Invisible disabilities and class

I’d like to open a discussion about class and invisible disabilities. I am a lower-class womyn with a disability called Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. I come from a poverty background in Brooklyn.I incurred this disability because of the work I did to get out of poverty in my 20’s.

I am now 65 and have had MCS for the past 30+ years.MCS is an illness (and its effects are different for everyone of us) that has taken this long for me to understand and work with. The Social Security Administration now recognizes MCS as a disability and although it is called a somatic disorder by the SSA (same process as Asthma and Fibromyalgia) it nevertheless causes poverty and alienation,more so than any other disability I can think of.Although any and all disability, in general, can and does cause poverty and alienation if you don’t have a support system.The few exceptions might be if you are born into wealth or if you are able to work at a decently paid job.

I studied Chinese Medicine and got licensed in acupuncture in 1991. I was able to develop a practice and it took 3 years to get off the ground when I was able to make a decent living. By 1995 I decided to leave NY and come out here to AZ. Because I didn’t think ahead financially, free spirit that I was/am (was never trained in those skills,which I also think is a class thing). Of course there is no automatic way to build a practice. It’s word of mouth and it takes time. It costs money to advertise,it takes a certain amount of security to network and know how to talk to people if you were never trained in that art.Also as I did house cleaning to bring money in, I ended up getting sicker and sicker the more I was around cleaning chemicals and the chemicals used to cover up the smell of chemicals,that make up the fragrances used to cover over the chems in the cleaners.

I eventually met people and started to have patients come to my house to treat. My license in AZ was pending because we didn’t get licensed here until,maybe it was 1999 or 2000(don’t remember when exactly). As new referrals started to come, a patient would come in and I would smell the fabric softener on their clothes, the deodorant they had just applied, the soap they used to wash, shampoo and conditioner, even the toothpaste they used. They add fragrance chemicals to cover the chemicals in the product,even if it’s “natural”. I would get brain fog (now recognized as a symptom,since it happens to most of us with an MCS diagnosis, my neck vertabrae would tighten, my glands would swell and my throat would get sore. Up to 3 or 4 days later, I would get flu symptoms.By this time I already knew what was causing my symptoms.

It’s one thing to not have access to people or places because there is no ramp for access. Yet, if your ability is hampered because

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of the personal body care products people choose to use on themselves, access becomes very limited. Jobs, careers, families, spouses,lovers, friends many or most times also go out the window. I am luckier than most with MCS. I have the ability to have more access to social situations then others with MCS. I had to isolate myself to build up my strength for 7 years before I could move back to a city environment. I find that once again, I am being exposed way too much for my system to handle and have to take a few days a week out to just stay home in a safe environment for me.

It is very hard to find work where I would be alone and to not have to deal with “smells”. So, I am disabled, and I treat friends that are also low income either for trade or for free. At least I get to practice what I love and to be able to give to others and be of use.

I just broke up with a middle class partner that doesn’t understand or really care about my disability, blaming me for “not working”. I was yelled at because I thought it was fair that when we went out or had to share expenses (traveling) that I pay a proportion that is less than she pay. I got the ole “I work hard for my money….” Not only that, but because I couldn’t tolerate the smoke soot on her walls and ceiling from a leaking wood stove, she had to have the house painted. I chipped in a 1/3 of the cost. She resents having to had put out money for painting even though it was also for her health benefit as well.And the house looks better and it only increases the value as well as save her lungs from PHA’s which cause Cancer.

Class stuff is very difficult. Add disability to that and it is grueling.

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