Following a hot water pipe burst and 10-day flood event at our historic home while we were in Florida with our family, there was a 6-month cleanup period during which I max’d out my restoration efforts and stress while minimizing sleep. I spent little time with friends and loved ones and accepted little help in the clean-up, as I felt responsible. The day after we sold the “new and improved” version of the house, I started having strange symptoms such as burning fingers/toes, then neuropathy, which quickly escalated to joint pain, random electric jabs etc. This was my body in fight/flight, sending me messages in an effort to protect me from something I couldn’t see. My unconscious brain had gone rogue, but I knew nothing about brain science at that point. All I knew is that it was extremely uncomfortable, and I would have to find a way out for the security of my family. During the first confusing year, I tried an extremely strict vegan diet (minus nightshades, seeds, legumes, soy, butter, oats, eggs, onions, nuts, meat, etc etc), being informed by many books and websites that was the way to reverse autoimmune disease, as well as all sorts of other techniques from Chinese medicine to $1,000 worth of supplements. I lost 50 pounds off of 170 even while trying to continue workouts. I had muscle wasting and was stuck in bed a few times with dizziness. I had persistent low level viruses such as Epstein-barr, accompanied by anxiety/depression and possibly even some mild paranoia/schizophrenia (now known to be caused by Epstein-barr). It took me a year to realize that my conscious sense of smell had been masked from living in high smells, and any chemical exposure would be detected only by my subconscious, leave me with severe joint pain for several days at a time, in addition to many other symptoms (all falling under the MS - Multiple Sclerosis, umbrella). It is estimated in scientific papers that only 5% of MS patients know that their sense of smell has been masked (note this can be triggers other than smell, like wifi or other unseen triggers when you become sensitive to sensory elements of the environment you’re in). The only way I figured this out was noticing that anytime I was outdoors, like at our camp for an extended period, I was in remission. This took several weeks away one summer to determine. Then, once I realized the connection to being in remission while away, I was able to think about what was different at work and home. We had moved into a new home with high chemical smells (the same paint I used to fix up the old house where I spent 6 grueling months, in addition to a lot of formaldehyde in our Amish cabinets that we never allowed to vent) but I could no longer smell anything. I had also sprayed mold regularly after the flood in the old house, which is known as a serious biotoxin… but also has a distinct smell. After linking my pain to VOC’s (volatile organic carbons – basically anything that smells, including chemicals and mold), I did mold tests at home and work and outfitted our house with a high velocity air exchanger as well as filters for the rooms, thinking that avoidance was key and we needed to pull chemicals out of the air. I was able to keep my job and get my work done because at work, we have a second building with lower VOC’s and I have a supportive boss. Along the way, I was diagnosed with gout (due to pain in toes), CIRS (mold illness) lyme, PTSD, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, poison ivy (due to rashes), Arsenic/lead poisoning, cyanobacteria poisoning, Sjogren’s disease, and finally, multiple sclerosis (by blood test only, as there would not have been enough evidence of brain lesions by MRI this early on). My symptom list just during onset included: Blurry eyesight/contrast issues, restless leg, sciatica, tinnitus, neuropathy, burning in extremities, electric shocks, soreness in joints, bruised tailbone, eyelid twitches, temperature deregulation, low sleep (many nightly wake-ups), urticaria (rashes), migraines, Raynaulds, dizziness, dry skin, cramps in hands/feet, lyme “cracks” in joints leading to excruciating pain, inflammation of one foot, and stiffness of joints. The only thing evident on blood tests until the M.S. test was an odd T3/T4 adrenal ratio and the increased viral titers of Epstein-barr. I had many negative experiences at various doctors and truly understand why now. They can’t see into your unconscious brain, where even you can’t see. There are actual biological changes that take place in the brain when this happens, in an effort to protect you – it associates the foreign chemical smells (or other trigger, conscious or unconscious) as bad, and may think there is a tiger (etc) in the room, and warn you appropriately of the danger. This doesn’t only happen with smells. It can happen with any of the senses or pseudo-senses – it has been proven that people can detect wifi waves and become just as sensitive to those as other senses. While I do have to blame some of the methods and procedures the doctors used, they are imperfect by nature - I can’t put a lot of blame on the general doctors as they just tested me and referred me out. Finally, after a few more months of investigating and reading in the evenings, I found that some people were healing their smell issues (and thus, the symptoms that go with it) through neuroplasticity – the ability of the brain to change. All chronic pain and disease begins in the brain, and all autoimmune diseases or others can be reversed in the same way. This is of course much easier said than done, but no Jedi mind tricks are involved. Just a willingness to be repetitive, accept your condition and expose yourself to the very things your brain is afraid of while visualizing the best moments you can think of. I spent the next year gradually increasing my tolerance to smells by subjecting myself to higher areas of smell than ever while visualizing (which would cause pain, but it would lessen over time, which helped me know I was improving). I also realized that due to an accident when I was 12 (falling off a ladder at roof level of a 2nd story house, breaking my femur and laying in a pool of paint for 40 minutes trying to get help) - I had "primed" (pun intended) myself for paint smell issues later in life. Once I worked back my MS symptoms and regained a normal olfactory sense (this took another year), I found myself with a lot of more “normal” chronic pains that roamed, such as plantar fasciitis, carpel tunnel, back pain, stiff neck, knee, hip & ankle pains, and as I healed, lesser things like a tickle in the ear, itching, sore throat etc. I continued reading and found that many people were reversing these by expressing their emotions more regularly. I knew that I was a “repressor” in an effort to keep my issues away from others, that I took on others' issues, being an empath, and that I have perfectionistic tendencies due to childhood events etc. (as well as some abuse). These traits are in our subconscious and make up our personality, which we cannot readily change. As we repress our emotions we are filling a “bucket” that may overflow when under stress and cause chronic pain at some point. This may escalate very quickly to autoimmune and be diagnosed inaccurately as “chronic lyme” or any one of the many other diseases including anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue and ALS. This was detailed by doctors beginning with John Sarno, a back pain specialist, in the 1970’s and was termed TMS (First “Tension Myositis” or a lack of oxygen to a random part of the body, and then changed to “The Mindbody Syndrome” which also fit very well with the TMS acronym). Throughout my experience, I didn’t feel anything was wrong other than the physical. I didn’t feel much of anything, to be honest. And that is precisely the problem. When your emotions stop, they “clog” the brain and begin to shut down system functions because the energy they create is overwhelming. They ping your pain centers over & over, saying there’s something dangerous in your environment, when there isn’t, and it is exhausting to our systems. When I talk to people now with these problems, I notice they are severely unemotive. One last thing to mention is the power of suggestion on your unconscious brain. Sarno notes that carpel tunnel was ironically not in existence back when people violently moved the typewriter carriage over & over from one side to another. Does anyone remember shin splints? Ulcers? Whiplash? These basically don’t exist today, while they were common a couple decades ago. Where was EDS even a decade ago? It sure seems popular today, with all the ads. Why did I get back pain when I read Sarno’s “healing back pain” books? It turns out we have a lot more control over pain and disease than we think, and certainly more than we would be led to believe by modern day sources and doctors. It takes some focused, regular work, whether it’s journaling, boxing, or whatever other way you can let your emotions out (anger, sadness, grief, guilt, etc.) and thinking about your life and your own insecurities and perfectionism, but is well worth the effort knowing that you may not need surgery or high powered biologic meds for the rest of your life. My goal is to let people know that this is in their control, and it may just help reduce their pain immensely to think psychologically about what may be bothering them and learn about those personality aspects that may be a bit extreme. We know we blush uncontrollably when embarrassed, we know we get butterflies before public speaking, and yet we won’t acknowledge that pain may be an outcome from strong emotions in the brain. This is an unfortunate disparity. Many people are even aware that pain can be worse when they are going through an emotional difficulty such as loss of a loved one. As an empath, my aim is to redirect my energy and help others as my time allows. Confidence is #1, and I’ve got mine back!