We Are Back To This.

I had a horrendous MdDS flare up. I am no stranger to these flare ups, but this was one of the worst ever, and it tested every single one of my coping skills.

Let’s start with what set it off. I stepped off a curb. I didn’t fall, trip or step awkwardly. I simply stepped off like I do every single day on my morning walk. But in this particular instance, I noticed my head felt weird. That’s the best way I can describe it. Weird. But unfortunately, I’m familiar with this weird, and I was pretty sure it was going to be the start of something very bad.

It was.

By time I got home, I was well on my way to a full blown MdDS episode. These episodes are different for everybody, but here’s what they look like for me:

  • Intense, unrelenting nausea that is worsened by: moving, lights, looking at any screen, anything moving in front of my eyes — traffic, my hands when I wash dishes, a drawer closing, to name a few.
  • Headaches that come and go.
  • Fatigue.
  • Fatigue behind my eyes.
  • Inability to focus or concentrate.
  • A gravitational pull inside my head that makes me feel like I’m falling backwards — THE WORST feeling.

In other words, Man Down. In a very big way.

I am not exaggerating when I say there is not one thing other than sitting in a chair reading a paper book that does not make all my symptoms worse. And the intensity of my symptoms is not minor. It’s major, major, major. Remember, I have been sick for twelve years. I am used to playing hurt. I am used to powering through. These symptoms are non-power through-able.

So, I sit. And I read. And I stand in front of my TV watching stripes.

Yeah, it’s weird. There isn’t much I can do about the nausea and headaches, etc. except try not to aggravate them. But I can do something about the gravitational pull. For reasons I will never understand, watching stripes corrects the pull. Instantly. The only catch is the pull often comes back several times in the course of a flare up, so I have to do the stripes treatment each time.

The stripes treatment is at the recommendation of Mt. Sinai hospital in New York City, where I have twice gone for extensive MdDS treatment. The treatment involves all manner of looking at stripes, spinning in a chair while looking at stripes, etc.

The at home version temporarily makes me more nauseated, but it takes care of the terrible pulling feeling inside my head, so it’s worth it.

This particular MdDS episode lasted a little over two weeks. It was rough, I’m not going to lie. But every time I got even close to feeling sorry for myself, I paused to remember how lucky I am. Look, I did basically nothing for two weeks. That’s not my choice by a long shot, but what a blessing it was an option for me. I kept reminding myself about that over and over again. If I was still chasing a toddler, or had to work or didn’t have a supportive husband, doing nothing would be incredibly difficult.

Sure, I had moments of lamenting all that I was missing or not accomplishing. Also, it’s just hard to be with nausea and physical pain all day. But when those thoughts arose I thought about all the people who deal with so much worse with much fewer resources, and in that light, it was virtually impossible to feel sorry for myself.

I’m mostly better now, which is why I’m able to write this post. However, the difficult reality is these spells are part of my life. So it’s not a question of if I have another one, it’s when. It’s hard to live with that knowledge, but I try to live my life a day at a time with the confidence I have the coping skills to handle the next episode, whenever it comes.

This May Have Done Something.

Well, guys, I’m feeling pretty cocky today. Yes, I tolerated one spray of Stevia in my nose. Living large now. Ha. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out my previous post).

If you’ve been reading along, you know I’ve had a mold relapse that includes the settling of a difficult to treat mold colony, called MARCoNS in my nasal passages. For people who actually tolerate medication, this colony is eradicated via a prescription nasal spray. People like me who get sick from even being in the vicinity of medication attempt to treat it with a nose spray called Xlear, which is basically Stevia.

Well, one single spray has been putting me down in a major way. My doctor thinks it’s because mold illness has thrown my immune system out of wack, and recommended high dose vitamin C infusions to calm it down.

I’ve done these infusions in the past and haven’t noticed a big difference in the way I feel. Given that, and the fact they are expensive and time consuming, I put them on the back burner.

However, replaying the tape, we realized I was doing the infusions the last time I was being treated for MARCoNS. During that time, I was tolerating 8 sprays of Xlear per day. So now, my doctor is wondering if the infusions were actually doing something in the background even though I wasn’t feeling much of anything.

Who knows for sure? At any rate, I had been sitting on my hands doing nothing to deal with MARCoNS, and I was feeling terrible, so I figured I’d give infusions another try. I didn’t have much to lose save a few hours and a few bucks. Ok, many bucks, but desperate times…..

That was yesterday afternoon. Then I got brave and decided to take one spray of Xlear before bed.

Low and behold, I woke up feeling the best I have in weeks. The Xlear didn’t make me sick, my brain feels more clear and my fatigue is improved, along with my overall outlook on life. Feeling a little better makes me realize just how horribly I’ve been feeling.

I’m pretty sure this is not a placebo effect, as I didn’t have much faith the infusion would do much for me based on past experience. I also know this is not an overnight cure and isn’t likely to last. (BTW, that’s not pessimism, it’s just the reality of knowing how life with chronic illness goes. Good days. Bad days. Wash. Rinse. Repeat).

I’m tempted to try two sprays of Xlear tonight, but I don’t want to push it. Experience tells me to keep it slow and steady. I’m in a hurry to get this MARCoNS infection in the rearview, but I also know this is one of those situations where I need to slow down to speed up. It’s annoying, but sometimes it’s the only way.

So, one spray tonight. Then we will see. I need to work my way back up to eight sprays per day, so I have a ways to go.

I’ll get there.

P.S. If you are wondering about my infusion: The prescription my doctor ordered is:

15 Grams Vitamin C, 2000 mg Glutathione, B vitamins, calcium, magnesium.

It goes without saying (although I seem to be saying it), I am not a medical professional and this isn’t medical advice. My doctor says this is right for me at this time, but if you think IV infusions could help you, please consult with your doctror.

Here we Go Again. Relapse 392. Or Whatever.

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Sooooo.

Things were going along pretty well with my treatment for mold illness (officially known as Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome, or CIRS). Under my doctor’s supervision, I had been following the step-by-step treatment plan developed by Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker, a pioneer in the treatment of CIRS.

It’s a fourteen step plan, and I had battled my way to step 13. It was grueling and brutal at times, but along the way, I began to gradually feel better. My resilience improved, my fatigue decreased, and so did my anxiety. My terribly debilitating brain fog lifted, and I was beginning to feel like a real person again. And more important than any symptom that improved, I became much more interested in engaging in life. Most notably, my normal personality returned (it’s hard to be cheerful and engaged and funny when you feel like crap).

Well, right this moment, my personality is back in the lost and found, along with many of the other improvements noted above. Here’s the situation. Mold is literally everywhere. By many estimates, at least half the buildings in the US are moldy. As you’ll recall, my immune system is disinclined to deal with mold, so avoiding it is mission critical for me. It’s like avoiding a food you are severely allergic to. But it’s more complicated with mold, because unlike a peanut you can see, touch and feel, mold is often invisible, and does not always give off an odor.

For that reason, we are vigilant about keeping our home mold safe. That means air purifiers in every room, mold killing UV lights in the HVAC vents, routine mold testing, keeping the humidity level below 50% and constant vigilance in terms of looking for any signs of water damage, which can lead to mold.

Because of Covid I spent more time than usual in this very safe environment, which is likely the reason I was able to make so much progress. Then I got vaccinated, the country opened up, and I began traveling and spending more time outside my mold-safe cocoon. And I bet you can guess what came next. Yep. Accidental mold exposure.

The exposure led to the reappearance of a difficult to treat mold colony in my nasal passages. It’s called MARCoNS, and it’s treated with prescription nasal spray, which I don’t tolerate. One spray and I’m Man Down. So, the next step down is an over the counter nasal spray, which I also don’t tolerate. Man Down again. The next step down after that is a nasal spray called Xlear, which is basically stevia. (Don’t ask me why it works. I have no idea. I just do as I’m told).

The last time I had MARCoNS, I was able to eradicate it by doing 8 sprays of Xlear per day for several months. I tolerated it just fine, and was happy to be able to avoid the Man Down situation of the big guns.

So, when my doctor told me I had MARCoNS again, I wasn’t too upset. Sure, it was a setback, but weirdly, it was also a relief. I’d been having concerning symptoms (difficulty concentrating, problems assimilating new information, bursts of anger, increasing fatigue) that are all associated with CIRS, so I was honestly happy to have an explanation for what was going on. Plus, I figured it would be a breeze to deal with it since I tolerated Xlear.

Well, apparently, that was then and this is now. And now, I am seriously Man Down from one freaking spray of what is basically stevia. It doesn’t even seem possible, does it? It’s impossible for me to describe what it feels like, but consider this. I have been sick for nearly 12 years. That’s 12 years of playing hurt. I know how to power through. But the way I feel from one spay of Xlear is un-power-though-able. It’s like my entire body goes off line. I can’t think straight, I feel extremely sick, it even feels like my blood hurts. I know that sounds strange, but it’s the only way I can think of to describe the systemic anguish I feel. And I basically lose my will to live. No, don’t confuse that with being suicidal. It’s not that. It’s a general feeling of I-just-can’t-function-and-I-can’t-muster-the-energy-to-even-try. I hope you never feel this way.

As I write, I’m in a tough place. Throughout my illness, I’ve worked hard to keep things in perspective, to look for the learning in the suffering, and generally maintain a positive attitude. But every now and then I basically lose my shit, and this is one of those times. I’m tired. I’m sick of watching life from the sidelines. I’m overwhelmed by how wrecked I get from basically being in the same room as the medication that’s supposed to be healing me.

In these moments, it’s hard to see the path forward. It’s impossible not to feel hopeless. And helpless. Seriously, what is up with my body that I get so addled from so little? This is the thought that haunts me.

My doctor says my immune system is out of whack due to CIRS, and that’s what this is about. My immune system grossly overreacting to provocation. I guess that explains things, but it’s hardly a comforting thought.

I try not to get lost in these dark, helpless thoughts, but I’m human, and I’m suffering, and I’m tired of fighting so hard to get back in the game.

I know I will pick myself up. I always do. And I know my doctor will figure out some way to help me. He always does. But in the meantime, I’m giving myself a moment to just feel my feelings as they come. Not some sanitized, spun, politically correct version of my feelings. No. My actual feelings. Despair. Helplessness. Hopelessness. Self-pity. Anger. Frustration.

I want to scream right now.

I’ve been in this movie long enough to know that allowing myself to feel what I feel is imperative for getting back on track to a more positive place. It’s perhaps one of the most important lessons I’ve learned throughout this trial.

For me, the key is to not get stuck in the darker emotions. I don’t have a hard and fast rule for how long I get to wallow, but I definitely put an expiration date on the whole situation. This is where the word AND comes into play. I realize I can feel frustrated, angry, hopeless, etc. AND remind myself it could be so much worse. I realize I can be overwhelmed with the process of getting well AND remind myself of how much progress I’ve made. In this way, I honor and validate my feelings while also coaching myself into a more productive place. For me, one doesn’t work without the other. I can’t pretend this whole situation doesn’t blow. Because it does. But I can also understand how fortunate I am. Yes, I am struggling, but yes, I have the arsenal to put up a darn good fight.

Which is what I’m doing right now. Fighting when I can, resting when I can’t. Holding on to the deep faith this is happening because there is still more for me to learn.

I’m Beginning to Feel a Little More Like This Version of Myself.

This is from a long time ago. For reference, that’s my daughter, and she’s a junior in college now. I believe this is about a year before I got sick and everything unraveled.

I’m staring at this photo and thinking about what I didn’t know then about what was to come. I’m also thinking about how relatively unscathed I was then. Sure, I had experienced life’s ups and downs just like everybody else, but at that point, I was moving through life with relative ease. I was fit and healthy and fully alive. I laughed a lot. My GI tract still worked properly and I was not yet emotionally gutted.

I’m sure I enjoyed all that ease, but I probably didn’t savor it enough. I simply took it for granted that my life would continue on that same trajectory.

Right now, I’m thinking about how scary and dark it got inside my head when my health fell apart. And I’m thinking about how, when this photo was taken, my mind and body were blissfully free of all that darkness.

I’m just smiling. I was happy. My life was defined by living not by fighting to survive, as would soon be the case.

I have spent most of the past eleven years in survival mode, trying to overcome the devastating physical and emotional wreckage of chronic lyme disease and mold illness.

I’ve done my best to stay optimistic and hopeful. I tried hard every day to help myself heal. And at a certain point, I let go of the endgame and focused solely on my effort. Which is not the same as giving up. No. It’s a radical acceptance of what I can control and what I can’t. I can control my attitudes and my actions, but I can’t control what they do and don’t add up to.

Well guess what? After all these years, my efforts have added up to something. I’ve had periods where I’ve felt improvement, but they were always short lived. Now, for the first time, I have the confidence to say right out loud that I’m turning a corner. Unless you live with chronic illness, you have no way of comprehending what a bold statement that is. To finally have the conviction the light at the tunnel is not a train not something I’ve come by lightly.

How did this happen? The biggest thing that’s changed is the fact I’m finally fighting the totality of my problem. I’ve been sick for eleven years, but I’ve only known I have Lyme AND mold for about a year and a half. Which is another way of saying I’ve only been addressing part of my problem for most of the time I’ve been sick. (I’m not bitter about that, if you’re wondering. Yes, several doctors missed the mold, but it’s not like they did that on purpose. They did their best to help me).

As I replay the tape, I’ve discovered I’ve been living in houses with mold for most of my life, until very recently. You may recall, my doctor discovered I have a genetic defect that prevents my immune system from being very effective at clearing mold, so I’ve been collecting it all these years. He believes my body was somehow getting by until I suffered a bout of acute lyme which turned into chronic lyme, which lit the match for CIRS (mold illness), which set off a cascade of inflammation that had devastating consequences on my GI tract, resilience, brain function, and mental health.

So, that’s what happened. And that’s why I haven’t been able to recover in spite of years of copious interventions.

I finally started turning a corner when my husband doubled, no tripled down on making our house safe for me. Keeping a house mold safe requires tremendous diligence, and my husband continuously walks the perimeter making sure there is nothing in this house or our cars that will harm me.

My clean home, combined with adding new detox therapies like the infrared sauna and several supplements, and discontinuing treatments that were giving me intolerable side effects, have made a world of difference.

I’d say my energy has doubled over the past few months. My anxiety has decreased tremendously, and my GI symptoms have lessened, although there is still much work to do here.

I also still have work to do in the brain area as well. It’s still much more difficult for me to concentrate than it used to be, and I have much more difficulty assimilating new information than I used to. These are both very common symptoms of mold illness.

But here’s the most important thing. Aside from any symptom I may or may not be having, I have started to engage in life again. I’ve started making plans. I am laughing more, and my husband says my personality is returning.

In the past, I’d try to talk myself into engaging in life because I thought it might help me feel better. But here’s the thing. Now, I’m engaging in life because it seems like fun. I’m not forcing myself to do it. It’s just happening. And it’s happening because I’m feeling better.

In fact, in the past few weeks, three different people have told me I look and sound healthier and more energetic.

Am I anywhere close to the way I was in that photo? Absolutely not. But for the first time in so, so long, I can remember what it feels like to be that way.

And that’s a start. A blessed, blessed start.

Onward.

I Spent Most of Last Week Here. And Not by Choice.

It was a bad, bad week.

For those who need a refresher, I have a terrible problem with my vestibular system — the system that helps your brain process motion and sensory information and helps with balance. This is separate from my regularly scheduled issues with Lyme, Mold, CIRS, etc.

It’s complicated, but I’ll try to make it simple. I have two problems. First, I have severe nerve damage in my left ear — the result of a virus. Who even knew that could happen? It turns out ears are critical to balance, as they are the first to detect motion, and then send signals to the eyes to make adjustments in response. Since I have nerve damage, the memo gets to my eyes too slowly, which makes me extremely prone to motion sickness. More on that later.

Problem number two is I have a ridiculous condition called Mal Debarkment Syndrome, or MDDS. MDDS typically strikes after you’ve been on a cruise. While at sea, your brain adapts to the motion of the ocean, but when you return to land, your brain is supposed to re-adapt to land mode. For some people, this re-adapting does not occur, and you end up feeling like you are on a boat 24/7 even when you are on land. This happened to me, most likely because of the nerve damage in my ear. (To clarify, it’s not uncommon to experience a rocking motion after being on a cruise, but for most people this resolves in a matter of days. With MDDS the rocking does not go away).

MDDS is poorly understood and there is not much treatment. Fortunately, Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York has a treatment program which helped me. After treatment there to knock the MDDS down, I started Vestibular Therapy, which is basically PT for the brain, and helps with the nerve damage. The damage is irreversible, but the side effects can be diminished with therapy.

My Vestibular Therapist told me it’s not possible to fully recover from MDDS without an intact vestibular system, which I don’t have because of the nerve damage.

I have been living with MDDS for about a year and a half, and it has been extremely challenging. I’m learning it’s a cycle of beating it into submission only to have it flare up again. Typically, I have a flare up every four to six weeks. The flare ups can last anywhere from hours to days to a week or more.

I am not a good enough writer to adequately describe the misery of an MDDS flare up. I have endured all manner of physical and emotional suffering these last 11 years, and MDDS takes the cake.

It generally starts with a sensation that something feels “off” in my head and escalates from there. The symptoms I experience during a flare up are:

  • Intense nausea (if 1 is no nausea, and 10 is vomiting, I am around an 8 all day and all night).
  • Pressure behind my eyes and sensitivity to light that is so extreme I have to wear sunglasses in the house.
  • An inability to look at any screen (TV, computer, phone), as this intensifies the nausea.
  • An inability lay down when I sleep, as this intensifies the symptoms. Sometimes I sleep in a chair, sometimes I sleep propped up in bed.
  • A strong gravitational pull inside my body that makes me feel off balance all the time.

Those are just the physical symptoms. Then there’s the emotional distress. It’s not uncommon for people to be unable to shake their MDDS symptoms. In other words, their whole life is a flare up, as I’ve described above. So, I am “lucky” my symptoms come and go, but every time they come, they bring the fear this is the time they won’t leave. I can’t describe the terror of that. People with MDDS commit suicide, and I can see why. (I’m not in that place, so you don’t need to worry about me).

This last flare up was a bad one. It lasted a week, and I spent a large chunk of it in that chair, as movement makes everything worse. Thankfully, I found one thing that does not make my symptoms worse — reading a paper book, and that has been a saving grace.

So, spent a good part of a week in a chair reading. I realize that sounds relaxing, but it’s not under these circumstances. And the whole time I’m in that chair, the things in my life that I want and need to do are going undone, which can be such a blow because forward momentum is hard for me to come by. And that’s when I need to flex my mindfulness muscles by taking note of my thought patterns. When I catch myself getting frustrated I remind myself the problem is enough on its own. I don’t need to make it worse with my thinking. It’s already plenty bad. I’m not going to say I can mindfully move myself into a place of complete bliss and acceptance, but I can go pretty far in that direction. And it helps, it really does.

So that’s the story of of the flare ups. But MDDS and my ear nerve issue are part of my life every day, even when I’m not having a flare. I am not exaggerating when I tell you walking is just about the only activity that does not make me motion sick (and it does make me sick when I’m having a flare). Yesterday I got motion sick from a short bike ride. I got motion sick from Pilates (for about four days from one session), I’ve gotten motion sick from doing push ups, I’ve gotten nauseated in the bath tub, I got motion sick from five minutes on a Peloton. I get motion sick when things move in front of my eyes — traffic, a river current, the lines on the freeway, a country road with fences on either side.

Only rarely can I ride in a car without getting motion sick, so I drive nearly all the time.

And there are certain things that are simply off limits: amusement park rides, any kind of a swing (even a porch one), going on a boat of any kind, going on a ski lift or gondola.

Busses and subways fall into the “sparingly and with caution” category.

I have to take vestibular stabilizing medication when I fly, or flying would be out. (If you’re wondering, it’s Valium, so I can’t take that whenever I want to do one of the above activities, as that would be too much Valium. Plus, I don’t like the side effects).

Turns out those ear nerves are really important.

Aside from the motion issues, I seem to have permanent sensitivity to light now. I cannot watch TV without sunglasses, even when I’m not having a flare up.

I could get depressed about this if I wanted to. But I don’t want to. I want to live my life as best I can within the confines of what’s realistic for me now. It could be worse. There’s always something worse. And I try to keep that perspective. But I’m also sure to give myself plenty of compassion. Because while it could be worse, it could also be a heck of a lot better. And I’d be lying if I said that didn’t hurt. If I didn’t feel loss. It’s important for me to allow myself to feel those things. But it’s also important for me not to allow myself to wallow in those things, or become a victim of those things. It’s a fine line and I walk it every day.

Self-compassion. Perspective. Mindfulness. It’s the only way I can keep myself going.

I Just Ordered This Bad Thing.

The mold remediation of our home is just about complete. All active mold has been removed and affected areas have been patched, drywalled, painted, etc. All air ducts have been cleaned, and the entire house has been fogged to kill any remaining mold in the air and on surfaces, furniture, etc. The only wall to wall carpet we had was on the stairs, and that has been removed.

Now we are entering phase two, which is remediation of our clothes, bedding, etc. This task felt incredibly daunting to us, to the point of paralysis. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, when you have mold in your home, it does not remain isolated to the place where it’s visible. Invisible spores are released into the air and circulate throughout your home. Which means every single thing you own is touched by mold to a certain degree. If you are healthy, this probably isn’t too much of a problem, but if you suffer from mold illness, commonly referred to as CIRS (Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome), any mold is a problem and needs to leave.

Since I am tired most of the time and suffer from brain fog a lot of the time, I became overwhelmed and more or less shut down any time we discussed dealing with our stuff. And for this reason, we have been lax on this front. And when I say “we” I mean “me” because I led the charge on inaction.

Thankfully, my husband is a man of action, and he decided we needed to get over ourselves and figure this out. Also thankfully, by “we” he meant “him”, as he could see I wasn’t getting anywhere. He got a bone in his teeth and went deep on research and developed an action plan based on an evidence-based mold remediation protocol developed by Dr. Close. You can learn about about it here.

This is what we (ok, mostly my husband) are doing:

  1. Post-remediation, my husband ran diffusers with an essential oil blend called Combat Blend for 24 hours in each room of the house in order to catch anything the remediators might have missed, or anything still lingering in the air, which can happen after remediation. This would also kill any mold on drapes, furniture, etc. He did this while I was away, as there was a chance the oil could give me a bad detox reaction, which unfortunately, it did when I returned home. It was severe, but that’s a story for a different time. My husband did the homework, so you don’t have to. This is the best diffuser, and this is the essential oil. For you Young Living essential oil people, this is equivalent to Thieves Blend, but less expensive. My husband purchased the diffusers and essential oil from Diffuser World. Cheesy name, I know, but they are extremely knowledgable about essential oils and mold remediation, and are very familiar with Dr. Close’s protocol.
  2. We add one ounce of a product called EC3 Laundry Additive to every load of laundry. EC3 is natural, non-toxic, and kills mold.
  3. Once per month, we will use EC3 Mold Solution Concentrate to spray down anything that can’t be washed: drapes, area rugs, bedding, throw blankets, plush furniture, dry clean only clothing, etc. The diffusing covered most of this, but we will hit it with EC3 on an ongoing basis for prevention.
  4. We ordered this 100% organic, non-toxic mattress from a company called Avocado Green. I’ve never ordered a mattress in the mail, but it was rated number one by Consumer Reports, and there are literally thousands of very positive reviews on the website. Also, they have a very generous return policy — one year. This not an ad, by the way. Just sharing my rationale. I’m not going to lie, it was expensive by the time we added in the mattress pad, base, pillows, pillow covers, etc., but we decided it was worth it, as I spend a solid eight hours per day in bed. And we know our previous mattress has been in several houses with water damage (and therefore mold), so we decided it had to go.
  5. Since I was diagnosed with CIRS about a year ago, we have run air purifiers in every room of our home, and will continue to do so. There are many air purifiers in many price ranges. My husband researched this heavily, and settled on a brand called Blueair. We do the product line called Blue. You need different sizes based on the sizes of your rooms. My husband decided on Blueair because it got good ratings, and was middle of the road price-wise.
  6. My husband changes our air duct filters every 30 days whether they look dirty or not.
  7. We are going to institute an ongoing schedule for diffusing essential oils. Dr. Close recommends eight hours per room once a month, but we will need to figure out how to make that happen now that we know it makes me temporarily sick.

Ugh.

What a process, right? But for the first time since I was diagnosed, I feel like we have a handle on how to keep our environment safe for me, and I can only hope it leads to more healing than I’ve experienced in the past year, which frankly, hasn’t been that productive. More on that later.

In the meantime, I’m going to kick back and enjoy our clean home and air.

Mold Is Insidious.

We are currently doing a quarantine within a quarantine. We had to leave our house for two weeks while it got remediated for mold (see previous post). When researching for a rental home, I was looking for two things: sanitization, and the best chance of not having mold.

For the latter, I looked for a house on the newer side that did not have any wall to wall carpeting or drapes (they hang on to mold). I also asked the rental agent about any history of mold and/or water damage.

The house I landed on seemed to fit the bill. It is all wood floors with only a few area rugs. Blinds instead of drapes, and it got high marks for being clean as a whistle. Also, the rental agent assured me there had never been a mold problem.

You can never know for sure if mold is present, as it often is not visible and does not give off any odor. When we entered the house, it seemed fine as far as we could tell. We brought several air purifiers just in case, though.

I was feeling very crummy when we arrived here, most likely due to the new exposure at our house, and I was hoping a new, hopefully mold-free environment would help improve the way I felt. Unfortunately, I felt the same, maybe even worse.

About three days in, I was laying on my back practicing yoga in the master bedroom. I happened to turn my head to the side and that’s when I saw the above water damage stain on the master bath ceiling. I have no idea how long that stain has been there, but it’s safe to assume it led to mold, as mold follows water. Generally, it forms within 24 to 48 hours of water damage.

So, this house likely has mold.

Ugh.

And remember, I have a genetic defect that makes my immune system unable to “see” mold. So, if there is mold around, I’m absorbing it and am not eliminating it.

Yeah, I’m frustrated. Any mold I absorb adds to my toxic burden, which will make it harder to get well.

Some people with mold illness get so frustrated with trying to keep their environment safe, they literally resort to pitching a tent in their yard. Some people walk out of their houses with nothing but their credit cards and never look back. I’ve been tempted to do both, or to move into an RV, but I’m not quite that desperate. Yet.

On the bright/hopeful side, our house will be remediated by the end of the week, and I should finally be in a mold free environment for the first time since I was diagnosed with mold illness last summer.

This will not be an overnight fix for my health. In fact, I still face a very long road, but I’ve come to understand recovery is impossible if I am not in a safe environment. So, here we go with step one.

Wish me luck.

This is a Problem.

Before I start on the topic at hand, can I just say it seems somewhat ridiculous to be writing this blog in the midst of the pandemic. I am literally overwhelmed by the daily devastation, and in that light, my health problems seem irrelevant.

But the fact of the matter is I’m sick, and if you’re reading this you probably are too, so we have to keep moving forward, pandemic or not.

About those photos. The first is the hallway that’s between my bedroom and office. And guess what was just discovered there? Yep, mold. In a large quantity. And the second photo is an air vent in my office. Mold was just discovered there too. So, the two places where I spend the most time. Nice, right?

We just moved to this house a few months ago, and we had it inspected for mold by three different people prior to moving in, and nothing was found. Then we started our mold best practices practically from day one — air purifiers in every room, changing the air filters every 30 days whether they look like they need it or not. And of course, I was on my routine of taking mold binders, going to the sauna, etc.

But a month after moving, my mold blood marker called C4a became elevated to nearly double to what it was prior to moving. If you’re a numbers person, anything above 2830 is elevated. Mine’s at 5400. It has been as high as 8300, but was down to 1900 prior to moving. I also have been feeling worse than usual lately, so something is definitely up.

To that end, we had two more mold inspectors crawl all over the house, and between the two of them, they found the smoking guns. The ones I already mentioned, and a basement ceiling, which happens to be below the room where I spend a lot of time during the day. How am I doing?

So, we need to remediate, which is no small process. Dealing with the air vents and ceilings is the easy part. Dealing with our contents is the difficult and overwhelming part. What do I mean? Well, if you have mold in your house, it means you have mold in your air, which means you have mold on literally everything you own. Think about that for a minute.

As I look back, I realize all of the houses we’ve lived in for the past 15-plus years have had mold. That means furniture we have moved from house to house has also carried mold. My husband and I have known this for a while but have never gotten serious about dealing with it because it’s so incredibly overwhelming. It’s paralyzing. Seriously, think about it. Every book, every article of clothing, ever piece of furniture, every file folder, our computers. Mold. Mold. Mold.

Our rationale in the past has been that we’ll just get the house mold-free and hope that’s enough. Well, I have been treated for CIRS (mold illness) for nearly a year, and I’m literally no better, so we have to get more serious about our remediation.

When I think about what’s involved I become so overwhelmed I literally want to get rid of everything and start over. But that’s not very practical. So, we are going to do the best we can. Or, I should say, my husband and the remediators are going to do the best they can. Remediation stirs up mold, so I’m not supposed to be around while it’s happening.

So this is the loose plan. My daughter and I are going to leave for a couple of weeks. Not what I want to do during a pandemic, but I’m picking my poison. While we are gone, the remediators will fix the moldy areas, and then literally wipe down every single surface of our house from top to bottom. Every wall, every window and pane, every piece of woodwork, every hard piece of furniture, every piece of art, every bathroom, the kitchen, and every inch of the floor. Can you even imagine?

Then another team will take all the contents out of our basement, wipe them down and place them in clean plastic bins (in case they miss any mold) and bring them back inside. This process needs to take place outside because mold is released into the air during cleaning, and we don’t want that to happen inside.

If remediation is not done properly, the air in the home can actually be worse (i.e. contain more mold) than before remediation. So, remediators have to be selected and vetted very carefully, and we are working on that process now.

Needless to say, I am beside myself. This is going to be time consuming and expensive and involve staying in a rental home during a deadly viral outbreak.

This is the part of the post where I usually try to say something positive to put it all in perspective. I could do that, but I’d be faking it. Sure, there are worse problems, and I understand that. But this pretty much blows, and sometimes I just need to say that.

And now that I’ve said that, I can be a little more positive. It could be so much worse. There’s always something worse. I have food, clothing, shelter, love and faith. Life’s basics that so many people lack. And we have the ability to ride out the pandemic at home. So, while the mold situation isn’t what I would hope for, I really can’t complain.

Expelling Mold From My Body: Three Bad Options. (At Least for Me).

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am full of mold, which is not good. Mold does not want to leave the body by itself, so it needs help in the form of medication that binds and removes it.

If you tolerate the medication, it’s a good process that leads to positive results. If you don’t tolerate the medication, it’s a heinous process that leads to less than positive results.

If you’ve been reading for a while, you will have already guessed I fall into the latter category.

Ugh.

So, here’s how it went for me.

The first photo is cholestyramine, which is actually a cholesterol lowering medication. However, it also binds toxins, and is regularly used for that purpose. The recommended dose for mold binding is about a tablespoon twice per day. The amount that makes me incredibly sick is in my hand above. Hard to believe, isn’t it?

Why does it make me sick?

That’s a good question. Either I’m reacting to the cholstyramine itself, or the medication is pulling toxins out of my body faster than my body can process them. Either way, it’s bad. When I’m sick from cholestyramine I experience the follwing: flu like symptoms (body aches, general malaise), fatigue, headache, severe fatigue behind my eyes, difficulty with word finding, slowed speech, a general lack of a will to live, and I feel like I’m being poisoned (I’ve never been poisoned and have no idea what it feels like, but that’s the thought that always comes to me when the medicine makes me sick). Sounds like a picnic, right?

I was actually willing to tolerate all of that if it would lead to feeling better, but I got done in by another side effect: diarrhea. Sorry, getting personal now. I’m talking get-up-and-run-to-the-bathroom-diarrhea. So, that was game over for cholestyramine. Not to mention, my doctor wasn’t sure I was even accomplishing much with the micro, micro dose I was taking.

Enter Welchol. Different drug, same purpose. Bind mold. Well, this had the exact opposite effect on my GI tract. Total shut down. I’m talking no trains running at all, which is a very bad side effect, because once the mold is bound, it’s supposed to leave in the stool. So, game over for Welchol too.

Enter Okra Pepsin from Standard Process (third photo). This a non-pharmaceutical mold binding agent. It does not give me any unwanted GI issues, however, if I take too much I get many of the same side effects as I did from cholestyramine, so I need to be very careful. I slowly worked up to three caps per day, but every now and then I get sick and need to back off.

The downside is Okra is not nearly as effective as Cholestyramine or Welchol, so it’s going to be a slow process. Very slow.

In fact, some days I wonder if I’m making any progress at all. But here are my options. Take something more effective that basically debilitates me, or take something less effective and still have the opportunity to function. I’ll take door B. It’s not ideal, but nothing about chronic illness is.

This is my life, at least for now. So, I will continue to take it one day at a time, one dose of Okra at a time, and I will continue to hope and pray for the best.

Mold Could Be My Smoking Gun.

I feel sick just looking at this photo.

At any rate, I was diagnosed with Chronic Lyme Disease in 2013 by one of the top Lyme specialists in my state. He treated me with the same protocols he has used successfully for decades. However, I didn’t get better. In fact, I got much worse. My doctor was perplexed by my lack of improvement, and eventually ran out of ideas for how to help me.

Fast forward to 2019. We moved to a new state and I started with a new doctor who had a new idea about why I wasn’t getting better.

My blood marker called C4a was elevated, which is not uncommon for Lyme patients. BUT, an elevated C4a can also be a marker for toxic mold illness, also knows is Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome, or CIRS. In that light, my new doctor ran a full mold workup, and I tested positive on every single test.

Among other things, it turns out I have a genetic mutation that prevents my immune system from recognizing any biotoxin, including mold and lyme. Also, part of the mold work up includes a nasal swab for an infection called MARCoNS that lives in the nasal passages and is associated with mold illness. I have that too, in high levels.

This is massively significant.

As I replay the tape of my life, I can see I have lived in several houses that have had water damage and therefore mold. And since my immune system does a very poor job of eliminating mold, I’m basically carrying a lifetime of mold in my body.

Not good.

I asked my doctor if my mold diagnosis was a headline or a bullet point, and he said it is most definitely a headline. In fact, he believes my untreated mold is the reason I haven’t been able to regain my health.

As it turns out, many of my symptoms are commonly associated with both Chronic Lyme Disease and CIRS. And in cases where a patient tests positive for Chronic Lyme (which I did), doctors often don’t look further for other causes of illness (which happened to me).

It turns out we likely did enough to treat the lyme, and my remaining symptoms are due to the mold. Which means that treating the mold could change everything.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is my mold status has rendered me exquisitely sensitive to medication, which is very common. And mold doesn’t leave your body by itself. It needs to be shown the door through the use of of medication that binds it and pulls it out. That’s where the sensitivity to medication comes in. I become massively sick from micro doses of binding medication.

This is a problem that will greatly hinder my ability to recover. My doctor says it usually takes one to three years to recover from mold illness, and it’s more likely I’m on the three year plan.

Speaking of the plan, it goes like this.

Step 1: Remediate your environment. We’ve done that. Although, we recently moved and just discovered mold in the house in spite of having numerous inspections prior to moving. So, we are re-remediating. Ugh.

Step 2: Use binders to pull mold out of the body.

Step 3: Clear MARCoNS using a prescription spray.

I’ve been working on my mold program since summer of 2019, and frankly, I’m not doing well with any of the steps. My mold markers in my blood became elevated after we moved, which means I’ve had another exposure.

I was not able to tolerate the most effective binders. The binder I do tolerate is called Okra Pepsin, and it is less efficient that other binders, and I’m taking a pretty small dose, so I can’t imagine I’m making much progress.

I can’t even attempt Step 3 yet. I tried the nose spray, and became very sick after only two days at a fourth of the recommended dose. So, I need to get further along on Step 2 before I can try Step 3 again.

In short, my latest mold exposure along with my inability to tolerate the binding medication is putting me on a long and winding road. That is most certainly discouraging.

But, if my doctor is correct, I have a tremendous opportunity to improve my health if I keep on trying. Think about it. I have been collecting mold for years and have not been doing a single thing to get rid of it. That’s really good, right? At least that’s the way I see it. In my world, discovering an untreated condition provides an opportunity for healing that didn’t previously exist.

I’m going to hang on to that thought, even if my progress is slow and not immediately evident.