Dear Modern Civilization,
I know you have felt this coming on, but it is clear to me that we need to spend some time apart. It’s not you, it’s me. Well, no, it’s almost totally you. It’s just that I can finally see you clearly.
I have developed the most wretched superpower: I can feel all your toxicity. It’s like becoming an X-man. Legions of micro-organisms have mutated to adapt to the polluted environment. There are about 24% of humans who, like me, are genetically susceptible to biotoxins (lyme and its co-infections, mold, ciguatera and pfiesteria.) The biotoxins produced by micro-organisms are becoming more toxic in response to burgeoning chemicals in our environment. Anyone can get sick from them, it’s just that one in four of us struggle to heal. The biotoxin burden is in addition to the toxic burden from the chemicals themselves. One study found and average of 232 chemicals in the umbilical cord blood of newborn babies in the US.
So I’m so grateful that scientists have finally found a treatment that works for people like me who get really sick from biotoxins, but unfortunately a side effect of the treatment is an extreme sensitivity to chemicals that renders just about everywhere unsafe. I need to find somewhere that doesn’t have chemicals or mold, now that I am so hypersensitive. That’s why I need to leave you.
I have really always known something wasn’t right. But you are so cozy. Truth be told, I’m scared to death to leave you. I haven’t ever been on my own without hot showers and electricity for very long. I’m pretty rugged, as girls go. I have hiked the Himalayas, kayaked in fjords and camped by myself in super-remote locations. But I always got warm and clean afterwards. I always had a credit card and a plane ticket to somewhere.
I really love flush toilets. And the internet! OMG, I can’t even imagine going without that for very long. I have loved having my own private transportation vehicle that I can use day or night in all kinds of weather and the limitless ribbons of asphalt laid out for my travelling pleasure. I know it is only the tiniest sliver of evolutionary time that a single female human would be able to own one of these and hit the road.
I am aware that I am incredibly fortunate to have been born during this era and in this country, with all the luxuries that are considered normal. I really did enjoy it…even though I have always known there was something wrong with it. I have never really bought my own rationalizations and have despaired at my inability to live with integrity of what I knew to be true: living this way is unsustainable.
I have tried, really tried, to be more mainstream so that I could be happier with you. But I can’t rejoice in an expanding economy. I am horrified that humans are causing the sixth mass species extinction and that we are currently breezing right past the climate change tipping point. My meager attempts to mitigate the damage I cause just by being a modern American are inadequate. This I have always known. Recycling? CSA? Efficiency appliances? Come on now.
Yet I am still a human animal. I am fiercely and irrationally interested in the preservation of my son’s life, no matter what the cost. I am concerned with social justice because my fellow humans deserve dignity and safety and a fighting chance. But there are so many of us. I know. The non-humans deserve a shot too.
I have always known that indigenous people who live within an ecosystem without dominating it have a lot to teach us. What we are doing is clearly not going to continue for much longer. One hundred years, maybe? A blip. When I live my rural little life in coastal Maine, far away from malls and highways, I can almost forget that our clothing swaps and organic potlucks are not the norm.
When I come out into the mainstream, onto the interstate corridors lined with strip malls and franchises, I feel sick. Not only because I really am physically sick, but because the conventional opinion continues to be that this is ….progress. This is the progress of lemmings.
So here it is. There is always a leading edge, where the wave just starts to tip over and break. Likewise, canaries feel the toxic breeze first. Those of us with CIRS have developed the canary superpower of perceiving toxins that others can’t feel. What will follow in the coming decades is an avalanche of data to show that all of our major epidemics– Alzheimer’s Disease, Autism, Diabetes, Cancer and chronic illnesses–are being caused by or correlated with the complex toxicity in our modern environment.
Anyway, I need a break from you. Believe me, I have tried every option that would allow me to stay with you and with my son. Now I’m going to drive my personal transport vehicle to the very edge of you and see what the air feels like to breathe there. I found a place to camp in the high desert that has a flush toilet, a hot shower and wifi, but no mold and almost no chemicals. I hope it works to allow my system to calm down and become less sensitive. If it doesn’t work, (note from the future: it didn’t work,) and going the edge of you isn’t going far enough, I will have to figure out how to go feral out into the wilderness.
Yesterday I found myself walking around a neighborhood north of Cincinnati, Ohio, tears rolling down my cheeks as my eyes passed over the 1970s ranches. Eight out of 10 of them has Trump signs in their front lawns. I was walking to warm up, since it was not quite 50F, and I am still living outside on November 8th, 2016. I was also walking just to ground myself in the rhythm of walking and breathing. The surreal news that Trump had just won the election had started to feel real as I turned onto a road that wasn’t there when I was a kid and was lined with Tudor style McMansions.
There were no weeds anywhere on the lush, green lawns framed by the same bland landscaping in front of each house. Each house is full of consumer goods, electronics and earnest, slightly overweight white mid-western humans who feel deeply that this “way of life” is their God-given right. One closed their automatic garage door, sealing in a solid-packed wall of bright plastic belongings next to their shiny SUV. Another pushed one of those machines along that spun Scotts fertilizer pellets out onto the lawn in an even pattern.
I do not belong here.
To be fair, I have felt like I don’t belong here for decades before this horrendous day. My parents moved here 40 years ago when I was 6. I have also had that sense of blanket resistance, that “this ain’t it” feeling, in many other locations and eras in my life. But never have I felt it more acutely than I do here now in Ohio. There are no health food stores, but there are fifty different fast food options within a mile from home.
Never have I been this nauseous at the thought that a campaign of hatred, fear and misinformation could lead MOST of the people around me to somehow rejoice that an incompetent, narcissistic demagogue had “saved” the country last night.
But for this to happen while I am still sick, while I have been squeezed out of my own life like toothpaste out of a tube….it is simply more than I can process. I am crying for all the people, including children, who already feel less safe just walking through our society. I am crying for our country’s daughters who did NOT see a woman get elected (even though she won the popular vote,) but instead saw a man brag about grabbing women by the pussy and then, weeks later, ascend to the most powerful job in the world anyway.
I’m crying because all these perfect houses and lawns are poisoning the Earth and poisoning me. I have an “environmental illness.” That means, in a nutshell, that my body has become so allergic to modern human civilization that I must leave it. I am heading to a barren, secluded homestead in New Mexico that is surrounded by nothingness. It is dry, at 4000 feet altitude and 26 miles away from the nearest small town, which is in turn 150 miles away from the nearest city.
I have CIRS, Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome. Mold illness. Eleven months ago I had just moved into a moldy house and had just started a job in a moldy agency. It was a matter of weeks before I collapsed and spent months writhing in pain and unable to sleep. I was terrified when my doctors told me they had no idea what was wrong with me.
That’s when the structure of my life started to squeeze me out like a tube of toothpaste. I had to leave that house that my son and I shared with my boyfriend and leave most of our belongings behind. My boyfriend didn’t keep in touch. Then went what was left of my savings, then I lost my job. I tried to move back into my own house, but had to go through a grueling, expensive remediation before I gave up on it. (Thankfully, the boyfriend came back and helped.) After having spent all summer sleeping outside and making progress on my health, it got too cold in Maine. When I stay indoors, I get sicker. So I had to leave my state and leave my son behind. The final touch was that I needed to buy a different car and get all new clothing and bedding. My identity has shattered like a mirror dropped from the roof onto concrete.
Now when I look down at myself, I see someone else’s Walmart clothes as I walk though this mid-Western suburb full of Trump signs in a country that will soon be run by President Trump. I squint into the sun.
Who the hell am I now?
It’s true, I don’t belong here. But I’m also terrified to leave. I feel nurtured and cozy and safe here. These feelings are intertwined with all my judgment and malaise. At least the crappy I feel now is familiar.
Somehow, fleeing Trump’s America dissolves some of my ambivalence if I have to do it. But there is still terror. This illness requires people to jump off cliffs into the unknown while we are sick. Over and over.
Anyway, I have no choice.