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.
Ten 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.
Angela Burch says
I’m with you, Andrea! 🙂
Thank you for all of the support, encouragement, and advice you’ve shared.
You’re a blessing and a gift.
Andrea Fabry says
Aw, thanks Angela. We’ve been sharing this journey a long time.
Lyn Wade says
Oh Andrea…thank you for sharing this and everything you’ve done to encourage people with your story.
You are a wealth of support and compassion to so many.
I know how easy it is to slip back into the traumatic way of thinking and although were not to the point you are, we’re slowly getting there 🙂
it certainly does take time!
Andrea Fabry says
You’ve always been so supportive, Lyn. I love sharing this journey with you and watching you come so far.
Barbara Fenn says
Love this! It applies to all our lives in one way or another
This is so encouraging!! I am facing all of these emotions daily. I appreciate your wisdom and experience so much! Thank you for embracing the trial and being content in this crazy life of mold illness.
Yes to all of this!!! Feel like I’m still living in the pursuit of health/healing. Dr’s visits and supplements. But learning to let go of my *old life*… Normal is relative… I’m grateful for your wisdom and advice and encouragement all these years.
Yes, this. It is a miracle to me that my life became so much better when I used common sense and stopped trying for extreme avoidance. I choose to live in the world. Some places are moldy. Some toxicly so, some odiferously so, some both. I don’t spend a ton of time in them. I found a new normal, and it isn’t better or worse than my pre-mold normal. It’s just different.
Love this article and your story. A lot of people are impacted by mould here in australia and most aren’t aware of it. Will share your article to my followers now 🙂
Kim Newhouse says
Surrender can give such peace. Fighting for the right things can also give great gains. Thank you for fighting for truth through your writing, teaching, radio shows, and personal encouragement. I’m so glad you ended up in Tucson and in our lives although I’m so sad about the road you journeyed to get here. Keep fighting the good fight and running the race God puts before you….
Pam Shanahan says
Very informative/helpful; thanks for sharing!
Feel wiser for having read your experiences/story/comments.
So important where we reside/important facts to consider before moving!
Tina Dunham says
You speak for me and many .. Thank you
This is so timely for me. I resonate so much with every point you make! I’m not as far into the journey as you, but I certainly have a better perspective now, thanks to you! Thank you for taking your experience and reaching out to the unseen in effort to support and connect. ?
Judith Taber says
As someone on the
outside looking in and not knowing how to help emotionally or be supportive financially I would like to say Thank you for helping my daughter and my grandchildren.
Lori C. says
Letting go is so powerful. Thanks for sharing.
Sarah Pope says
Andrea, this is so powerful…..I have felt as you said, “I just want to go back to “normal”. I wonder what is “normal” now.
My multiple chemical sensitivity is hard, scents of any kind bother me…no one understands and is really unconcerned which is hard for me to believe but since I am experiencing severe migraines with exposure.
I have done as you said and taken supplements, diet changes, etc and was talking about it but people do want to move on and it is not about me.
Thanks for the encouragement you are to me!!!
Lisa from IL says
Thankful for your wisdom and for you sharing, I’ve learned so much and I love your moms aware sight. I turn to that often for reference and support, but I’m grateful that you shared part of the emotional part of the mold journey, one that is full of changes, and slow slow victories! You are appreciated! Thank you!
Elizabeth Cripe says
We’re only four months in…had to leave everything four months ago due to toxic mold. We found out after six months of crazy doctor visits. Now, trying to find out what our new “Normal” is and what our version of broken healthy will look like. I appreciated your heartvbehind letting go. I’m a control freak, so I’m struggling but need to let go and not miss loving a full life with my family because I’m so overwhelmed with people’s responses (or lack there of), if a building has mold, if every cough isbtoxin related etc. THANK YOU, for expressing how letting go is hard; even if it looks different for everyone, is necessary where the holding on robs you of living life.
Andrea Fabry says
Thank you for sharing your story, Elizabeth. You’re only a few months in…sounds like you’re doing as best as you can. Be as good to yourself as possible during this process.
Cindy Whetsel says
You’re such a great writer, Andrea! I’ve been wondering how you’ve handled all these various issues since the mold “adventure” started. I have prayed for your family as Chris has given us (listeners) updates over the years. I’ve learned a lot from your “Toxic Tuesdays”. I have a feeling you inspire a lot of people to keep going, even when things seem hopeless. <3 Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings.
Well put! Thanks. =]
This is a wonderful post, Andrea. I have noticed that getting to the place of surrender in all of this to the Lord has brought me much closer to Him. The paradox of James 1:2-4 is so true!
Peggy Turney says
Wise advice and perspective, Andrea! Cheers to your new-found health and well-being.
Rebecca Buckholz says
Wow! Reading this just touched me so deeply! My family has gone through a nightmare very similar to yours. We moved one year ago. So many symptoms resolved with the move, but on- going GI and sinus issues have me fixated on our health. We haven’t been able to find a doctor who treats mold illness, mostly due to low income and state medical, so I have this almost obsessive need for some kind of validation. I keep searching for a diagnosis from doctors I know can’t help me, because I don’t see other options. With all the research I’ve done and non-prescription treatments I’ve tried it’s not enough. I want to let go, but I can’t yet. I need answers from someone who knows and treats mold illness, before I can accept what my life after mold really is going to look like. This can’t be it. It’s got to get better than this. Thank you for sharing your story and your heart.
Andrea Fabry says
You’re only a year out. I’m nine years out so that is the difference. Keep following your heart, Rebecca.
Kimberly Hull says
I thought i was alone…i have been in and out of the hospital since Hurricane Harvey hit my small town of Rockport,Texas. They told me my home was safe and liveable..but when i step in my home i drew in a breathe and 12 hours later was rushed to the hospital and put in to a medical induce coma. They kept asking my daughter had i been out of the country and she telling them no my mom is from Rockport. I had and still have a open mold spore in my left lung…If you have any info that can help me deal or cope WITH this..I’ll be waiting…thank you
Andrea Fabry says
You are on the right track with this, Kimberly. This post answers some of the basic questions. Let me know if I can help further. http://it-takes-time.com/mold-microbes/beginners-guide-toxic-mold/
Andrea, thank you so much for this post. This has been the loneliest, most traumatizing and isolating thing we’ve ever walked though as a family…with our marriage…with our children. I know you know. thank you.
Andrea Fabry says
Yes, it is so isolating isn’t it? Thank you for taking the time to comment, Kat.
Amy Zigulis says
Distance and my life circumstances made it difficult for me to stay in contact after our Bolingbrook years. I would have been one of those that would have been genuinely interested in your woes
Andrea Fabry says
I appreciate that, Amy 🙂
margo rochelle says
Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for sharing this post. I can totally relate. So sorry you and your family had to go through this. I wouldn’t wish mold on anyone. I’ve been out of our house for over 2 years, but unfortunately brought some items with us to the new house. I got rid of everything a few months ago and have continued to see health improvements. I’ve told my family that my life will never be like it used to be. I’ve accepted that this is the new “normal”. It’s different, but I try to stay positive and realize that I’ve learned a lot. It hasn’t been a fun journey and it landed me on my death bed, but the things I’ve learned along the way will help me and others in the future.
Andrea Fabry says
Thanks for sharing your experience, Teresa. I relate to the “new normal”.
J LeiLani Carlisle says
Good Evening Andrea – I picked up that you were in AZ when you mentioned “monsoons” in a reply. I’m very happy to hear that you are near. My quest has only just begun. Up until Jan.1, 2018 I lived in CA. In late Nov. I noticed, after returning from AZ and seeing my allergist, that the paint was peeling off and falling on the carpet in the hallway, right off my living room. I had been smelling a very musty, mold smell in that area for some time, but after I returned and noticed the paint chips on the floor, and I knew I hadn’t been bumping it with the vacuum cleaner. I notified the lady who handles everything for the landlords immediately.
By Dec. 9, 2017 I was in the ER being diagnosed with Bells Palsy and pneumonia in my left lung. After another ER visit on the 14th, I never lived in the house again. Soon after reporting the conditions to the lady, she was texting me in the ER to get better so these “Jack of all trade” hired help could get in there and paint “Killz” in and all around the broken hot water heater. (they had no intention of replacing it) Well, I knew that wasn’t going to fix the problem because now I was spending every waking second on educating myself about what I was dealing with, trying to find a doctor to treat me and looking for a place to stay for the night. I held the “Jack of all trades” off for 31/2 weeks all while trying to figure out what my next step should be with the limited resources I had. My abusive husband stopped helping me, financially etc., after I wouldn’t come back to the house. The landlords not only wouldn’t clean it, they put the house up for sale.
Currently, I am waiting on the test results of the mold I sent for testing. I can prove the landlords have tried to cover it up – even after they were informed of all the mold. I fwd., them pictures etc They did get a carpenter there who tricked me into letting him in (I still had a key) with promises to send mold samples to “his” lab in So. California and have the results sent to me. He was very conveniencing and even told me he had been screwed over by these same landlords too, so he would be more than willing to help me. He replaced the closet walls and the wooden floor, he gave me samples and he kept some to send to “his lab.” I dated them and wrapped them up carefully. He added a catch pan under it. He informed the landlords of the visible mold, but said “he had down played the situation to the tenant.” He promised to meet me out there the next morning to inspect things, when he failed to show-up and didn’t answer my texts or calls, I knew I had been had. I went in and checked on the hot water heater and sure enough there was water already in the pan. I’m not sure if they replaced it or not. My husband paid him – for those repairs, but he wouldn’t give me the money to hire a mold remediation team. The for sale post is on a realtor web-site now with my furniture still in it. I got out of there with the clothes on my back and my important papers. I’m not from CA and don’t have any family in the area. I still have a chance of proving negligence of my landlords, but need the necessary resources to get them. I’m so grateful to my daughter and a few family members who have helped me as much as they can along the way. I’m hoping you or anyone reading this could put me in touch to a good legal team and a good doctor who can test and treat me. This happened in California, but I’m currently living in AZ. I know you and your family suffered greatly too, by no- fault of your own as well..
I’m hoping you might be able to assist me by pointing me in the right direction in seeking damages and holding my landlords accountable. I feel very isolated and alone in this fight, as my world has been turned upside down. Any guidance you may offer will be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your time. May God bless you now and always.
Andrea Fabry says
I’m sorry to hear all of this. This post may help: http://it-takes-time.com/2016/01/29/toxic-mold-and-the-law/
It’s all very isolating and hard. I’m glad you made the connection.
Thanks for your post. I have lost so much to this illness. But the one thing that pains me the most is the loss of my sons. Both are Prodigals now, Rocco 28 and Luciano 26. I could take everything, the Mold, the illness, the devastation, financial and otherwise, but to lose my family… the anxiety it caused my sons. They chose the wrong woman to marry, unbelievers, etc. I won’t go into the details. But it has ruined the only thing I cherished, and spent my life investing in, which was my family. Our court case is ongoing now 4 years and 6 months. Unreal the New York courts. My biggest hurdle now is the chemical sensitivities which keeps me from going anywhere and being around people or having people in my home. I will check out the brain retraining you told me about. Thanks for all you do. It is sad that this reality is still not FRONT PAGE NEWS!! Blessings for you and the family!
I don’t mean to make this sound mean, honestly, but the impression I’m getting from this article is that you aren’t healed. So as someone trying to figure out if mould is the cause of my health problems, I’m wondering if I should even bother, if in 9 years time I’m going to still be sick and still obsessing about mould. Do you have any advice? Sorry if I’m getting the wrong impression.
Andrea Fabry says
The bottom line is that I no longer wonder if we’re healed. We are all quite active in CrossFit and not thinking about mold to chemicals. Have you tried brain retraining?
Thank you. I really needed to hear this. We are going through the deep waters of ruined health because of mold again,; I couldn’t even tell you how many times this would make it. Your words were truth and your perspective is one to be emulated. You were there for us and continue to be so for innumerable others as well. God bless you!
Andrea Fabry says
I’m sorry to hear you’re going through it again, Karen. That happens so often. I appreciate the encouragement in the midst of your trial.
Nicole Platte says
I recovered. Calcium gluconate was the kingpin.
Could you share more about this? My daughter has been ill for three years after mold exposure in her dorm room. She takes 30 supplements a day plus thyroid medicine and more. Still not well. She has gained weight, lost hair, cannot digest food well, has severe anxiety which she didn’t have before and spends so much time in dr appointments and blood testing. She hasn’t taken calcium gluconate though. Thank you
Andrea Fabry says
We found more help within the alternative treatments such as diet, acupuncture, energy medicine etc. It does take time for the body to recover. I’m sure your daughter will find what works for her. I would encourage her to keep trying various avenues including the brain retraining aspect. I’m sorry to hear about her exposure.
True, excellent and hard earned wisdom! Thank you for sharing with others!
I see you reference brain retraining in some of your replies. In your experience, do you feel that brain retraining has made your family less sensitive or less reactive to additional mold exposure? I would guess you must if you no longer have to think about mold or chemical exposures? I am just starting the shoemaker protocol. My main symptoms are severe mood and brain function changes and completely debilitate me, but I feel that true avoidance in the future is nearly impossible.
Thank you for all your insight and helping us feel less alone.
Andrea Fabry says
We never did the “official” brain retraining. But the focus on breathing and meditation has been life-changing that’s for sure. In case you haven’t seen this post:
Most of all it takes time and patience. The reactivity really did improve for us.
Sobering article. I’m not ready to let go to that level yet. I hear you about the justice. To me, if feels too exhausting and futile to attempt.
Thank you for sharing your story Andrea. When I read your time line, my first thought was, how on earth did you survive all that?!!!
But then, I wonder how I survived my own story. In many ways, I can relate to your experience, though in a different way. I endured 24 years in a toxic marriage with four kids and when I realized the problem and sought help, I got the same reactions… pastors who didn’t believe my story or my “symptoms’”, people who didn’t understand or want to listen. I was shamed, criticized, and judged for leaving my toxic marriage, eventually leaving my church and losing my job and many friends because of it. I too wanted to get back to normal, but have had to let go. I’ve had to let go of seeking justice… justice from the pastors who baptized my adulterous husband instead of church disciplining him, justice from my ex for fighting me during the divorce and causing me to go into a six-figure debt, justice from the attorneys who claimed they knew how to handle abuse situations, but clearly didn’t, justice from “friends” and churchgoers who accused me of not being right with God. I too felt exhausted and alone and suffered many of the same physical ailments: premature menopause, hair loss, joint and muscle pain, memory loss, stress, and fatigue to name a few. Long-term exposure to emotional trauma and abuse is physically harmful to the body also. Like you, I discovered that I am not alone. Far too many women suffer in silence as they endure the toxic environment of their so-called “Christian” marriages.
Thank you for sharing your story and the hope of moving on! God bless you!