I Am Allergic to Buildings
The first time I became overwhelmingly sick from a building, I was 20 years old. I had just moved into my own little house with a friend, and I was excited to clean the place up. It was a cute house but had not been taken care of properly. A rather musty smell prompted me to get to work and clean, so each day I set myself to work scrubbing off all the black patches which covered the entire walls of the bathroom, laundry and toilet.
Little did I know, I was about to experience a massive collapse in my health and my first experience with Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome, a serious illness that makes sufferers' bodies react severely to microscopic particles in their own homes.
CIRS, or Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome, is a condition in which the body becomes hyper-vulnerable to mould spores. In small quantities, mould spores are everywhere and are relatively harmless. However, they can build up in indoor environments which become very damp, due to structural issues such as water leaks. This is when people begin to notice the usual black spots on the ceiling or a musty odour in a particular room.
For the average person, patches of mould are unlikely to cause any noticeable problems. Their bodies are able to recognise and remove the inhaled toxins from the mould spores, and they can live and work in spaces with mould and remain unaffected.
However, for people with CIRS, the story is very different. Their bodies launch an all-around inflammatory attack when they are in the presence of mould spores and do not properly remove them. This can lead to debilitating physical and mental illness. Because mould-related symptomology is only just beginning to make its way into the mainstream, many people suffer for months to years before they figure out the root cause between their health collapse and their physical environment.
For myself, the indicators that I was experiencing this mould-related illness were a slow descent into deep fatigue and depression. Over a period of a few weeks since moving into my new house, I went from a happy, energetic and exercising 20-year-old to someone who was constantly tired, and too asthmatic to exercise. I felt pervasive emotional dread and I started to have strange conditions break out such as an itchy, painful rash all over my body and a strange metallic taste in the back of my mouth. My cognition became poor and I struggled to find joy in the activities that used to do.
Thankfully, I moved out and was able to recover with the help of a functional doctor who understands the condition well. However my extreme sensitivity to mould has remained, and if anything, increased over the years.
These days, I can tell immediately when I am entering a house with a mould problem. I feel foggy in the head, my breathing starts to seize up and become tight, and I notice an overwhelming lack of any energy. However, outside the physical effects, by far the worst impacts are the mental distress I experience as a result of my body’s reaction to mould. I experience severe depressive thoughts and become convinced that my life is on the verge of catastrophe. My mind becomes too foggy to draw or write. If I spend a considerable amount of time in the affected buildings, it can take me days to recover and feel human again.
I would say around one-third to a half of the houses in the UK, where I currently live, seem to trigger this reaction, and so renting homes and visiting friends has become very complicated.
Overall, I consider myself one of the lucky ones when it comes to this condition. Many people do not find out about the cause of their illness and become bedridden for years before the answer becomes apparent.
I do feel positive about one day being able to cure this condition. Certain experts in the field hypothesize that early childhood stressors cause the immune system to go over-drive in CIRS, and propose that certain nervous system calming tools and meditations might be able to reverse the condition.
I certainly hope so! If there is anything I believe in, it is that the body has the innate desire to heal itself.