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Brain Rewiring Part 1: I Wasn’t Ready

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Disclaimer: I am not a brain or brain rewiring expert. I am simply sharing my personal journey and my personal understanding as it makes sense to me.

Brain Rewiring: I Wasn't Ready to Understand

If someone would have tried to suggest brain rewiring for my fragrance sensitivity two years ago, I most likely would have taken offense. I absolutely KNEW what I was reacting to: the chemicals in fragranced products. The concept of “brain rewiring” (at first) suggested (to me) that what I was experiencing wasn’t real. But I knew it was real. It certainly was NOT in my head!  (And, as I eventually learned, brain retraining programs don’t suggest that reactions to fragrances are in the head. Not at all.) It just took me time to be open to learning what it was all about.

Through my efforts at seeking support and answers, as well as providing support and awareness for others, I had heard of the program, DNRS. It took some time, however, before I was ready to consider anything beyond what I knew: Fragrance contains toxic chemicals that my body reacts toI simply needed to avoid anything that contained fragrance chemicals. 

Simply.” Insert laugh track here. There is nothing simple about avoiding fragrance today. In a world obsessed with fragrance in head-to-toe products, laundry (from detergent to scent boosters to fabric softener to dryer sheets), trash bags, tissues, and even toys, avoidance can be a full-time job.

Rock Bottom

It was February, 2022. I was six months into my awareness campaign: one new meme a day for a year to be posted on my new Facebook page, Fragrance Free Respect. I was also six months into retirement. Amazing how those two coincided, right? (hmmm…not really a coincidence.) I was so grateful for the guidance that prepared me for this next leg of my journey: advocacy to change an issue that is a barrier for so very many others. A barrier to employment, a barrier to family, a barrier to healthcare, and a barrier to the enjoyment of life.

Those midlife years that I spent developing a career and financial plan weren’t meant to end in such an early retirement. The daily reactions to constant fragrance chemicals, however, finally became too much. I’d almost feel better by the end of the weekend just to have it all start again Monday morning. I tried, but I just couldn’t do it any longer. 

Losing two jobs because of this fragrance sensitivity (disability)–one because of what someone else chose for me (which I’ll share one day) and the last one because I simply had to–was nothing compared to the fear of losing what I cherish the very most in this world: My family.

When Fragrance Chemicals Don't Go Away

If you use fragranced laundry products, lotion, soap, shampoos, etc, you most likely don’t know this truth: many (MANY) of those products don’t simply wash out. If you change soap, detergent, lotion, or any other product for a day out of consideration for the person with a fragrance sensitivity (that you will be visiting)—or for a job with a fragrance-free policy (like all healthcare should have) it most likely isn’t enough. 

The consideration and effort is extremely APPRECIATED. It certainly isn’t your fault that those fragrance chemicals in so many products don’t easily disappear with a single or even triple washing. What does that say about our mainstream products? Who would know this truth, however, unless you experience the ill effects that so many of us do. Whether you personally react or not, please seek products without fragrance chemicals (for your own health and for your family’s health—and for pets, and for the environment). But I digress. That’s a whole different effort. 

Welllll, one last thing and then I’ll move on. There are often hundreds of chemicals behind that single word, fragrance, on any given product. And because fragrance ingredients are proprietary information and therefore protected and not required to be disclosed, they most likely aren’t listed on your products. By checking labels, and choosing products without fragrance, you are avoiding hundreds of unnecessary chemicals, thus benefiting your health, your family’s health, your pets’ health, and our environment. I know that was repetitive but it is worth repeating. 

When Fragrance Chemicals Don't Go Away, Continued

A little more on the topic, but as you’ll see it is important to what led me to choosing brain rewiring.

Today’s laundry products (fragranced detergent, fabric softener, scent boosters) are strong and incredibly pervasive. Like I said above, they don’t simply wash out. They are created NOT to wash out. And for the person who uses them, those fragrance chemicals are left behind wherever they sit — and then transferred to the next person’s clothes. I almost always have to change clothes upon returning home from a visit to the chiropractor, dentist, restaurant, or anywhere that I sit on public chairs. Fact.  

I’ve tried relentlessly (and unsuccessfully) to rid product from hand-me-down clothes, using various soaks and washes. Products that contain fragrance chemicals that are purposely created to continue smelling for months don’t simply wash out. What chemicals cause these products to be so impossible to remove? Do we really want them held against our skin all day? Do we really want to be inhaling them through our sheets as we sleep all night? Did you know that your skin is your largest organ and that it absorbs what you put on it? 

This is the same truth when using fragranced hand soap, hair products, hand sanitizer, or lotion. One washing in fragrance-free soap will not remove the scent chemicals. Nor will two, three, or possibly five more washings. 

The fact that fragrances are made with chemicals that cause them to bind makes being with others a very difficult challenge for the person living with fragrance sensitivity. (And if you read the research articles I shared in my last post, you know that this isn’t a rare issue. At least one-third of the population recognizes the negative impact that fragrance chemicals have on them.)

What does this mean when it comes to family? My kids? My grandkids? This became my breaking point.

I Can't

A job is one thing. Family is another. I had ‘learned’ to feel unwell a great deal of my life, (as I shared in my post, A Lifetime of Undiagnosed Celiac: A Life Put on Hold). I honestly hadn’t realized how unwell I learned to feel until I was diagnosed with celiac and removed gluten. What a blessing that was! It was like the sun finally appeared in my life. Total joy. 

When my fragrance sensitivity began a couple years later, I just assumed it had something to do with celiac (which is where everything else seemed to stem from). My renewed health with my gluten-free diet was gradually becoming more and more hindered by my fragrance sensitivity.

In recent years, my physical, neurological, and cognitive reactions were creating a growing and devastating barrier between me and my family. If all my efforts to be fragrance free were dampened by a single visit to a doctors’ office, how could anyone else be fragrance free enough to prevent my reactions: brain fog, back pain, emotional reactions, cognitive impairment. They certainly tried to be fragrance free and I tried to fake feeling well. 

I couldn’t help but feel the joy of family-time start to slip away and I finally hit my breaking point. It was this breaking point and such desperation that had me looking up a name a friend had recently given me: Annie Hopper. It was time to see what brain rewiring was all about. (Sheesh, if you could see me now. Just typing this has me in tears of joyful emotion.)


My search for Annie Hopper and DNRS had me discovering this YouTube video of her speaking to a group in Helsinki, Finland

I was mesmerized from the get-go and throughout the hour-long presentation. I had goosebumps and tears as I listened to Annie share her personal story. Up until this time I felt that my body had reached its toxic limit in regards to chemical overload. I assumed my personal reactions were connected in some way to the years and years I lived with undiagnosed celiac. Hearing her describe limbic system impairment and her recovery through brain rewiring, however, opened my eyes and had me thinking in ways I never imagined. Goosebumps upon goosebumps upon goosebumps. 

Watching that video had me in tears. Tears of joy. Tears of hope. Real hope. Very real hope. I already knew what it was like to experience incredible transformation through answers. A gluten-free diet after decades of health issues changed my life. I was now experiencing the same hope and excitement I felt 22 years earlier when I was told that celiac was behind my increasing bone loss. I felt like a kid who was just told that my parents were going to take me to Disney World. 

Brain Rewiring Step 1

I immediately went to Annie’s website, Retraining the Brain. I’ll be honest. I debated for a bit whether or not to purchase the program. Would it be a waste of money? Was brain rewiring a real thing? My gut, each time I watched that YouTube video, however, told me: THIS IS WHAT YOU NEED

The program was $350. One part of my brain tried to tell me this was a lot of money. But seriously, this was a drop in the bucket compared to what this issue had cost me at that point. An income. A career direction. A social life. FAMILY! How could I NOT try it? 

The DNRS program was updated in September 2022, six months into my journey with the original videos. (I really like the updated version!) They now offer a FREE TRIAL of the first 2 sections of the program. I suggest exploring this free trial in order to better understand limbic system impairment and to determine if this program is right for you. 

*Note: I am not a representative or paid affiliate of the program. I am not trying to sell anything. This is simply about my journey—and my hope that my story will benefit others who are living with fragrance illness.

**Additional Note: The Free Trial I mentioned above was available at the time of this writing. This may or may not still be the case by the time you are reading this.

Steps 2 to 1,378

This past twelve months of brain rewiring has certainly been a journey–and not a linear journey. It certainly hasn’t been straight up. There are ebbs and flows to the process. I eventually invested in coaching support at various times that helped me considerably. Such a blessing! 

I explored testimonials upon testimonials through those initial months of my training, and I explored neuroplasticity resources as my journey continued.  I’ve experienced enough positive shifts along the way that have told me I was on the right track. I’ll work on sharing bits and pieces of this journey through upcoming posts. 

Where I Am Today With My Brain Rewiring

While I’m not where I was before my fragrance sensitivity began twenty years ago, I can tell you this: I am in a much better place today than I was a year ago. And I credit where I am now to brain retraining, 100%. 

While I will NEVER use products that contain synthetic fragrance again, experiencing a decrease in sensitivity is a blessing I could only fantasize about before.

  • Thanksgiving 2022 with my family was beautiful and nearly reaction free.
  • I can go into stores with minimal to no reaction over 80% of the time. 

Bonus: Besides the reason I initially started the program, I am learning how a maladapted stress response has also been affecting me in other ways. 

It’s a slow and steady journey, but the overall direction is towards sunnier days and I am beyond grateful.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Ingrid Eissfeldt

    Thank you for sharing. Like you I have spent a lot of money trying to be able to cope better with smells and right now I really feel like I’m going insane. My GP has referred me to the neurological department at Canterbury hospital. I am not expecting anything from that. Limbic retraining is probably the best option. I wonder if this ties in with the idea that MCS is a brain injury. Injury can be caused by chemicals, trauma or a physical impact. I guess result is the same. Will the brain develop new pathways whatever the cause??

    1. Debbie Simpson

      Ingrid, thank you so much for your comment. From my understanding, yes, it is about creating new pathways in the brain. I am not a brain specialist or educated in neuroplasticity outside of my personal training and a couple books I’ve read and videos I’ve explored. I am so grateful that DNRS offers the first 2 sections of the program for a free trial. It truly offers more information and insight than I’d be able to give. The direction I’m currently going with the daily required work is certainly a better direction than where I was headed prior to starting the program. I look forward to hearing what you think about the program (or what other avenues you may explore).

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