MCS but Male

Friday, November 16, 2012

Question

Dear Patrick: All of my friends have pets. I am very allergic to birds, hamsters, cats, and dogs. If I have a play date, I have to take my own set of bedding to their houses. I lay this out for sex, then fold it up, keep it in plastic wrap until it can be cleaned, then save it till I need it again. I also have to take double doses of my anti-histamines, and I am sick for two days after being exposed to all the crap in their places.

          Nobody seems grateful for the time and energy this takes—not to mention the expense. Everyone pays attention to their pets, but what about me and the pain I suffer from my allergies and the isolation? Every time I see someone pet their cat or dog, I want to scream. They are getting attention that I want. Aren't people more important than animals?

          I need to run air cleaners and dehumidifiers at my home, so my power bill is always high. It takes several visits (and asthma attacks and rashes and other problems) to persuade a new partner that I really do mean it when I tell them they can't use scented products. Many people have felt that I am not worth the bother. I wish I could live in a world that is not so contaminated. Sometimes I feel that resentment and fear are consuming my life. Is there anything you can do to make your readers more aware of what it means to live with multiple chemical sensitivities? It is a chronic illness but nobody recognizes it, and men certainly aren't supposed to have such a “girly” condition.--

Answer

As a man with a chronic illness, I do empathize with your situation. It is very difficult to face a medical challenge that: (a) has a gendered value, and (b) is not widely understood. I often feel that I am perpetually educating people who don't especially want to know why I am in pain or sick all of the time. Healthy people and people without disabilities seem to want to believe that they possess some virtue that keeps ill fortune away. They are uncomfortable with anything that makes them aware that their kind circumstances are frail and undeserved. Of course, they are also afraid to hang out with sick people for fear we will ask them to do things for us. I do understand that most people are overworked and underpaid, but I also wish that the world was a kinder place.

          Multiple chemical sensitivities are quite real and recognized by immune disorder specialists as such. Many people find it almost impossible to cope with a world full of complex chemicals that did not exist before the advent of industrial technology. Everybody understands pollution is bad, but very few people realize that a substance doesn't have to be an officially recognized toxin to be problematic. As you point out, cosmetics can trigger allergies, and so can food additives, cleaning products, etc. I'm sure you face challenges getting through an ordinary day that would leave other people panting in your dust. Would it help to put together a blog or other electronic resource about the condition? You would then have something concrete for new people to use to get up to speed. It might also become a way to meet people who share your issues.

          I don't agree, however, with the sentiment that people are more important than animals. While I certainly think you deserve more love and sex and good health, I also feel pretty certain that putting ourselves above all other life forms is the kind of thinking that created this whole problem in the first place. The whole ecosystem needs tender care, even reverence. The love that people feel for their pets is a good thing, softening some of the sharp edges of a society filled with competition and cruelty.

          This response seems like such a small thing to offer you when your life has become overwhelming. I wonder if other people who care about you don't feel the same way. They would like to help you, but they don't know how, and the situation feels so huge, they can't get a handle on any little piece of it that would be positive. You might need to ask for more specific things from them. You might also need to express emotions other than anger, fear, etc. I can sometimes feel relief from rage or hopelessness in little bits of gratitude. Just making a list of the things I can feel grateful for shifts my awareness from what I lack to what I can appreciate. It's important to express gratitude to caretakers so they don't get overwhelmed.

          It's the little things that get you through the worst situations, dear reader. I hear from many disabled folks who have no sex lives at all. Even though you have to go through a lot of bother to enjoy sex, you do have people in your life who let you know you are attractive and literally worth a fuck. In the meantime, perhaps you could ask for some help with your cleaning fees for all the bedding.

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