By Daniel J. Vance MS, LPC, NCC
For years, people with more severe versions of multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) have been doubted over whether their claims of disability have merit. Melinda Honn used to try persuading doubters, but now accepts she can't. She and I began corresponding eight years ago to keep me informed about MCS developments.
The Chemical Sensitivity Foundation defines MCS as a “medical condition characterized by debilitating chemical sensitivities. People chemically sensitive are made sick by exposures to chemicals found in many common products such as pesticides, perfumes, tobacco smoke, new carpets, air fresheners, new paint and building materials, and many cleaning and laundry products.”
Symptoms can be disabling, and include headache, nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, difficulty breathing, irregular heartbeat, and seizures.
In an email, Honn said, “When I first got MCS (about twelve years ago), I was very sick most every day. I suffered serious migraines, nausea, fatigue, frozen joints, and more. Because of not understanding the condition and not having learned yet what caused me to feel sick, I continued to have daily exposures.”
Honn has been especially sensitive to laundry detergents, fabric softeners, and sun screen. Exposure causes her airway to close. Literally to save her life, she and her husband moved to a remote Arizona development in 2004 where many other MCS-affected families reside in specially made homes.
For years, she tried raising awareness and fighting for accommodation, and in return was shocked at the lack of empathy and accommodation. Though the condition is real, most people with MCS aren't believed. In 2007, she earned Arizona's ADA Disability Advocacy Award.
Honn now says, “But I've now given up trying to make a change. After 12 years of hard work, I don't find any difference in the general public accommodating or accepting the condition.”
She makes the most of an isolated life. She grows her own food and raises chickens. She has completed more than 100 quilts, and had four featured in McCall's Quilting magazine.
She and her husband manage an online MCS support group, and Honn edits the online monthly newsletter, Environmental Health Bulletin, which goes to 1,200 people with MCS in five countries. She believes MCS affects millions of Americans.
She said, “In other words, I have completely switched my efforts from accommodation issues and trying to fit into society to having a lifestyle of helping others with MCS live peacefully with the condition.”
Contact: danieljvance.com [Palmer Bus Service and LittleGiantFudge.com make this column possible.]