When you live with an allergy or sensitivity that most people don’t know exists, it can be tough.
I have a scent sensitivity. It is getting worse as I get older. I am not allergic. I will not die (unless I inhale too much smoke and my airway closes, which has happened once before and then it Is possible). But I will lose my voice. I will get nauseated. I will get flu-like symptoms. My throat will catch fire.
Here’s the kicker. The things that set me off? Perfumes, essential oils, air fresheners, Fabreze (and whatever vile chemicals are in it) and most detergents. Also, hand soaps, hand and body lotion, and incense. They are things most people use.
Whisk, Tide, and Gain are the three worst detergent culprits. And they are also the most ubiquitous. If I spend time with people who use them, I will be in a bad way within seconds.
It means that I spend less time socializing than I used to because I make my living with my voice. And I also prefer not to feel like I am about to hack up a lung.
It has led to some strange events. Friends have accused me of abandoning them because I am no longer around like I used to be. That is untrue. I haven’t abandoned anyone but neither will I ask anyone to change their behavior patterns for me. It’s not some sort of martyr thing. Rather, it’s the most expedient thing to do because it is asking to change pretty much anything anyone uses. If they use a detergent, and it has a scent, I’ll be in trouble. If they forget and put perfume on in the morning before they come see me? I’ll be in trouble. If they have hand lotion in their bag and they use it while we are together? I have to leave (and yes I carry my own unscented soap because most bathrooms in public places use soap that will set me off). So, it’s hard to go, “Oh yes please. Go scent free.” It is a huge undertaking.
I have one person, who wanted me to be around less, who started using a scented detergent when she had not been before. When I asked her about it, she at first denied it. And then, once we had discussed the matter further, she said, “Oh yeah. My bad. I did do that.” Needless to say, she and I are no longer friends. It is not because she used a scented detergent by the way. It is because she did it on purpose. Want an excellent way to ensure that you don’t spend time with someone who is allergic? Just go and buy and use the thing that spikes their allergy.
At our last wedding anniversary, my husband and I had to leave early. The bed-and-breakfast place used detergent that had scent. I tried to stay one night. I woke up in the middle of the night wheezing like I had asthma. I don’t have asthma. I’ve never had asthma. But I get asthma like symptoms if I inhale Whisk.
So, I am careful. But sometimes, no matter how careful I am, there is nothing I can do. Until a couple of years ago, for five years, we had next-door neighbors who A, smoked, and B, used a detergent that killed me. The trouble with living in these old co-op is that nothing is airtight. So, when they used their detergent, the stench from it came right into our house. I bought air purifiers. I tried to buy them their own scent-free laundry detergent that I would pay for that would be scent free.
“I can’t ask you to do that,” my neighbor said
“I am totally willing to do that, it would help me out a lot and it would save my health,” I replied.
“Well, I just want to keep using the detergent I want to use because I like the scent,” she said.
So, despite trying hard to work with them, and despite trying to get mediation with our Cooperative (which they did not attend and in which the co-op let me down in a substantive way that I will never get over but that is for another story), for five years I had an on-fire sore throat. The kicker? The man living in that house had a job that necessitated doing laundry every, single day. So, yeah. For five years. Every day. I was sick.
The tough part? I couldn’t leave. If you look at all of the information about scent allergies, they all say, “well, if you are experiencing scents that you can’t stand or that are giving you a reaction, leave. Go home. Stay in a safe space.” Well, what happens if your safe space is the place that’s dangerous? What happens if it’s your house that’s the biggest problem? I felt for years like there was nowhere I could go.
Why am I bringing all this up now? It happened again last night. My husband needed to have some colleagues over to work on his show. I was going to be out. I ended up not going out, but it didn’t matter. One of them or perhaps both of them use laundry detergent that sets me off. I stayed upstairs. I hid in my office. I tried not to come downstairs. But, I still have almost no voice this morning. Today is being spent clearing out all of the things that need to be cleared out so that I can get to some semblance of normal. I’m washing couch cushions. I have the windows open on a cold day and I have fans going. Why? It’s in the hope that by this evening, some of this will dissipate and I will be able to recuperate enough for my gig this Wednesday. That’s the problem with making a living with your voice. If you need to use it, and it’s not working? It’s like trying to be a marathon runner with a broken foot. You pretty much can’t do it.
I hope my voice will return. If not, I will be doing an all instrumental holiday caroling show.
If you have read this far, thanks. I needed to get this off my chest. And also, if you see me and I don’t hug you, please don’t take it personally. I just can’t take the chance that whatever scent you used five minutes ago or ten hours ago will rub off on me and cause me days, perhaps weeks of pain.
Sending you all of my love.