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Maxima shares her experiences of living with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

I have probably been chemically sensitive for most of my life though the condition wasn't diagnosed until I was in my early thirties. At that point we were living in Canada and operating our own pine furniture business. Our two children were small and had suffered numerous bouts of illness, ear infections and throat infections until we finally removed all cows' milk from their diet and things improved. At the same time our daughter who was 3 at the time had had many problems that had started very early in life - much distress, insomnia, digestive problems and hyperactivity. At 2 days old we were told not to leave her in a room on her own as she had rolled over in the hospital!

By the time our daughter was 3 and we had found an ecological doctor I was in a pretty bad state, very depressed and weak. It was through analysing the pattern of the week that the doctor diagnosed chemical sensitivity in both me and our daughter. At the time she was one of the youngest people to have such a diagnosis. Because at that time I was going to work on a Wednesday and a Saturday and being exposed to the chemicals in the pine furniture business the doctor was able to pinpoint the cause (I had explained to him that on Thursdays and Sundays I felt very depressed and then started to feel better until the day after the next work day). After this Don used to shower before he came home from the business and we could tell from the children's behaviour if he had not been able to.  We always recommend keeping a diary which can really help to pinpoint the pattern of an allergy or sensitivity even though some reactions can be delayed for up to a couple of days.

We had already discovered that our daughter could not tolerate acrylic and that if I slept on a foam rubber camping mat (outside in a tent) I woke with swollen eyes and in a very depressed state. We removed the foam rubber carpet underlay throughout the house, made sure that we only used cotton or wool bedding and never wore any synthetic clothing. By the time our children were 5 and 7 we decided to sell the business and move to the UK where they would be able to spend more time outside.

Apart from removing the synthetic and chemically treated materials in our house, removing the foods we had been shown to be allergic to, being careful what cleaning products and toiletries we used we did not really have any treatment other than taking food supplements. The last time I took the children to the office our daughter spent the whole evening crying and distressed. Once we moved to the UK and bought an old Cotswold stone house that had not had any real refurbishment we started to feel better.

Fortunately for both children they attended a Rudolph Steiner school where the food is organic and they only use natural fibres and natural products in the classrooms. Fashion is not a strong point and most children wore cotton and wool clothing so they were not competing on the fashion scene with the latest synthetic fleeces and polyester tops! Our son had more trouble with feather and food allergies than chemicals and had to take his own yeast free sandwiches for lunch but otherwise it was a happy and a very healthy time for them. We always controlled what we used in the house in terms of paints and cleaning products and only ever used organic paints and unperfumed detergents - never any fabric conditioner.

When our daughter was doing her art A level she came home one day and sat at the kitchen table with large tears rolling down her cheeks. When I enquired what was the matter she explained that the other A level students had been using acrylics and oils in their art class. We discussed this with the school and she was given a separate room where she could do her art and not be exposed to the petrochemicals. She continued to complete her schooling and studied Art and English at university.

She is not as strict as I am about the clothes she now wears although she will never wear anything until it has been washed and keeps the synthetics mainly for eveningwear. I think because she spent most of her life in a relatively unpolluted indoor environment her chemical sensitivity has lessened though she is always very careful about paints, detergents, toiletries and cleaning products. Perhaps now her mould and pet allergies affect her more than the chemical sensitivity.

We have never been able to have new furniture because of the chemical treatments and the only carpet we have in the house is a wool carpet that had not been treated with any insecticide with a natural fibre underlay. Consequently it has been eaten by the moths!

People ask me how I managed to recover from chemical sensitivity and the truth is that I have not completely recovered. I am always rudely reminded of chemical sensitivity when we go away and have no control over what we sleep on and the furnishings in the accommodation. Bedding, foam in the mattress and furniture and air fresheners are the worst offenders.

Our house is a haven and so are our offices (natural maple flooring finished with organic varnish and all walls painted with organic paints). We do not allow any perfume in the building so for most of my time I am not exposed to the chemicals that really affect me. We are fortunate to live in one of the cleaner parts of the country where lichen still grows on the Cotswold stone walls. We grow our own organic vegetables and spend most weekends outside.

Our own experiences of chemical sensitivity and other allergies led to the idea of setting up The Healthy House. We had always had trouble finding household products we could tolerate and realised there must be many other people in the same position. Both our children have been involved with the Healthy House. Our son spent his school and university holidays working with me and now his own company manages our website. Our daughter spent 4 years with The Healthy House after university and travelling and set up the marketing systems. We are grateful for their input and they still keep us on our toes being much more in tune with modern technology and trends than we are! We are still very careful about the products we offer and are stringent about choosing those that do the job they were intended for without introducing any pollutants into the indoor environment.

I am grateful to Don who has stood by us in our quest to lead normal lives and is very good at supporting our chemically sensitive customers. Chemical sensitivity often leads to unpredictability - stable and happy one minute and close to the edge the next! It's not easy living with someone with chemical sensitivity and to have two of them in the house at once and an allergic son must have often tested his own sanity! We always worked as a family together and if one person could not eat something or tolerate a product we didn't have it in the house. We always worked around individual dietary restrictions so that we always sat down together for meals and enjoyed the same food.

We are always happy to speak with anyone who has problems with allergies or chemical sensitivities. There are no quick fixes though for more common allergies such as dust mite allergy a few simple changes can have more or less instant results. Otherwise much of it is a question of rigorous detective work and trial and error.  We are here to help.

Read more about the history of The Healthy House