As a multiple chemical sensitivity and allergy sufferer myself I can safely say that life hasn't exactly been a walk in the park. This is a sentiment with which I'm sure my fellow "canaries" would agree! However, I am also able to appreciate that things could be much worse for me than they are in 2007. If I had developed MCS in the 1980's for example, I'm sure my life
would have been a whole order of magnitude more difficult and distressing. Let me explain...
Without a doubt the single thing for which I am most grateful in the 21st century is the internet. When I first became sensitive to chemicals back in 2001 I already had an internet connection and it was comforting to go online and discover other people with the condition had set up their own websites to tell their stories and offer advice to other sufferers. Two good examples would be MCSurvivors and Gordon and Jacki's Place at www.ourlittleplace.com. I was also able to find websites set up by doctors who recognise and treat patients with the condition, as well as research papers that have investigated it. Because of the internet I could do all this without leaving the safety of my home and risk coming into contact with triggers for my symptoms.
Aside from information about MCS, the internet has been a Godsend in numerous other ways. I have obviously been able to create my own website which has given me purpose and in the foreseeable future will hopefully be able to provide me with a modest living. I have recently started a Bachelor's degree course with a traditional bricks and mortar University which is all done online. I even met my girlfriend online 5 years ago! Then there are things like being able to do grocery shopping and banking online. Twenty years ago I would have had to brave the outside world with the inevitable consequence of making myself very ill to do any of these day to day things. I don't dare to imagine how much more difficult my life would have been as an MCS sufferer back in the 1980's before the dawn of the internet. So a big thank you to all the scientists who worked on the early computer networks back in the 1960's and to Tim Berners-Lee who developed the World Wide Web in 1989.
We MCS sufferers in the 21st century also benefit from a greater awarness of the condition. There is still a long way to go, but things are certainly improving. For example, I was still living at home with my parents when I developed severe MCS which meant it was impossible for me to remain there around all sorts of chemicals found in the average home. I applied for council housing and was able to be bumped up to the top of the list for a flat/apartment based on the fact that I was chemically sensitive and suffering badly at home. As a result I was provided with housing in only two months when the waiting list was 12 months or more. I think it is safe to say this wouldn't have been possible a few decades ago and I would have been in an impossible situation. I do appreciate that many of you may have had (or are having) a much harder time with issues such as this than I did but not so long ago nobody would have been able to get housing or disability benefits based on them having MCS.
Another way in which governments are improving things for MCS and allergy sufferers is through the smoking bans which are coming into force across the developed world. Tobacco smoke is a major trigger for MCS, asthma and allergy symptoms so making public areas smoke-free means those of us seriously affected can now visit many places that may have been off limits previously (some college campuses have even banned perfumes).
The growing public awareness of environmental and health issues in general has increased demand for all things "green". This has been great news for us MCS and allergy sufferers as hypoallergenic and fragrance free products can now be found on supermarket shelves rather than being hidden away in small health shops. My MCS is now much less severe than it was so I am able to shop at the supermarket and buy fragrance-free soaps, dish washing liquid, and other household cleaning products which don't cause me problems.
As demand grows for healthy and environmentally sound products and services, an increasing number of hotels are now offering allergen and chemical-free rooms (for a fee). This week I read an article on the Baltimore Sun website reporting on this very issue. The articles reports that a number of individual hotels such as Marriotts in Annapolis and Miami, and the Peninsula in Beverly Hills, California as well as entire chains such as Wyndham Hotels & Resorts are offering the special rooms with many more planning to follow suit. Many of the rooms in the US are serviced by a company called Pure Solutions NA, of Buffalo, N.Y. with the rooms labelled as 'Pure Rooms'. The rooms are said to be free from bacteria, viruses, mites, pollen, dust, pet dander, and chemicals. This is achieved through numerous methods included the use of air and water purification systems, hypoallergenic encasments for bedding and furnishings, ozone treaments to kill micro-organisms, and specially formulated natural cleaning products. So that trip away may now be possible.....if you have the cash.
So there you have it. As hard as it is to live with MCS and allergies it is not so difficult to imagine how things could be worse in so many ways. I don't mean dismiss anyone's suffering in any way, things have been a huge struggle for me as well (most of my twenties have been spent inside..alone), I have just come to realise that it is good to step back sometimes and be thankful for the small positives in life. We need every method we can to help us stay strong in the face of adversity.
About: Matthew Hogg ("Maff")
Diagnosed with M.E./chronic fatigue syndrome aged only 11 years old and subsequently associated illnesses including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). Despite his own struggles he has constantly sought to educate and support others suffering from such "invisible illnesses" through his website, The Environmental Illness Resource. He fully recovered from MCS using his own approach and holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nutritional Health.