Help me understand multiple chemical sensitivity
February 26, 2018 11:50 PM   Subscribe

I find myself in frequent contact with a person who suffers from Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. This is the first time I've encountered someone with this affliction in my day-to-day life. I've been asked by the person to accommodate a number of changes, including the type of shampoo, laundry detergent, hand soap, lotions, deodorant, and cleaning products I use, and generally refraining from using perfume/scented products of any kind.

This person's situation is so prominent an issue in their life that it seems like every few minutes they are commenting about a new smell they've picked up on, or needing another accommodation of some sort (such as relocating to a new spot/leaving the venue completely/opening a window/contacting customer service to address a concern). They frame their experience as a full-on disability akin to missing a limb or being blind, and they consequently have extremely high expectations for the people around them to accommodate.

I am really struggling to empathize fully with their situation. I am frequently irritated by the kinds of changes I have to make to coexist peacefully with this person. One time, they opened all the windows in my vicinity (without asking my thoughts) on a cold winter day day because of the "smell" --they insisted on keeping it like this for several hours. I'm tiring of the constant conversations about how such and such place wouldn't provide unscented soap and how they can only go to building X in the whole city of Y due to their policies on scented products.

I'm a bit ashamed to admit that my gut reaction is to think this person is a hypochondriac, to instinctively dismiss their concerns as being "all in their head", and to occasionally Google MCS to see whether it is even a real thing. I'm being intentionally vague about my relationship to this person, but suffice it to say, I'm expected to accommodate when they are around, and I don't see any way for me to be distanced from this person. I care about this person and I want to be more empathetic. I also think their right to accommodation occasionally violates my own boundaries, and I'm unsure when/how to push back.

Looking for advise on how to reframe my thinking, and/or how to respond to this person when they push for accommodations I don't feel comfortable making.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
So regardless of cause, it's severity, the impact it has physiologically, this is very real to that person.

This consumes their life. Everyday. They are very limited and make life choices around this problem and that is miserable to them. Even if it is entirely mental illness (please note I AM NOT saying that's what this is, I do not know this person at all) it is a disabling, limiting, frustrating and isolating experience.

Taking that into account is important. They probably recognize they are making other people upset, they probobly get a ton of push back, they probably feel unwelcome.

So anything you do, especially negative, please realize from the context that your reaction is something that is compounded 1000 fold. When you don't do the thing, it's also like all the other people that don't do /can't do the thing/or they can't ask to change the thing.

Compassion and flexibility will not hurt this person. Not accommodating them will.

You need to decide what is okay for you to change/not change, and it is okay to let them know clearly. You should be clear about their requests. You don't have to do anything. But that doesn't mean it isn't hurtful or limiting to the person. It does mean that the particular person will be accommodating you in their lives every time they see you, and it will be stressful for the person.
posted by AlexiaSky at 1:16 AM on February 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Can't speak to MCS specifically, but as a person whose eyes and sinuses puff closed and who suffers a full-on fight-or-flight rage response when exposed to even quite small doses of whatever chemical warfare is in both Axe/Lynx and most Rexona products I can assure you that (a) full-on allergy-like physical reaction to scents is absolutely a thing (b) people, especially young people, seem to find a much stronger need to drench themselves in these filthy fucking scents than they did when I was a young man and (c) I wish to fuck they'd just stop.
posted by flabdablet at 1:34 AM on February 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

So, I have Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and also an allergist-diagnosed skin allergy to multiple fragrances (If I get fragrance on my skin, I get severe dermatitis for 18 months-plus.) Trust me, this is a real thing, and not psychological!

This is what it looks like:

Being around strong perfume/deodorant = migraine for up to 7 days.
The absolute worst ones are spray-on body spray eg Lynx, Axe, Rexona.

If I'm in a shopping centre, I have to take massive detours to avoid the nail salons so I don't get a migraine. I also have to make massive detours to avoid the Lush store so I don't get a migraine.

If I'm in the food court and the cleaner starts Windex-ing the windows, I have to move, so I don't get a migraine.

I can't go down the laundry detergent aisle of the supermarket without getting a migraine from the fragrance.

I wear a filter-mask on trains so I don't get a migraine from perfumes.

What I need from other people to function:
a) don't wear spray on body spray like Axe/Lynx/Rexona if you can possibly avoid it;
b) don't wear perfume if you can possibly avoid it, ESPECIALLY if you're going to be inside an elevator;
c) unscented laundry detergents are better. There are a lot of different ones on the market; Adding an extra rinse cycle to your washing after the wash has finished also helps;
d) don't apply nail polish around me, even if a window is open;
e) unscented shampoo and conditioner are nice, but really only an issue if you're going to get close to me eg leaning over me to show me something on a computer.
posted by Murderbot at 1:36 AM on February 27, 2018 [9 favorites]

Whether or not the affliction is 100% real or 100% exaggerated, you have the right and the duty to decide what your boundaries are and how much you can change your life to accommodate and to be honest with this person about it. This would also be true if the person had lost a limb or become blind.
posted by Gnella at 2:57 AM on February 27, 2018 [43 favorites]

It sounds to me as if part of the problem is that they are constantly bringing it to everyone’s attention, constantly changing everyone’s environment to suit them personally regardless of anyone else’s discomfort, and constantly talking about MCS to the exclusion of all other conversation.

I get that MCS is a huge drag to experience, but this person sounds selfish. Surely even a MCS sufferer can understand that people don’t want to sit in a freezing cold room or to listen to the 25734663th anecdote about how they weren’t accommodated that day.

I would get up and move to a more comfortable location whenever possible, spend as little time in this person’s presence as possible, and bring their attention to how repetitive their conversation is, e.g. “You have stories like this literally a dozen times a day. I get that this is tough for you, but it’s time to change the subject.” If they wonder why you’re always getting up and leaving, just say, “I don’t want things to be uncomfortable for you, but I’m cold/it’s too loud/I need a more inviting space”.

And yeah, if they push for accommodations you’re not comfortable with, simply say no. It’s one thing to make a change that doesn’t personally discommodate you (like laundry detergent) but it’s another thing to ask you to be uncomfortable so they can be comfortable (like opening the window on a cold day and expecting you to just deal with it). It isn’t unreasonable for them to be required to keep other people’s comfort in mind. It’s not unreasonable to expect them to be considerate, or to not direct every conversation to their sensitivity.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:10 AM on February 27, 2018 [26 favorites]

I do understand the urge to focus conversation on a prominent medical issue, because certainly when I was suffering from an ongoing condition, it made me very anxious and I was constantly googling and searching for reassurance. But after a certain point ya just gotta stop doing that because everyone gets sick of you. A supportive forum would be a much better outlet.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:14 AM on February 27, 2018 [6 favorites]

and/or how to respond to this person when they push for accommodations I don't feel comfortable making.

This is going to depend a lot on whether you have a personal or work relationship with this person. If it's a work relationship, then there should probably be much more focus on making sure this co-worker or employee has reasonable accommodations so that they can work; many offices (including my own) now have scent-free policies, so avoiding scented products at work seems like a reasonable accommodation, as does occasionally putting up with open windows.

If this is an entirely personal relationship, then you get to focus more on your own boundaries, but being kind and explicit about them, and realizing that they may mean this person chooses not to be in your life, would be important.
posted by lazuli at 7:04 AM on February 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's impossible to answer because we don't know if this is a personal or work relationship. We don't knowif you live with this person or not, if you areable to direct them to therapy or other resources...

The one person I definitely knew with MCS was a controlling scheming person in most things. Also a chain smoker. I'm not sure medically what was going on there, but it was hard to take complaints about perfume seriously while they were smoking on us.

I have friends and customers with similar type food allergies, some people develop these overwhelming sensitivities. I've never found these people to be near unbearable to coexist with like the chain smoking MCS person.

I'm sure I personally know other MCS people in my large city, but I am unaware they are suffering from this condition specifically because they don't make it my problem.

- I'm just giving you a range of experiences with this type of thing to help you put your situation in perspective. The context of your relationship to this person is a huge factor. I hope this helped.
posted by jbenben at 7:43 AM on February 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

I spend a lot of time around someone with MCS. Yes, it is real. I have respiratory problems, though, so I can perhaps empathize more easily than others. While I have shifted some habits to accomodate them, such as not wearing perfume or strongly scented lotions, not burning scented candles, and not using certain brands of cleaners, they also do not incessantly complain about their condition. It took a bit of negotiation to get to a place where the environment worked for them and also for me, but it didn't involve one person asserting their needs over the other. We worked it out.
posted by Armed Only With Hubris at 8:16 AM on February 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

Other people's problems do not have to also become your problems. You're allowed to accommodate as much or as little as you feel comfortable with, you have my permission! Obviously if this is family or work your options would be slightly different, but... This condition doesn't have to also rule your life.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 8:18 AM on February 27, 2018 [5 favorites]

MCS is a "real thing" in that the people involved are experiencing real distress, sometimes severely disablingly so. They're not hypochondriacs or malingerers. There isn't a ton of evidence for its actual existence as a standalone's probably some entanglement of physical and mental illnesses. (Some claims made by sufferers are just impossible; I know someone who's looking after someone who won't have an aide who takes public transit because he believes that "offgassing" from the bus will somehow cling to the person and make him ill.) But I really don't think it's helpful to think of it as being "all in your head," as if that invalidated the person's need for care and compassion. Would you refuse to take reasonable steps to accommodate a depressed or anxious person because it's "all in their head?" No. And you don't need to pin down the exact mechanisms of a person's suffering to respect it. So I would try to reframe this as "person X is genuinely in distress, whether or not science understands the cause."

On the other hand, whatever people who think they have MCS are suffering from, it seems to manifest sometimes as an intense fixation on their own vulnerability or the hostility of the environment which their illness then licenses them to demand to micromanage their entire environment. People who are blind, have movement disabilities, etc., don't get the kind and degree of accommodation they want. And that can be difficult for those in that environment. It sounds like your person is one such person. Basically, you can't let claims of medical needs automatically trump every concern of your comfort and convenience. In their own house, obviously, you really must defer to their choice of their own conditions re: temperature, etc., but even there...if they make elaborate demands concerning what you wear/wash with, etc., it's fair for you to decide that you don't want to visit instead. In shared environments, they have to be willing to compromise and not act by diktat. Reasonable accommodation is what they have a right to expect. Regardless of the cause, a person who cannot be in a shared place without seriously inconveniencing others who also have a right to be there just isn't capable of being in that place. A severely immunocompromised person couldn't expect to walk into a restaurant and throw out everyone with a cold, demand that the waitstaff do some hospital-grade cleaning protocol on their booth, ask for food prepared from a special supply chain, etc.
posted by praemunire at 8:43 AM on February 27, 2018 [16 favorites]

There's such a spectrum of options here - I think a lot depends on the circumstances of how you know this person, and how often you interact with them. And it's one of the places where different needs can definitely collide, so I have an example of a negotiation.

I use scented products for a variety of reasons - sometimes it's because specific elements help with skin issues, or a product reduces allergens for me, sometimes it's for spiritual reasons. I have friends who use scent for pain and focus issues. I try to keep use moderate any time I'm going out, in general, but I'm more relaxed at home.

I was doing some technology help (as a volunteer) for someone with MCS a year or so ago, and it involved going to her home. She asked me to avoid scented products, and we talked about how to handle clothing and laundry (I live in an apartment and normally use lightly scented detergent in shared machines, so doing a new load randomly on short notice isn't a functional thing for me.)

So she and I talked about what reasonable options were - if she needed me to avoid scented products, we needed to schedule my visits well in advance, so I could plan around them.

I said I was willing to use unscented products a day or so in advance (shampoo, lotions, etc.) because they were part of my regular rotation, but I couldn't use them for an extended period just in case she might have a question, because there were things I needed specific products for. When I visited, she often asked me to sit in a certain place, and to leave my jacket/sweater/etc. outside (i.e. the clothing most likely to pick up scent/allergens/pet hair.)

That was a compromise that worked pretty well for both of us for planned time. I'd be glad to do the same thing with a friend, at the cost of not doing spontaneous time in person. (On the other hand, I don't do spontaneous last-minute plans well for my own reasons, so that's not a huge change!)

If it were someone I was working with, I'd be asking about better long-term options. Maybe changing specific products, or using them only in the evening would work for that specific person. Maybe air filters or other ventilation would help. And I'd look at how the in-person contact was working, and whether there were ways to do some of the interactions in ways that let us both do things the ways we preferred (fewer in person meetings, etc.)

It might make sense to go further in something like a personal care position, or another situation where there are lots of people who might have issues (like health care) when a serious overhaul of everything I used might be worth it to me. But in that case, it'd be 'this is part of this job/role' and I'd expect there would be some benefit for me in doing that on a regular basis. (Like paychecks!) Ditto a really close personal relationship - but I wouldn't upend my daily life and approaches that help me for someone who was a friend I saw only sometimes.

It's also totally okay to set limits like "I understand you sometimes need to clear the air out, but it's a problem for me to leave the windows open for hours when it's cold. What else might work here?" It is also totally okay to say "I know this is a thing you're dealing with all the time, but I'd love to have conversations about other things with you too, and I feel like we get stuck in this pattern that isn't really good for anyone or making things better." and see where that conversation takes you.
posted by modernhypatia at 8:45 AM on February 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

You might try checking out the JAN (Job Accommodation Network) guide on Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. Even if your relationship with this person is not through work, it may provide some ideas & context. If your relationship is work-related, it may provide you some suggestions for how an employer can reasonably accommodate someone with the condition. For instance, leaving lots of windows open in the middle of winter is not likely to be a reasonable accommodation as it creates an unacceptable environment for others in the workplace; getting an air purifier for the person's workstation, allowing them to work from home or farther away from others, or making sure the workplace is free of irritants would be more reasonable alternatives.

If this is your co-worker, I'd urge you to get in touch with HR if you can. It's the company's responsibility to discuss any needs for accommodation with the employee and make a plan; if the company does that proactively, it may help you by letting you know of anything you need to do up front (instead of feeling like you're being pelted with ever-changing, ever-escalating demands).
posted by ourobouros at 8:51 AM on February 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

I have a version of this and I have mostly learned just to lump it. I can't control what purchased scents cab drivers have on or hang on their mirrors (though I'd rather smell body odor!), what people wear at events where I am the featured speaker or key guest, what perfume or deodorant my coworkers choose, what someone on the bus decided to douse themselves with, or what relatives have decided to pour on their carpets before vacuuming. I just accept that my sinuses and throat will be irritated for days, drink a lot of water and ginger tea, go where the smells aren't if I can, and hope this bout of symptoms gets a chance to go away before I get a new exposure.

It sucks but it's my Thing. Lots of people a Thing they have to deal with. Sometimes they're visible Things, sometimes they're not. Sometimes they're easy Things, sometimes they're not. Having my Thing helps me remember to try to accommodate other people's Things. Do you have a Thing? Maybe think about the person's Thing as if it were your own Thing.

My wife is very considerate, fortunately, so we're almost 100% fragrance-free in our house. (There's a spray-on hair conditioner she likes and is unwilling to give up on, though, so I try not be around for that.) She's also willing to do things like switch seats with me on a plane or in the theater, which is nice. She also gets it when I don't want to go down the cleaning supplies aisle in the grocery store, or when we drive around to the other entrance of a department store or mall so we don't have to walk by a fragrance counter. We agree that dryer sheets are Satan's shrouds and will never have them in our house.

One place I have been insistent on change is the workplace. At one job we had a new facilities person who bought some by-the-gallon cleaning stuff that filled the whole floor of the office with its smell from a single bathroom. My sinuses and throat reacted, my eyes watered, and after a few days I had a cough that wouldn't quit. I made a case to the bosses to switch to something all-natural and fragrance-free and they agreed, fortunately, and we threw the bad stuff out. I also persuaded the people at one studio where I record to remove the plug-in fumigators from the bathrooms because my body's reaction to the smell is so quick that it was causing mucus in my nose and throat when recording.

I have had some success in changing minds of people who think that, for example, scented laundry equals clean laundry by showing them articles that explain how fragrances can be as bad as cigarette smoke and big-city pollution. This search turns up some reliable stuff.
posted by Mo Nickels at 9:08 AM on February 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

I spent a lot of time with someone suffering from MCS. Even if it is a delusion, something "all in the head", it's a delusion I wouldn't wish on anyone. This person drastically curtailed social, hobby, and work activities and moved to an extremely limited diet because of the distress (both physical and mental) caused by the illness and had a substantially reduced quality of life. It's very reasonable to think of this condition as a disability because that's what it amounted to in practice.

It's also, yes, incredibly irritating to have to alter so many of your personal habits and aspects of your living situation in order to accommodate this condition. Sometimes I felt like every day brought some new "allergen" that had to be eliminated. If I wanted to spend time with this person it had to be on their terms, with many basic outside and social activities off limits. Sometimes I felt like I personally was being called the allergen.

You have to decide for yourself what accommodations you can reasonably make for this condition, valuing both this person's health and your own. Things like switching to unscented laundry detergents and cleaning products always seemed reasonable to me—things still get cleaned just fine with little change in effort. Expecting you to spend hours in a freezing cold room, that's a lot less reasonable. You have the right to be comfortable too. You also have rights to keeping your own mental health sound, and having this person's MCS dominate most of your conversations is impacting your mental health. At times you may have to draw boundaries for your own benefit by redirecting conversations or (literally or metaphorically) leaving the freezing cold room.
posted by 4rtemis at 9:09 AM on February 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

The mother of one of my dear friends (who was a former boyfriend) had MCS.

This is not a hypochondria situation. She was suffering some very real symptoms; and as my then-boyfriend explained to me before I met her, his mother's biggest problem was that people would wear various products around her without thinking because to them they had a very faint odor - but to her, the odor was extremely strong, to the point that it was causing actual physical symptoms. So I wonder if what to you is looking like "every day there's a new thing that's causing a problem" isn't more like, "yyyeahhh, you probably didn't think that that would be an issue, but it is, kinda." (that is not meant to be an accusation against you - this is the kind of thing that's easy for people without MCS to overlook.)

In my case, my friend was very protective of his mother and I was given a very thorough list of "thou shalt not wear" items before I met her for the first time. I only saw her infrequently, and happily I found a silver lining - I stumbled upon a book of "all natural home body care treatment" recipes, for things like making your own conditioner out of a mashed banana and using pure castile soap to wash with and using ground lavendar for a deodorant and stuff like that. So I ended up using visits to His Mom as "whee, I get to play with hippie-crunchy-granola home-spa stuff!" So it worked out. Also, being outside seemed to help a lot, since whatever lingering odor I may have had from anything on my person was dissipated in the open air. When my friend later got married, the service was held outdoors, and the reception was in a big open hall with lots of open windows and ventilation; I'm sure that not everyone was 100% chemical-odor-free, but she attended the wedding and seemed just fine.

Since you do see this person regularly than I saw my friend's mom: I would suggest having a conversation with them about what their particular "triggers" are, and whether you can support them by cutting them out entirely - or if you can't, what else you may be able to do. Not everyone can go the natural-deodorant route, of course, but if you're near an open window or you make sure it's been a set amount of time since you've put it on, you may be okay. But - do trust that this is a real condition for them.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:28 AM on February 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

It sounds like you're in a phase where you're pretty burned out on this relationship, to the point where any request for accommodation, big or small, reasonable or unreasonable, is going to feel like a frustrating imposition at best, and enraging or eye-rolling at worst. If there's any way for you to take a little break from this person, or to at least limit your interactions for a while, it might help to reduce your frustration level and allow you to reset your feelings, as it were.

Going forward, it might help for you to establish a policy of 'accommodation, but only when it is in my control' with this person. You can make personal choices: you can use unscented products, as long as it doesn't impede your own wellbeing. You can make personal decisions: if it is your responsibility to organise an event, you can decide to have it at a place more likely to work for this person's requirements. But you cannot be involved when situations beyond your direct control upset this person.

If the person is unhappy, and there is nothing you can do, you can validate their feelings of frustration, when you have the emotional energy to do so. But that should be the limit of your involvement, and you are within your rights to disengage from conversation or leave the room if they try to make a problem you did not cause and cannot address -- like Local Restaurant X's choice to use scented cleaning products and hand soap -- into your problem. You can try to redirect the conversation, helping them to think through solutions to the own problem instead of complaining, if you're up to engaging constructively. You can make a sympathetic-but-noncommittal noise when they express frustration or anger, if you're not up to engaging empathetically or constructively. But trying to force yourself to engage empathetically when you're feeling burned out will probably just increase your frustration with the person, perhaps leading you to snap at them when you really don't want to do so, or further damaging your relationship.
posted by halation at 10:03 AM on February 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

I do not suffer from MCS but I do have a severe contact allergy to fragrance. I say this because while I do not get physical symptoms from the smell of certain things, avoiding all fragrances because of my allergies has made me really sensitive to perfume. You might not smell that scented detergent, for example, but I certainly will. I use all fragrance-free products in my home and, when my lovingly well-meaning mother in law washes one of my kids' items of clothing at her house after a sleepover, I have to make sure I promptly rewash it a couple of times before I put it back in their drawers or I will smell detergent on absolutely everything. Even non-excessive perfume or someone's floral bodywash or your standard laundry fresh fabric softener makes me want to gag. I taste them in the back of my throat. Most people have gone pretty nose blind and are unaware that they are literally marinating in fragrance at all times.

Cutting those fragrances out for health or other reasons does a pretty hard reset on your sense of smell and suddenly Axe body spray is something you can catch a whiff of from the other side of the damn street.

I have no solutions to your friend's requests (and a lot of empathy for you, because it sounds exhausting) or even any insight into MCS but I can and will tell you that y'all stink of perfume even when you think you don't.

Also: keep in mind, for example, that UNSCENTED actually means scents were added for it to smell like nothing. Unscented and fragrance-free are not equivalent, not by a long shot.
posted by lydhre at 10:49 AM on February 27, 2018 [5 favorites]

I agree that this is tangled. In one person I know, there seem to be elements of OCD. If parts of it are psychogenic, they are still very real, the consequences are real, and they genuinely need reasonable accommodation. Try to address your needs neutrally.
- opened all the windows in my vicinity (without asking my thoughts) on a cold winter day ... for several hours. I'm really cold, so let's re-schedule the rest of today's agenda items. or I need to go warm up for a while. I'll be back in 30 minutes.
- relocating to a new spot/leaving the venue completely It's been good to see you. I have notes and we can pick up where we left off next time Going to a different table, no big deal. New venue? If you have time, sure, if not, don't join them.
- contacting customer service to address a concern I have limited time, Could you email Customer Service later?

I think your gut is suggesting that this person is using MCS to manipulate you. It can be true that they have MCS and that they use it to get their own way. (My Mom, her heart and other health issues. Oy.) The way to deal is to accept that MCS is real, to be very careful about fragrance, latex, nail polish, dry cleaning chemicals, etc., to meet where they choose, etc. If there's a place you usually meet, consider a HEPA air filter. And when it infringes on your boundaries, act on your own behalf, while being concerned about their welfare.

If the conversation must always be turned to MCS, that gets boring. Ask them other stuff about themselves. Where did you learn about (shared work skills)?. Engage them as best you can. Advocate for them by getting rid of crap like electric aroma dispensers that create health risks.
posted by theora55 at 12:08 PM on February 27, 2018

You asked for help framing this to yourself so that it annoys you less -- would you be more sympathetic if the person were a pregnant woman, suddenly hypersensitive to smells?

I ask only because I was a very enthusiastic perfume wearer for most of my life, and then sometime in my 30s I became hypersensitive to certain kinds of perfume (and also bright lights). I get migraines that last for days, and aren't just painful but totally scramble my thoughts and make me unable to work. Some of the perfumes will also immediately make my nose too stuffy to breathe, and cause my eyes to water. I had a coworker who wore cologne -- attending a meeting with him could reduce my productivity to about 20% of normal for the rest of the day, and into the evening. Even attending a meeting in a room he had recently been in could trigger a migraine. We had an intern who wore cologne and on days he was at his desk I was simply unable to work at mine -- I'd wind up on my laptop in a lobby or conference room to get away from him.

I ended up leaving that job, in part due to the company's commitment to blinding blue-white overhead light and to my total lack of faith that any request for accommodation I met would be met with anything but a total loss of political capital for me (and no subsequent accommodation). I was doing stuff on my own to combat the issue as well -- botox for migraine, special migraine eyewear, etc, but nothing I could do was enough.

I guess all of which is to say, 10 years ago I would probably have felt the way you do but now, on the other side of it, I can assure you that this stuff -- stuff you can't smell, stuff I couldn't have smelled 10 years ago -- can absolutely be debilitating, can absolutely prevent someone from being able to function. And maybe part of the reason your guy talks about it all the time is because it IS kind of all-consuming, it's just so WEIRD that all this stuff you lived with just fine for most of your life is suddenly noxious. I will also note that now when I'm in public and someone in front of me is wearing perfume I'm sensitive to and can smell from 3 feet away, I have an instantaneous rage response. I never say or do anything of course, but I HATE that person like they've come up out of nowhere and punched me, because for me, certain smells actually are like a physical assault now.
posted by mrmurbles at 12:59 PM on February 27, 2018 [6 favorites]

I've had reactions to fragrances for most of my adult life. I think it might have started with over-exposure when I worked in a Revlon packaging plant for awhile in my early 20s, but that's just a guess.

Scented products can trigger migraines, worsen asthma, and affect other conditions as well.

I've dealt with every range of reaction as I've asked for help in accommodating this, from hostility to an entire conference I attend every year going fragrance-free (not at my behest, but it's made a tremendous difference in my ability to be there and stay well). In fact, I should say that I was not part of trying to educate the conference and its attenders on the issue because I didn't want to associate with the main person doing it, who is the kind of person whose needs can never, ever be met no matter how you try. That is a separate issue from how to make an environment less toxic to people who have scent or chemical sensitivities, and a much, much harder problem to solve.

I blogged about it a few years ago, and I'm going to link here. I believe in a "harm reduction" model, which is the idea that the fewer scented products are in the environment, the better. Like the poster up-thread, I find anything whose only purpose is to add scent the worst, and can generally deal with shampoo/conditioner smells once a person's hair has dried.

If it helps in developing compassion, think about what it might be like to be breezing through your day and become ill because someone wearing too much perfume (we call these people Perfuma Galore, as in, "and then Perfuma Galore got on the elevator with me...). I've had to leave restaurants, worship, entire conferences because of a cleaning product used in housing. Even if you take your own best steps, you never know when someone else is going to ruin your day/week/date.

Anyway, here are my blog posts:

Some Reflections on Creating Fragrance-Free Space

For People Who Want to Be Scent-Sensitive: Su's Hierarchy of Harm

The Ranty Part of the Hierarchy of Harm Post
posted by Orlop at 4:33 AM on March 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

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