Friday, February 5, 2016

The Peppermint Test

I hope that by writing this, perhaps someone can avoid a toxic journey in their own life or the life of someone they love. I am writing this as my family and I begin a journey back down a mountain. It is a path strewn with misdiagnosis, anxiety, stress, feelings of hopelessness and nightmares.

One. Big. Nightmare.

Specifically, our new house was the nightmare and one simple test could have prevented this. Here is our story.

When we moved two years ago we were absolutely fried. We left another beloved home just two years before that. Two moves in two years? We really don’t recommend this to anyone with or without a five-year-old in tow. Life and family can change your goals pretty quickly, though, as I’m sure many of you already know.  

Paul’s new job was not what they purported it would be. His hiring Vice President was fired only months after he hired Paul. In one year he was forced to fire most of his staff. The writing appeared to be on the wall, written in bold red Sharpie. How stressful!

When the opportunity to move closer to family presented itself, we thought, “Maybe this is our sign that it is time to move back home.”  Perhaps we were pried out of our comfortable life we’d lived for eight years so that we were open to this transition toward home.  We wanted our daughter to have the chance to know our families better. Also, my Dad was very ill and we wanted to help out. Three to four hours away from them sure beat 16 hours or a plane ride while keeping a little one entertained.

As Willie wrote, we were, “On the road again!”  

I am exhausted just thinking about this period in our lives. Making friends, leaving friends, starting school, leaving school...poor Ella.  However, we felt strongly that a firm family base would be a good support network and she would enjoy seeing her cousins and Grandparents more often. We were fortunate to sell our house in one unbelievable day and start the journey toward home.

We found a house we liked, but another couple bid on it first. We were so upset - we really wanted a door to door move. We’d spent eight months apart during our last transition and really did not want a repeat performance.  We were so grateful when that sale fell through.  (Looking back, how we wish we’d stayed in the temporary housing Paul was in for one month.) Unfortunately, we were emotionally and physically tapped from our previous time apart and packing our house yet again. All of this was happening after doing a full gut and renovation on the home we were in. Did I mention we were exhausted? A door to door move sounded very appealing, indeed.

So, we bought the house.

Not long after we moved in I began to have a persistent back ache. I chalked it up to moving, of course. Then came the nightmares, foggy memory and headaches. We blamed the chimney and traditional fireplace so we had a woodstove insert installed, sealed with a new chimney liner. Then we thought possibly we had toxic mold. We began digging at the house, removing carpet, tapping on walls, looking for moisture.

Then, one day our carbon monoxide detector went off. Surely we couldn’t have carbon monoxide-we don’t have any gas in our home?! Someone Paul worked with suggested that the detectors were faulty after being jostled around and with moving, we thought that must be the case. Still, we went and bought a new one just to be sure.

The new detector went off - in our master bedroom! We’d already vacated that room due to the fact that my nightmares did not occur if we were not sleeping in that room. We moved into a guest room thinking we would do some more investigating.

Did I mention I thought I’d completely lost it? I thought, “Wow! Stress from moving and mold must really be doing a number on me!” I think it compounded the issue, but we still didn’t realize what was really causing our lethargy and ailments.

Ella was full of anxiety at bedtime, routinely coming back downstairs in tears for an extra hug. This was so unlike our positive, sunny girl! Paul was having trouble feeling energetic in the morning.  At this point, I could no longer feel my emotional responses physiologically. I was seeing a neurologist and felt my creativity and songwriting slipping away from me.  I was dealing with things intellectually, without my gut instincts. Life felt very flat.  I felt no zings of hope, no tingling of the skin, no raised hair or goosebumps and no adrenaline even when a car almost hit us.  Just. Nothing.  Worst of all, I could not even “feel” it when my wonderful Dad passed away eleven months after we’d moved here.

I was heartbroken and felt nearly hopeless.  Still, I felt something was wrong somewhere, as the symptoms eased a bit when we traveled.

Then, I started Googling “gasses in houses” and read about The Peppermint Test.

It sounded too hokey to be true. You hire someone to go up on your roof and pour peppermint extract down your vent stack. You should not smell this anywhere in your home, as your p-traps and toilet bowls should have water to block any sewer vent smells. We didn’t smell first. Then, Paul came out to the garage to get me saying, “You are NEVER going to believe this.”

Our downstairs bathroom (below our master bedroom) smelled like Santa’s workshop - peppermint!

We discovered an improper pipe repair in the wall of that bathroom. The leak only caused condensation, not enough to give evidence on the wall to see.  This was next to a room we sat in every night watching TV!  It’s where we enjoy our new woodstove insert we’d put in because we thought the fireplace might be toxic. Little did we know we’d been inhaling sewer gas, which apparently dulls the olfactory senses, for almost two years!  Two years of doctor visits, wrong diagnosis and prescriptions, weight gain, headaches, nausea and anxiety. A living nightmare.

We are heartbroken that our daughter was exposed to this level of toxicity. We feel foolish we couldn’t figure it out sooner in our addled state.  We are thankful for the moments of clarity and moderate wellness when we traveled.  They allowed us to persevere and figure this out.  While we are not yet back to full health, I know we can get there.  We are healing our house and detoxing our bodies. I even hear a new melodies and lyrics pop into my head, thank God!

I truly hope you will take a moment to share our story. We did this test ourselves but for safety, we recommend hiring someone to go on your roof. You can read about it here:

I believe The Peppermint Test should be done by everyone buying a home...or everyone who owns a home already. I believe every home inspector should be required to do this.  I believe we underestimate the toxins we are exposed to each and every day that can cause a cumulative effect and take a toll on our health.

I also believe we will always be our own best advocate to fight for our health. Never give up if you know you just don’t feel like yourself!

Wishing you all good health and safe, healthy homes...