots of scary tools. For the most part it was fine – my paint was VOC-free and I thought I could avoid the rest.
Until one job in South Dakota. This job was very close to being finished, so I had skirted most of the usual toxic stuff. Until some of those big guys with scary tools started monkeying with the aluminum hood—they seemed to be sanding or grinding it. I felt okay until I got home and woke up with sausages for fingers. I couldn’t close them. I also had achy joints and a metal taste in my mouth.
I went to two homeopaths and an M.D. One homeopath told me a heavy metals test was really expensive and I should just use a nettie pot instead. The M.D. told me it was probably a virus. These responses wouldn’t have been as frustrating if I hadn’t been self-employed with a $5,000.00 deductible on my insurance. I did end up getting that heavy metals test, and it showed dangerous levels of mercury, lead, and other things.
So the cleansing diets and chelation began. After about a year my symptoms changed, and I started having issues with my nervous system, my skin hurt – kind of like when you have a fever – and I kept gaining weight. So I did an experiment. I worked out every day for a year, and quit drinking alcohol. I gained 2 pounds.
My homeopath put me on a diet, the ridiculous HCG diet where you inject yourself with a hormone and eat 500 calories a day for 6 weeks. She said I would lose a minimum of 25 pounds. I lost 15, and gained all of it and more back in a month even though I was doing what I was supposed to do. This wasn’t necessarily about weight; I didn’t look healthy, I looked puffy, with strange red blotchy skin, and I gave off sick energy. So I decided to try acupuncture. I love acupuncture. The first few times, I had amazing energy for a day at a time, but I wasn’t improving enough, so they put me on Chinese herbs, 100 pills a day. I did what they told me, because what did I know? I was trusting their expertise. But after a year I didn’t improve. I actually got worse, and I was racking up the bills – huge bills. So I quit all the pills.
A friend of mine asked if I wanted to go to Mexico to a health spa called Rio Caliente. It had hot pools with minerals that had healing properties, mud baths, massage, etc. I went, spent a week on their diet of healthy wonderful food. I did yoga every day and sat in the pools every evening. I met wonderful women, one of which was there for a week and lost 8 pounds. I gained 2.
I need to say that there were foods that I was staying away from, mostly wheat and dairy. Wheat made me bloated and dairy gave me a headache. But as time went on the weirdest thing happened. I could gain 5 pounds in minutes, my body would expand for no apparent reason. I thought I was being exposed to something. Mold? Asbestos? Arsenic in the wood in our remodel?
In addition to the weight gain, I began experiencing a pain in my right side and joint pain. One day, I was getting a bagel for my daughter—at a place that exclusively sold bagels— and about a minute after I walked in, I doubled over in pain. I managed to get home, lie down, and within an hour it was better. That was when I realized I had gotten sick from breathing the flour dust. What I thought was a sensitivity to wheat was actually an intolerance to gluten. Celiac Disease. My mystery had finally been solved.
It’s reported that 18 million people have a gluten sensitivity of some sort. After researching why this is happening, I’ve discovered that there aren’t any definitive answers. Some think that it has to do with the way that the industry has modified wheat to contain a higher gluten content and our bodies can’t handle it.
But here’s my thought: Could it be that the exposure to toxins in the environment—like my experience in South Dakota—can throw our systems out of balance and cause all sorts of allergies and health problems?