Hypersensitivity to everything around you

Meet the prisoners of modern technology | wfaa.com Dallas – Fort Worth.

[…] It’s a tedious exercise Lewis repeats daily in her ongoing battle to lead a “clean” life — convinced that nearly everything in the modern world is making her sick.

“It’s a hard life,” she admits. “It’s challenging.”

Aluminum foil covers part of her living room wall to block a cable box inside. She has no reservation about wearing a gas mask on the rare occasion she steps outside to get groceries.

“Some people call me courageous,” she said. “I get a lot of stares from children.”

Lewis says all are necessary steps to shield herself from the fumes and wireless signals constantly assaulting our bodies from modern devices.

Nearly every technological convenience so many Americans treasure are dangerous to her. Cell phones, televisions, computers, cars — all are off-limits because of a condition known as chemical and electrical sensitivity. Lewis is convinced the emissions of countless objects are damaging her body… and her mind.
“It’s actually a full-time job,” she says about her plan to stay healthy. Insurance rarely covers her expenses, so she’s relying on savings.

“Which is why I’m currently applying for disability,” she said, “because there’s no way I can work in my previous career.”

Tip: Fark.com

This is an astounding story of one woman among a few who live in a motel with modified apartments to avoid technology. They claim to suffer from chemical and electrical sensitivity.

So many things to be doubtful of in this story. What is the mechanism that is causing the body to overreact? Chemicals are different from electrical stimuli. How can an accident trigger this? Why not be tested under double-blind conditions and find out for sure?

This woman is looking to claim disability because she can’t work. This problem is certainly disrupting her life but there is no excuse not to determine if her claims have merit. I don’t see them submitting themselves to controlled tests.

I really wish more stories would come out like this one where it’s clear that there is no basis for a person’s claim. If you are going to say that you suffer from something extraordinary, you need to provide evidence. These claims for electro- and chemical hyper sensitivity so far make no sense. Unless they are carefully and rigorously examined, there is no reason to accept them at face value.

  12 comments for “Hypersensitivity to everything around you

  1. Zink
    September 27, 2012 at 8:43 PM

    The cable box in the wall is what most catches my attention. I must assume it’s attached to a television. After all, being out of work gets boring after a while!

    I want to ask, where do these people get these ideas in the first place? I’m guessing it’s the internet, ironically. Unfortunately, the reporters never seem to ask that question… it would take away a lot of their credibility, I wager.

  2. September 27, 2012 at 8:46 PM

    There’s a number of people in the ME/CFS community who claim this, although they haven’t gone to the lengths this woman has. Whether their sensitivity is due to legitimate symptoms of the illness, or whether their claim to having ME/CFS is just as questionable as aluminum foil on the wall (or your head).

    Hopefully the disability process, which has become almost impossible even for legitimately disabled people, will weed her out.

  3. September 27, 2012 at 8:47 PM

    “…remains to be seen,” to finish that first paragraph.

  4. Kristen
    September 27, 2012 at 9:31 PM

    I’ve known people like this, and when doctors can find nothing to support their claims, they just use it as more evidence that Western Medicine doesn’t know everything (I don’t know anyone who claims it does). Clearly they believe something is going on, and it’s entirely possible that she cannot work because of this debilitating problem, but I’m guessing it’s more of a generalized anxiety disorder than an electrical/chemical sensitivity.

  5. Ryuthrowsstuff
    September 28, 2012 at 1:19 AM

    The more accounts of this supposed illness I read the more it sounds like paranoid schizophrenia. From the Wikidpedia’s article on Schizophrenia:

    “Paranoid type: Delusions or auditory hallucinations are present, but thought disorder, disorganized behavior, or affective flattening are not. Delusions are persecutory and/or grandiose, but in addition to these, other themes such as jealousy, religiosity, or somatization may also be present. (DSM code 295.3/ICD code F20.0)”

    Its the somatization that’s pertinent here. Somatic refers to disorders involving apparent physical illness without any actual medical illness. One wonders if anyone has recommended these people get psychological help.

  6. drwfishesman
    September 28, 2012 at 10:54 AM

    From the article:

    ‘“I have cast iron tanks — not aluminum,” she’s careful to point out.’

    ‘Aluminum foil covers part of her living room wall to block a cable box inside.’

    This is what bugs me about these people, the inconsistency of what they believe protects them and what they believe poisons them. I’m sympathetic toward the people in this article, but people like Dr. William Rea (look him up on quackwatch) make me very angry because he is profiting from and encouraging this kind of delusion.

  7. G
    September 28, 2012 at 2:47 PM

    I have what my doctors think is possibly an element of OCD, a mild case. I think *everything* has too much germs and dirt and mites on/in it, from surfaces I don’t even touch to the air that I breathe and walk through, and as a result I always, always, always “feel” dirty–even when I am actively showering. Sure, there’s dirt and germs in the world, but it’s possible to get reasonably clean and for things to be reasonably clean; this constant feeling that I’m moving through filth is likely something I learned from my father, or maybe inherited from my father, or something entirely other…but in any case, it’s not real, no matter how real it feels. The way I cope is odd and lopsided; I feel better after I wash my hands, for example, even though my whole body is exposed to the (horrible germ and dust-laden) air.

    I *know* this feeling that I’m coated in grease and dirt (and germs and filth and THE WHOLE WORLD IS SO DIRTY ARGH) is illusory–like the tingle on your skin when you see an insect you dislike, for example. I *know* that my various coping mechanisms don’t make sense from a logical point of view, but they make ME feel better. They’re not internally consistent and they have no scientific basis…but at least they don’t hurt anyone (including me) and they make me feel better, so that’s nice. And since the filth sensation is an illusion anyway, finding mechanisms that ease the illusion is an okay way to deal with it. (And fortunately, in my case, it’s not severe. It’s just this constant nagging feeling, not anything overwhelming.)

    But I can sympathize with people like this poor woman. *I* know that when the coping mechanisms make me feel better, it’s an illusion. She doesn’t. She doesn’t understand that the feeling of relief is not a physical sensation, no matter how real it feels to her body. She thinks that if the coping mechanisms make her feel better, then there must be something real, something external, that is affecting her. It’s hard to realize that something so real can come from inside you.

    So the coping mechanisms make no sense, and they aren’t consistent, and they don’t even have any scientific basis. But when you’re positive something is *happening* to you, then the things that make you feel better must be warding it off. And if you don’t have enough scientific knowledge to really understand how little what you’re doing makes an impact in the real world, you are more willing to believe that your coping mechanisms are really doing something.

    This woman doesn’t know; she doesn’t have an understanding of the various sciences involved, and she’d resent anyone who tried to help. After all, it would come across as “It’s all in your head,” which can be shortened to “You’re just crazy,” which is, frankly, highly offensive and patronizing. No one, no matter their background, should be *forced* to sit down and listen to someone patronize and insult them that way.

    If you can come up with some way to communicate “That physical sensation you are feeling doesn’t come from outside you” to people, without it being heard as “You’re just crazy,” you can probably help thousands of people. So far, when I’ve seen someone trying to communicate it to people, it just makes them angry and defiant. They become more convinced that modern medicine can’t help them, that no one understands what their problem REALLY is, and that until medicine catches up, the condition is untreatable.

  8. Stephanie
    September 29, 2012 at 12:45 AM

    I agree with everyone who feels sympathy for this woman. I think that she does need both insurance coverage and disability coverage, at least temporarily, but she will never get it as long as she fails to admit to the real problem. It’s a shame that the very nature of her severe anxiety disorder is keeping her from getting psychological help. Anyone who encourages susceptible people to develop this particular set of beliefs should be prosecuted. This is not unlike fasting spas and other similar organizations that fail to weed out anorexics, or even actively encourage them.

  9. Jolly
    September 29, 2012 at 5:43 AM

    As long as the listed ailment is a psychiatric disorder, fine. Pay her.

  10. September 29, 2012 at 4:28 PM

    Good points. I don’t like that these people get harassed about it but it’s hard to suppress the frustration with them being so off base in the way they understand the world. You could say the same about people who seriously believe they have been abducted by aliens or subjected to Satanic ritual abuse. They are affected. And it’s unethical as a professional to discard the science in favor of your own pet theory that has no basis in reality.

  11. September 30, 2012 at 11:55 AM

    Would aluminum foil shield E/M anyway?

  12. drwfishesman
    October 1, 2012 at 7:48 AM

    Actually aluminum foil is a pretty good insulator of E/M, but only if the object trying to be shielded is completly enclosed.

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