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Brain Rewiring Part 1: I Wasn’t Ready

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, the brain retraining program I am using doesn’t suggest that reactions to fragrances are in the head. Not at all.) It just took some time for me to be open to learning what it was all about.

As I shared in another post, I truly believe my direction is guided by my GPS. 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, trash bags, tissues, and even toys, avoidance is impossible.

For more awareness memes, join Fragrance Free Respect on Facebook or Instagram.

Rock Bottom

It was February, 2022. I was six months into my awareness commitment: 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? (heehee) 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 more. 

Losing two jobs because of this fragrance sensitivity (disability)–one because of what someone else chose for me (as I shared somewhat in my last post) 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), it most likely isn’t enough. 

The consideration and effort is extremely APPRECIATED. It certainly isn’t your fault that those 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. But I digress. That’s a whole different effort. 

Wellllll, one last thing–and then I’ll move on. There are often 100’s (HUNDREDS) of chemicals behind that single little word, fragrance. And because fragrance ingredients are proprietary information (and therefore protected and not required to be disclosed) they most likely aren’t listed on your product. By checking labels and choosing products without fragrance, you are avoiding 100’s of unnecessary chemicals, thus benefiting your health, your family’s health, your pets, and our environment

When Fragrance Chemicals Don't Go Away, Continued

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 so deeply embedded into fibers that the person who uses them leaves these fragrance chemicals behind wherever they sit. And. . . this then transfers to the next person’s clothes.  I have had to change clothes upon returning home from a visit to the chiropractor, dentist, or restaurant many, many times. Fact. 

I’ve tried relentlessly (and unsuccessfully) to rid product from hand-me-down clothes, using various soaks and washes. What causes these products to be so impossible to remove?

This is the same truth when using fragranced hand soap, hand sanitizer, or lotion. One hand washing in fragrance-free soap will not remove the scent from hands. Nor will two, three, or 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 is impacted negatively by the chemicals in fragranced products.)

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 it 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. 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.)

The JOY of HOPE

My search for Annie Hopper and DNRS had me discovering this YouTube video of her speaking to a group in Helsinki, Finland. (I cannot get a link that starts at the beginning for some reason. This link is almost 2 minutes in, so please drag the play button to the beginning.)  

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.

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 maladaptic 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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