Too Much Fresh Air

By John Schwindt


The following insightful story was published in the New Mexico MCS support groupís newsletter Ecolife in 1988


Keywords: chemical sensitivity, MCS, masking, unmasking, history


Several years ago I was trying to explain environmental illness to Dr. Nakamae, a professor of electrical engineering at Hiroshima University. He had been my host when I taught there in 1976, and he couldnít understand why I was no longer able to work. He listened carefully as I explained that I had become sensitive to several kinds of air pollution, especially indoors. When I finished, he thought about it for a while and then said, ďYour problem, Dr. Schwindt, is that you have too much fresh air!Ē


At the time I thought he was being funny, blaming the fresh air for what had been caused by exposure to toxic chemicals. Now Iím not so sure he wasnít serious, because since then many other people familiar with E.I. have told me the same thing in different words. ďYou have become too unmasked,Ē they say. ďYou would be better if you didnít live in such a remote place and didnít remove so many things from your home.Ē ďYou need to stay masked,Ē they tell me, ďso you can cope better with day to day exposures. Too much fresh air will make you worse, because youíll lose your tolerance.Ē


Since this advice usually comes from well-meaning people, Iíve thought a lot about it, but I still canít buy it. I think blaming fresh air is roughly equivalent to shooting the messenger who brings you bad news. Itís analogous to blaming abstinence for the withdrawal symptoms we experience when we stop smoking, drinking alcoholic beverages, or using sweeteners. Fresh air and avoidance donít cause E.I. symptoms, they merely ďunmaskĒ or reveal the damage that has been caused by a lifetime of living in a polluted environment. The withdrawal symptoms from tobacco, alcohol and sugars often continue for several months, and for that period we generally feel worse than before we quit, until our bodies recover from the effects of the abuse. The withdrawal symptoms indicate that it really wasnít such a good idea to develop a tolerance for these things, because the tolerance only masked the cumulative damage going on. The first cigarette, the first sip of scotch, or the first glazed donut could have told us that, but we usually arenít paying attention when we are young and immortal. Only after we unmask and give up our tolerance can we appraise the real effect of these things on our health.


I continue to believe that it is therapeutic to withdraw from a polluted chemical environment and to endure the withdrawal symptoms (unmasking and unloading) in order to emerge stronger and healthier on the other side. I believe we need to do this to give our immune systems the opportunity to recover. Some say No, donít withdraw, itís better for your immune system to be challenged by daily exposures. But I canít recall a day in my adult life, not even in the wilderness, when my immune system wasnít challenged Ė by pollens, molds, foods, fabrics, bedding, dust, papers, cooking fumes, not to mention the unseen viruses and bacteria we always carry with us. We are always being challenged by the environment, even in so-called protected environments.


Of course, I donít recommend unmasking for everyone. In fact, I donít recommend it for anyone. If you can live in your usual environment without being sick, then fine, continue living there. Being masked is OK for those healthy enough to do it. On the other hand, those with chronic illnesses such as colds, infections, asthma, herpes, candidiasis, EBV [Epstein-Barr Virus, ed.], colitis, and other chronic symptoms, these people may want to consider trying a cleaner, safer environment to see if unmasking will help them toward better health.


In the end, those who need more fresh air will do what they have to do to find it, and those who donít need it will continue doing what they are doing. Thatís as it should be. But letís not blame fresh air for the symptoms and problems caused by a lifetime of chemical exposures. Unmasking can be painful and unpleasant, for it often brings the unwelcome news that we are sensitive to more things than we had supposed. But in this case the bad news is good news, for it is exactly the information we need to proceed toward better health. Unmasking to identify those things causing our chronic illnesses is the first step toward overcoming these illnesses. Such knowledge is power, the truth that may set us free


So Iíll take my chances with fresh air. It smells good, tastes good, and feels good, and works for me better than any other remedy or therapy.


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