The Emotional Side of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity


As with any illness, there are physical symptoms and there are emotional ones. I wrote about my physical symptoms here, but today I would like to address the emotions. As with so many things in MCS, this is complicated.

There is an emotional aspect to the physical reactions that many of us have after exposures to the toxic chemicals that are such a large part of modern society (perfumes, laundry products, cleaners, etc.) and that can seem bewildering to not only those of us that experience them but others around us as well. Many of us have reported feeling intense anger when exposed and sometimes sorrow and fear. The current theory held by many of us is that because the olfactory bulb is located in the same part of the brain that emotions are formed in, and scent has a direct pathway to that portion of the brain, intense emotions are really not surprising.

Two more emotional symptoms that can manifest due to physical reactions are depression and anxiety. For many of us, myself included, either or both can show up for several days after an exposure. It took me a while to figure out that the depression I was feeling was actually a reaction to a physical exposure rather than an emotional response. At some point a few years ago I started trying to catalog my reactions as well as my exposures to try to make some sense out of all of this. I had already realized I was crying a lot and had learned to just let myself feel the emotions as part of my recovery, but then I asked fellow canaries if they were seeing the same kinds of correlations, and many of them were.

The anxiety is a newer symptom for me. As my disease progresses, with each new exposure new symptoms show up from time to time, and anxiety was one of them. The irony here is that it first started after a very large exposure I had when traveling to a medical specialist a few years ago, trying to get a diagnosis and to see if there was any help. I had weeks of intense anxiety during the months that followed and now mild anxiety has joined the ranks of my reactions to exposures.

There are also true emotional responses to being chronically ill as well, ones that are not due to reactions alone. And it is not just the depression from being sick, but the invalidity of not being believed. There are the doctors that think it is all in our heads, that our illness is either health anxiety or a somatoform disorder. And let’s not forget feeling discounted when family and friends choose their toxic fragrances and products over being in a relationship with us, or the frustration and often anger of knowing that the world in general is toxic to us and the helplessness of having to choose to be home-bound so we aren’t sick all the time.

Because there is so little research into MCS, we really don’t know how or why these things happen, but they do and it is, as I stated at the beginning of this article, a complicated thing. If you or someone you love has MCS, it is my hope that these words have helped you understand us a bit better.

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Thinkstock photo via Grandfailure.


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