When we vacated our home and everything in it in 2008, I assumed life would get back to normal. (Read our story here.) At last, we had figured out the reason for our family’s numerous illnesses and did the hard thing by leaving it and starting over. Surely we’d fall back in step with our lives soon.
I found myself struggling with daily tasks. Friendships were estranged. My brain was fogged, and to add to it, now traumatized.
I found myself struggling to keep the plates spinning. The kids became symptomatic easily and it was easy for me to jump to “Is there mold?”
I wanted to crawl in a hole.
I decided to make a vacation of it and, with my husband’s blessing, I journeyed to Arizona for a six-week adventure to try to get our lives back.
Nine years later we’re still here.
While I no longer feel defined by our mold exposure and think very little about mold or chemical exposures, I’ve learned that life is life: full of pain, joys, discoveries, and uncertainty.
For me, recovery has been more about relinquishment than restoration.
In essence, I learned to let go.
1. I let go of “normal”
When we left the house I assumed life would go back to normal. Kids in school, sleepovers, parties, and everything that went along with normal family life. It didn’t take long to realize there was no going back. Kids were having reactions to other environments, and I was obsessing about those environments. I was traumatized. I didn’t go to Arizona to find the perfect climate, but I needed to regroup and figure out what moving forward looked like.
I learned to go with “what is” rather than the way I wanted it. I gave up the notion of “normal.” I decided we’d find a new normal, and that’s exactly where we find ourselves today.
2. I let go of justice
Because of a negligent builder and an unprofessional mold remediator, we were forced to leave our home and everything in it. At least if we could recoup some of our losses, some of the pain might be alleviated. A team of lawyers agreed to take our case on contingency, but we soon learned that the legal process is a draining one. It required energy we didn’t have to spare. Chris and I began to consider what it would look like to let go of payback. Making things right would not make us healthy. We never found justice, but after all these years it’s the last thing on my mind when I think of our crisis.
Had we continued the legal process, no doubt we would have needed to relinquish the outcome. Letting go is necessary for all aspects of this journey.
3. I let go of healing
All I wanted was to see my family healthy again. It was my focus. My mission. I sought the help of a mold doctor, and while he validated our illnesses, it soon became apparent he could not “heal” us. I joined forums that told me how to cure my family. We tried supplements, energy medicine, diet change, fasts, detoxes, herbs, acupuncture, and more. While none of it did us harm and in fact no doubt helped, we didn’t experience “healing” as I envisioned it.
After several years of intense effort, I let go of healing. I stopped the supplements, the appointments, the stress. What if this is the best it gets? What if we continue to struggle? As a mother, I realized I was missing my kids “as they were.” I was so focused on getting them well, I couldn’t enjoy them! So what if we limped through life? With no more lab tests, appointments, and measurements, I embraced the mystery of the recovery process and stopped asking if we were well.
4. I let go of people understanding
I wanted to shout this from the mountaintops: Sick buildings are real! My kids aren’t crazy. I’m not either. Please understand. Please listen to me. It was the first thing I wanted to talk about when I met someone. I soon realized people didn’t want to hear. I felt lonely and isolated. I decided to write about our experience. That way I could help those who feel alone like me and not force others who aren’t in the same place. I stopped talking about it unless someone seemed genuinely interested. What if my friends or family never understood or embraced our journey? I decided to let them off the hook, and nine years later it’s the last thing on my mind when I encounter old or new friends.
5. I let go of the dreaded gene
I felt validated and relieved when we received the results of our genetic testing. No wonder we were so sick! I have the double “dreaded gene,” which means each of my kids will have a tough time detoxing from a mold exposure.
Our genetic reality soon became a burden, however, as I found myself feeling “doomed.” What would the future look like for myself and my kids? I began to study the concept of epigenetics, which allows for leeway when it comes to our health. In fact, outside influences may prove to be more impactful than our DNA itself. I found this comforting. Our experience may prove to be empowering! I let go of the “dreaded gene” and decided to relax in the truth that DNA doesn’t have to dictate my life and in fact may help me make wiser, healthier choices in the long run.
6. I let go of getting my life back
As we adapted to our new normal, I began to see my “old” life more realistically. Was life “before mold” as blissful as I was imagining it to be? I had struggles, pain, and disappointment before the trauma. And while I yearned for the “good old days,” I slowly allowed the blinders to be lifted. Life is life: unpredictable and sometimes catastrophic. Sometimes joyful, sometimes painful. Jon Kabat-Zinn says it well in his book Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness:
Catastrophe here does not mean disaster. Rather, it means the poignant enormity of our life experience. It includes crisis and disaster, the unthinkable and the unacceptable, but it also includes all the little things that go wrong and add up. The phrase reminds us that life is always in flux, that everything we think is permanent is actually only temporary and constantly changing. This includes our ideas, our opinions, our relationships, our jobs, our possessions, our creations, our bodies, everything.
Furthermore, says the author, we must all learn (and practice) “the art of embracing the full catastrophe.”
I stopped thinking about life as “before our toxic mold crisis” and “after our toxic mold crisis” and accepted the reality that there is no free pass when it comes to suffering and disappointment. I may no longer be consumed with our health, but I still have heartaches and struggles. But I also have moments of joy and contentment.
How did I get my life back? I don’t think I did. But then I stopped looking for it.