I was on a pretty good writing streak for the last half of October and into November, but Thanksgiving this year has brought some new challenges and disruptions and we’ll see where the Universe is going to take me now. Still plenty to be thankful for.
So, what’s the new chaos??
And I suppose you could call this Part 9 of my series on marriage and divorce, because separating from my last wife is what placed me in the environment that spawned the challenges I now face. A product of many factors, but economics was one of the primary triggers.
Not that I couldn’t survive monetarily, but the loss of assets lead me to the house I would end up in, and that would lead me to a different type of deterioration.
After my first divorce I took the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory. I scored well over 300 points which is supposed to be predictive for an 80% chance of a major health breakdown of some type within two years. I remember I laughed this off as it seemed I was always in an adaptive state from stress. My family also has a history of overcoming challenging situations. This resilience is in the genes.
No major illness developed.
After my second divorce, I retook the test. Again, well over the 300 mark, but other stressors were about to cascade. I was about to lose my job due to politics. My mother died. My daughter’s house burned down. Even my dog died.
Splitting with my now second ex left me in a situation of only being able to rent a small house. Mind you, she was able to purchase two upper middle-class homes with cash and still have money in the bank with the assets she walked away with.
At any rate, when I moved into this place, the landlord had just acquired it and had just begun the demo. But I needed a roof over my head and I needed it fast. So, the remodel has been taking place around me now for the past five years. And the chemicals I was exposed to marked the beginning of the chain of toxic exposures that has led to my current state of health.
When I first moved in, the bathroom had just been gutted – no toilet, no sink, no shower, no bathtub. No kitchen either. No kitchen sink. No kitchen cabinets and no appliances. We put in a mud sink so I’d have water in the kitchen.
Dry wall was still going up and being taped, mudded, and painted. Carpets were going down in the living room and bedroom. The laminate flooring was being installed in the kitchen and dining room. It was a far cry from the custom home I had built on eighteen acres of woodlands, and where I had spent the past twenty years of my life.
And the exterminator was coming regularly.
You see the prior owner used to rescue dogs and the house was infested with fleas and cockroaches. How anyone would live like that without trying to correct it is beyond me, but correcting it meant I was adrift in a sea of insecticide.
Without cabinets or counter tops, my microwave, coffee pot, and toaster all sat on the floor, and each day I would have to clean the roaches out. I did discover that cockroaches, indeed, could withstand a nuclear holocaust because if I fired up the microwave while they were still in it, they would simply run faster and faster in circles and never die.
Unlike the flies that would explode within a few seconds.
I slept on my futon in my future dinning room as we worked on the house. New front door to replace the plywood board on hinges. New windows and window coverings. Appliances arrived so I could actually refrigerate food and cook.
My wood stove was installed two months after I moved in. It was now December– heat at last! Then some actual living room and dining room furniture; a big step up from empty boxes serving as tables.
I laughingly refer to this time as advanced camping, because I was basically in the shell of a home when we started.
You can just imagine me awaking each morning to a coffee pot and microwave full of roaches, throwing together some breakfast, donning a suit among the rubble that surrounded me and heading into the office.
And the exposures were numerous – insecticide, glues for flooring, carpet fibers and the formaldehyde that gasses off that new carpet. Just to name a few.
That major health breakdown struck, and I’ve contracted multiple chemical sensitivities; within that two-year predictive window for the stress inventory. The strong genetics didn’t hold up against this massive shock to my system. The minutest amount of a substance that normally wouldn’t bother anyone now sends my body (and almost 13 million other people’s bodies in this country) into molecular hysteria.
Your common laundry detergent, for example, would make my clothing unwearable. To have skin contact exposure to any of that detergent’s residue, for me, would produce dizziness, confusion, brain fog, memory loss, a headache, fatigue, an increased heart rate, an irregular heart rhythm, abdominal pain, and even the loss of my voice. And all within just a few short minutes of exposure. The only soap I can use for bathing and washing clothes is Ivory bar soap.
Of course, all shoes are constructed using either tanning agents or rubber agents, and those substances also cross through my skin and into my body. Right through the socks I wear. The socks, having elastic materials are also composed of neurotoxic agents.
Mold has been a particularly bad trigger and once the chemical sensitivities started, I faced new challenges, especially with that mold. And these challenges couldn’t be fixed by adding backsplash behind the new countertops.
A new AC/furnace was installed, along with a super air filtration system. Air purifiers were added throughout the home. A reverse-osmotic water purifier was added to remove lead and mercury from the water. (I discovered I also have heavy metal poisoning) And plans were made to correct the water leakage in the basement fueling the mold.
New gutters and an outside drainage system were installed to carry water away from the foundation. All of the cracks in the basement floor and walls were sealed. And this was working well.
Well that is till we got to the electric fuse box.
Once we had sealed up the basement, we were going to need to replace that box. Installed in 1951, it was rusted out and the wiring, while hot, didn’t look so hot.
There is always a chain reaction when one renovates. One project necessitates another and another and another. And the electric box was no exception.
Box replaced, and all feeds attached to new circuit breakers, we noticed some suspicious wiring. And most of the wiring had been covered up by the prior owner. He had used spray foam to entirely coat the basement ceiling and most all of the wiring was hiding in that foam.
We tore out a little bit of the foam and began discovering bare wires, splices that were incorrectly done, circuits that were way overloaded. It was all going to have to be replaced and that meant tearing out all of that foam. Every last bit of it. I had been living in a total fire trap this last five years and didn’t even know it.
Now this was a challenge. Is still a challenge.
Some fifty, 55-gallon trash bags and a full twenty-two-foot dumpster later we are still removing foam. And you can guess what happened. The entire basement filled with floating particulate matter from the foam, and we discovered multiple spots of mold where water pipes had leaked underneath this foam so no one knew to fix them.
Even with the advanced filtration in the AC/furnace and the air purifiers, the house is now totally contaminated.
So, after five years of living there, I can no longer enter this house. This house where all of my possessions remain imprisoned. Not even for two minutes as my brain will be overwhelmed with neurotoxins.
I am officially homeless, like so many others with MCS. This trail is at its end. And where I go now remains a total mystery.
Chaos rules the day . . .
Photo: An old barn with living space in the loft. A reminder of how old structures deteriorate over time. Decaying. Left to fall down or be torn down. Symbolic for how the body deteriorates. And it’s symbolic for the beginning of my journey into home refurbishing. At least how we traditionally define a home. And this is one adventure that has ended with the quite the opposite result of what was intended.