Wednesday, October 23, 2013


One day I talked to a Facebook friend on the phone, the next day I was replying to an ad on Craigslist, and the day after that, I had signed a lease for a stunning apartment attached to a grandiose house. It sat on the top of a small hill overlooking an infinity pool and the Coachella Valley. It definitely didn’t have mold. It was built three years ago with high quality materials, all floors bamboo or natural stone. No odor of dust or chemicals. Smiling from ear to ear as I drove home, I thought how fortunate I was to be indoors for the winter. Finally. Moreover, the place appealed to my sense of beauty and was as close as I could get to the property I hope to buy.

My new friend motivated me after sharing her story about her own hypersensitivity and 18 months of homelessness. Now she was living in a ‘good’ apartment and making rapid progress. She filtered her air and restricted her time in stores, but was able to do some fun things in a busy, polluted city. Diligent research as well as trial and error had taught her, what worked and what didn’t work for mold-sensitive, chemically sensitive individuals. She warned me that three years was going to be a problem, but I wrote back that CA code prohibited formaldehyde in insulation, that this guy had used no VOC paint and some kind of less toxic insulation. The Bau-Biologist who went out to see the place with me approved of that less toxic stuff.

We’re all unique, of course, in that one of us might react to one toxin that doesn’t phase another. But in general, certain principles are sound, which is why specialists called Bau-Biologists can write books about building healthy homes with general guidelines of the chemically sensitive.

I recently read Paula Baker-LaPorte's Prescriptions for a Healthy House and realized that nothing for rent would ever meet her high standards. I even went through every CA and AZ home listed on in the category of Healthy Homes. None met up to Paula’s standards for sensitives and none met my mold-resistance criteria.

Even in dry climates like the deserts, there is mold. Fungus is amazing in its ability to adapt to various environments, and fungal spores can sit around for years waiting for the right circumstances to start growing. Most indoor environments eventually give them that opportunity, despite vapor barriers and mold resistant coatings. Either there is a leak someplace, or condensation forms somewhere nearby. All the spores need now is a little bit of food, which is either provided by the building materials or by dust.

It seems scary, like some sci-fi horror film, Mold Takes Over the World. Yet mold is just nature’s way of decomposing organic materials:“for dust you are and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). Wherever there is organic material there is mold. I do better in the desert where the sand is mostly decomposed granite and the plant life is sparse. But people in the desert don't think much about mold because it's dray, despite the reality that all their housing has its share of wood, paper, plastic, and other organically-derived materials. Thanks to our focus on tight walls with vapor barriers to keep moisture out and toxic gasses from sneaking into the living space., when water does get in, it doesn't get out. As George George Swanson quotes repeatedly in Breathing Walls, nature always wins. This is why George is devoting his life to designing building envelopes that release moisture back into the air quickly enough to prevent the growth of mold.

My first night in the apartment was problematic, but as usual, I was confused about the cause. My sleep had been disturbed for over a month since my partner and I picked up some intestinal pathogen from out green smoothies at a new, raw juice bar. I was still waiting to get into the doctor who could order the tests and was self-treating with probiotics Align™ and Mutaflor™ which seemed to alleviate the worst of my symptoms. The whole experience left me feeling depleted of nutrients with unbearable fatigue and constant post nasal drip..

I came back to the trailer for the next night, slept a little better, but found it visually depressing. This rectangular box with poor lighting, aluminum floor, missing countertop, and broken faucet completely lacked aesthetic appeal. Moreover it was barely functional. Somehow I’d been managing like this, tuning it out of my awareness to survive. Now the contrast struck me full force. I went to the pools for a soak, grabbed a few more items, and rushed back to the rental.

A bit of internet research had clarified that some of my new symptoms were due to Vitamin B depletion, and especially folate. I had run out of B’s shortly after getting the bug and when I got around to placing an online order, I had chosen a smaller bottle from the same company of a slightly different formulation. It just so happened that formulation contained a few items that were not food-based—namely methyl B12. Thinking I could handle it is small doses, I opened a capsule and mixed it with oil, taking a fraction with a spoon. As my tolerance increased, I upped my dose in the new house, taking a fraction several times a day. As the place seemed to be working out, I added Vinitsky’s Illumivites¸ a sublingual B12 folic acid combo, which he had found to support the breakdown of histamine, taking one every time I woke from congestion.

Soon I found that my congestion of a month’s duration clearing up, my swollen tongue returning to a normal size, and my energy greatly improved. Suddenly I could do yoga every day, even some vigorous poses and I didn’t need 8 hours of sleep to feel fine the next day. I patted myself on the back for making a good housing choice.

Then I smelled mold in the bathroom drain. I panicked, told the owner. and went onto Facebook. Four suggestions later, I chose the easiest, non-toxic ones and mitigated the problem. One thing I learned, thanks to Mary Cordaro, a Bau-biology consultant, is that the smell was likely to be sewer gases from a dried out trap. I calmed down, used the baking soda, white vinegar treatment, and then kept the drain closed and a little water in the sink during the day. I also used a natural enzyme product called BioKleen.

My energy continued to increase and suddenly a good thing turned into a no-good thing. I was wired, waking at night, and getting tense muscles every afternoon – symptoms I remembered from life in a moldy Ohio house. Whatever was piling up was excitatory, and it was either the little bit of methyl B piling up or something in the new rental.

If it was too much methyl B, niacin ought to stop it. (Dr.Ben Lynch gets the credit for this tip.) But if it was the house, then I ought to sleep fine in the trailer. If it were both, I was in for a challenge. I began the experiment.

The second night my experiment was interrupted by an alarm that went off in the bedroom of the rental. Awakened in a daze from a xanax-induced slumber, I pissed off the owner by texting him at 3:30 am: “Urgent. Alarm going off. Moving outside with earplugs. Front door open. Just come inside to fix.” I knew it was probably a dead battery, but there were a lot of fancy electronics in the house and the ten foot ceiling prohibited me from checking that theory out. The next morning I had a slew of angry texts because I’d turned off my phone and he’d been trying to arrange for someone to come over and wanted to make sure I’d be home. How was I supposed to know he was in Mexico? If he had read my text carefully, he would have seen the bit about leaving the door open. I let him stay angry and didn’t bother to point this out.

As I looked back over my pithy notes and see if I could reach a conclusion from only 2 days of experimenting, I saw that xanax had induced sleep more often in the rental than in the trailer, where 1 – 2 times a month usually helped me survive exposures to stores.  I’m one of those mold avoiders who doesn’t get huge elief from the shower. I do it anyway,to avoid contaminating my living space, but it rarely makes any difference .If the toxin entered my brain through the olfactory bulb, the reaction will sneak up on me, usually revealing its presence as a very happy energized state when awake and a too happy to sleep state when I get into bed, along with slightly elevated heart rate. It was a case of wishful thinking, with one very perplexing symptom: I felt better inside the building than I did outside on the patio!

Providence brought me resolution in a strange way. The owner asked me to leave. I was, in his opinion, asking for too much. And I had crossed the line by asking him to let me try turning off the electric circuits to the bedroom at night as the EMF Bau-biology consultant had advised. He had even talked to the owner about it and measured the electrical fields. I wrote a long, impassioned plea about why it was important, and left him a photocopy of Jill Neimark’s article, “Allergic to Life” (available at Discover Magazine, which I will discuss in a blog on Phoenix Rising on November 2). The next morning I got a text message asking me to leave as soon as possible.

I panicked. It wasn’t going to be fun to apartment hunt again. Worse, I didn’t believe it was possible to find another good place anytime soon. I’d been lucky once. How lucky could I be again?

The message triggered symptoms of PTSD. My heart raced and pounded all day. Deep breathing and quieting thought had little impact. When I went back to the apartment to do a yoga, I found myself having flashbacks every time I heard the owner’s footsteps. I wrapped myself in a blanket at nightfall, and finally, after four hours of prayer and meditation, was calm enough to eat a little dinner and go to bed. I slept only a few hours before waking with some odd mixture of reactivity, PTSD, and exhaustion and decided after a bout of obsessing that I just couldn’t stay in that place. The unwelcome feeling was overpowering. I carted off some things and drove back to the trailer in the middle of the night. Calm spread through me. 

The next day, I met David at the airport on his return from a three week trip to Ohio, and, after bathing and resting in the trailer, we went over to the rental for a last trial. The place failed. Not only did I wake once with pounding heart and dry mouth, but even after I moved outside and logged in a total of nine hours, I felt like I’d been battered. I stumbled across the floor and realized my gait was as confused and unbalanced as my mind. In retrospect, I could see that I’d been terribly confused and forgetful recently. 

We packed up everything, and as we drove away, David pointed out some water and sludge in a dam less than two blocks away. Where did it come from? It hadn’t rained for over a week.

Maybe it was a good house, but in a neighborhood with some airborne toxins from the water, dirt and sludge. 

Maybe I could tolerate a little methyl B12. Maybe find just the right amount to increase energy without decreasing ability to sleep.

After we moved back into the trailer, a wave of relief washed over me. My gait improved and soon normalized. My confusion abated. I woke the next morning feeling toxic yet rested, and within two days on my detox regimen, the toxic feeling cleared and I felt ‘normal.’

So here I am, facing another winter in the trailer, happy as a lark. The perfect weather—cool nights, warm days, no wind or humidity—is doing its part to make my transition easy. And we took one tiny step to increase the aesthetic appeal. A coat of lemon-yellow/orange shellac lends a warm glow to the Philippine mahogany that revealed itself when the ugly gray vinyl was scraped off. At times it even looks beautiful, as does the view of Mt. San Jacinto through the palms.