Tuesday, October 4, 2016

My Fragrance Twin and I

Quite a few months back, I had the privilege of living with my fragrance twin and her family at their home. We have always teased each other that we were twins separated at birth. However, as it ended up a 4 month work stay, I found out that we were more fraternal than identical twins. Let me explain.
Illustration by Lana Willison
While someone with a fragrance allergy/intolerance are affected by fragrance, how the symptoms and reactions manifest can be quite different. My twin may encounter, eyes and lips burning, rosacea, headaches, and the all around "I need to get out of here fast" mode. I may encounter migraines, nausea, dizziness, irritability, spitting up, and of course, the all around "I need to get out of here fast" mode. We both have found that coffee can counteract some of these symptoms as it can act as a natural antihistamine.

Case in point, we went to Follow Your Heart, health food store, in the San Fernando Valley area near Los Angeles.  At the entrance of the store were candles by the register. Upon entering, we were both "hit" by the odors. Why "health food" stores display odor offgassing merchandise at the entrance is a wonder to me, but that is a blog post for another time.  

Follow Your Heart sells loose herbs, which I like to purchase to make my own hair products. I was able to obtain most of what I needed, but the effect of the fragranced merchandise in the store was taking effect on my ability to think. As I was attempting to pay, the closer I moved towards the front register, the onset of symptoms was evident. Not thinking clearly, I found my "fragrance twin" told her the situation and I left the store immediately before my symptoms entered the next phase. Usually, the next phase can consist of chest pains, throat closing and or losing my voice and the immediate need for a dye free antihistamine and/or a 911 call (definitely didn't want that).  

The checker at the counter was sympathetic, she came out of the store to check on me and ask if I needed anything, and supplied me with water.  Nonetheless, my body had entered crisis mode and I was afraid to re-enter the store. My friend paid for the products and she managed to stay a bit longer and look for her other needed items. How she was able to stay in there for longer is still beyond me. As I lost my voice, we went to another store and purchased coconut water as I was not in possession of a dye free antihistamine which would have slowed the reaction. Eventually, we made it to her house and I laid down.

On the flip side, if someone enters her house with hair spray, fragrance hair products, fragrance clothing from laundry detergent she has to escape to her bedroom for safety because those scents render her useless. Whereas, I have barely been affected, except for the fragrance laundry detergent (for me Tide and Gain are some of the worst odor affecting laundry detergents). 

She also can not tolerate some cooking oils, animal fat in meat, whereas I have no problem. It went to a point where I was confused as to what to cook for myself because I did not want to make her ill with food smells. I also have food allergies/sensitivities which make my eating choices limited. 

People with sensitivities to smells, odors, fragrance and the like, for safety, tend to be isolated. Least of all, with this sensitivity, being fully aware of the complexity of the situation, I did not want to be the person to make her ill. I know how it feels when people "don't get the issue" and are offended that it is their choice of product that we do not like.  

Many of us, like my fragrance twin have families, friends that stop by, or employed.  With that said, we risk daily our encounters with others, "count our spoons" and decide what task we can accomplish that day.  Amazingly, although we are similar in many ways, we were still quite different in the situations, products and odors that cause a reaction. 

It was a very enlightening four months, we were able to consort, brainstorm and assist each with our challenges. We both came out with a sincere and a better understanding of each other, a love and friendship I will cherish deeply as we both continue to be savvy and scent free. 

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