Thursday, August 6, 2020

A Life of Illusion: Chapter 1: An American Tune

...Continued from A Life of Illusion: Prologue: We All Live in a Yellow Submarine


Dorothy’s Journal, Earth Date 2020.03.23:

I have a chronic illness which affects my everyday life, and a great deal of knowledge about it because of some pretty harrowing experiences. So, I know how to keep it under control, for the most part. Life is complicated, though, and it’s impossible to control my exposure to the things that hurt my health 100% of the time.

While I try not to let my disease control me, sometimes it does. For years I have suffered from depression and anxiety, and in the past two years I started having a lot of panic attacks. Panic attacks suck. I think I may have a Panic Disorder. It is extremely easy for me to have a panic attack under certain circumstances.

They say people who go into psychology do so because there is something wrong with them, and well, the semester I took Abnormal Behavior, I became afraid of developing Borderline Personality Disorder. Maybe that fear is part of my Panic Disorder, even though I have been assured by multiple professionals that I do not have BPD. I worry that my PTSD will mutate into BPD, because that can sometimes happen. I educated myself to understand these things, and so I work extremely hard to be aware of my state of consciousness.

It’s just a lot easier to be alone, because sometimes consciousness can be elusive. It’s so easy for me to fall into that default programming of people-pleasing. It’s so easy to become disconnected from myself, especially in certain company. I will not eat when I need to eat, in order to not be an inconvenience. Not eating can be bad. I think a lot of people with this disease get hanger, but I get hanxious. When I am with other people, I can have a panic attack before I become aware I am hungry. And then the panic attack leads to a depression.

So, for the last year, I have isolated myself a bit out of necessity. I needed to get back in touch with myself. I needed to remember how to feel again. I think because I struggled for so many years with PTSD and major depressive disorder, the social butterflies around me wanted me to be happy all the time. That feels like a lot of pressure, and just not reasonable in a world like this.

There is a lot we can do with cognitive behavioral therapy. There are even apps like Woebot to help people identify cognitive distortions. I know all the tips and tricks. But some stuff is organic in nature. When I am in a panic attack, or post-panic attack, I can’t always think straight. I enter a survival mode, because my body is convinced that death is imminent. This is the stuff psychologists can’t help in just a few sessions. This stuff takes years to untangle, by learning about various states of consciousness.

When I am having a panic attack, I am not myself. There is no Dorothy, there is only Zuul. What I need at that moment is just a hug. I’m feeling overwhelmed by emotions. If I am convinced my emotions might be interpreted as threatening by the other person, then I need to be alone. I can overreact to little things when I am in this mode.

Actually, it’s less like Zuul, and more like Vincent. Van Gogh, that is. My thoughts become destructive toward myself more than they do other people. I have the other creative parts of Vincent, too, thank goodness.

Luckily, over the last year, I learned that I enjoy being alone. I feel fortunate about that, now!

I have more things that I want to do than I have time to be alone. It can be a little Short Attention Span Theater here as I flit from one thing to the next. Somehow, it all gets done, when it’s not the holidays.

And it’s okay, because it turns out there’s some magic in this ADHD approach. Quite a bit, for sure. I see connections between the least likely things! And that can lead to research projects that last for days, or years. It has connected me with people from all over the world. It has helped me build a library that could keep me entertained for years, and helped me get back into art and music. These are all the things that most effectively help me battle anxiety and depression.

When Zuul comes around, it’s hard to motivate myself to research, connect, read, or make art or music. I can’t force it. The best things are rest, and definitely meditation. I can see that now we are going to have to stretch our food supplies for longer, that I may need to meditate more. This helps me stay calm.

Am I forgetting anything?

Oh yeah, what am I doing to support my respiratory health? Sometimes I get panic attacks when I have respiratory infections, so I try to avoid illness. Now here’s a rabbit hole. For a long time I just called myself chemically-sensitive. Zuul came out a couple times in my life after some significant chemical exposures (and sometimes when I have been sick). Because I was so unwell for the last year or more, and it seemed to be much worse after being in newly remodeled spaces, I decided to investigate the role of VOCs and formaldehyde in my health. VOCs and formaldehyde are the biggest exposure risks from construction, because they are components of latex paints and construction adhesives. They are linked to serious health problems like respiratory difficulties, ADHD, anxiety, dementia and cancer. Large exposures to VOCs and formaldehyde can cause seizures or death. I have been identifying sources of VOCs in my daily life and removing them, and it has been helping me feel a lot better. It is surprising some of the places I found them, and in what quantity.

For example, I had acrylic paint in my studio, but had not used it, because I bought it for the kids. I also had purchased a huge canvas on sale - 4’ x 5’ - because I had always wanted to paint a big painting. A family member kept suggesting that I should paint larger, and I had resisted because of the cost of materials and then if the work didn’t sell, I would have to find a place to store it. But so it happened that I had this canvas and a lot of acrylic paint, and that was the start of a torrid love affair. And a LOT of time with Vincent.

I’ve always been of the philosophy that “there are no mistakes, only lessons.” I do not regret my affair with acrylic paint. In fact, I will continue to work with acrylic paint under the right conditions which means ensuring adequate ventilation and using a respirator. Anything I make with it will be left out in the sun long enough to properly offgas. It turns out that acrylic paint is very high in VOCs and formaldehyde.

This is so surprising to me because I know acrylic painters who paint indoors with no protection.

What I experienced is probably not unlike the psychological torture suffered by Van Gogh. He had, however, been an oil painter. I had a period of illness before when I was painting indoors with other oil painters. Most people I knew at that time used odorless mineral spirits, thinking they were safe. Just because something is odorless doesn’t make it safe. Odorless mineral spirits are made of napthalene, different from the naturally-derived turpentine Van Gogh would have used in his time. Napthalene is a neurotoxicant, and the MSDS sheet for odorless mineral spirits reveals both the content, and the health effects. Turpentine contains VOCs, but not neurotoxicants. Van Gogh had exposure to other toxins which have nervous system effects - specifically, like many oil painters of the time, he was not aware of the toxicity of the lead white or cadmium red and yellow he was using, and was rumored to have actually eaten them. He suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy, and it has been postulated that he suffered from bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, Meniere’s disease, anxiety disorder, non-suicidal self-injury disorder, and schizoaffective disorder. Poor guy! He gets all the attention, but his “buddy” Gaugin was probably nuts, too, and the combination was both magical and tragic, with all the blame falling on the lesser narcissist of the duo. After Vincent’s death, Gaugin skipped town to Tahiti, where he preyed on teenage girls for the rest of his life. He just turned his psychosis on others, rather than himself.

Another source I found was fairly elusive. It turns out that VOCs travel on dust particles. That blew my mind. Just having our furnace and ducts cleaned reduced the levels of both significantly. This is particularly frustrating because it takes a lot of time and energy to vacuum the whole house, and it hasn’t been a priority for me because it cuts into my time and energy for creating things significantly. The dogs have long hair, which doesn’t help, and it is really dusty here in Colorado. So what am I supposed to do? Spend three days out of every month vacuuming? That is one tenth of my life! There are a lot of other things that I have to do regularly that take that much time, too.

Maybe the dust wasn’t as big of a contributor as I thought. I learned a lot about other ways that forced air furnaces can contribute to elevated VOC levels in the home in the process, and some blind spots in the regulation of residential HVAC systems that may leave many homes with unsafe levels of VOCs. In commercial spaces, adequate fresh air is calculated carefully, taking into account even the number of human bodies in the space. Humans expire CO2 and VOCs, which also happen to be the end products of the metabolism of polyunsaturated fatty acids. Human beings increase the need for fresh oxygen in a space. So do other flame sources. So do fans that remove air from a building (like bathroom fans, window fans, and whole house fans). In the event there is not enough fresh oxygen coming into the house, a vacuum can form, causing the dangerous flue gasses to be sucked back into the home. This phenomenon is called house depressurization and flue gas backdrafting, and water heaters can contribute significantly. There is a lot of information on the internet about it. Whoa, Nellie! Doesn’t this seem like stuff that people should know?

The final strange sources that I found were a surprise to me. But now in retrospect, the first time I sort of figured this out, I was also having a battle with Zuul. I thought it was just fragrance, though, which can contain some VOCs. This was a real mind-bender. My dish soap, dish detergent, and laundry detergent, which were all unscented, were all extremely high in VOCs AND FORMALDEHYDE. Formaldehyde! This is what we use to wash the things that go in our mouths and on our skin! OMG, does this mean we are all doughnuts fried in VOCs and formaldehyde? Furthermore, the vapors from the detergents enter our homes when they encounter hot water or air.

These chemicals have neuropsychological effects. What is also scary at the current time is the effect they have on respiratory function. Doesn’t it seem important to clear the air now?

The effects I experience during an exposure are agitation, shortness of breath and forgetfulness. My thoughts become muddled. I get vertigo. This can become a panic attack. Later I may or may not have a headache, but invariably have difficulty sleeping. Sometimes I will get a terrible feeling of pins and needles in my legs. I get joint pain, awful lower back pain and migraine, which can go on for a couple of days. After about two days, depression sets in. I have had enough experience with it to figure out that the pain and depression arise from the same thing and not from each other. I can have pain without depression, and depression without pain during an episode.

Fortunately, I’ve only seen Zuul or Vincent when I’m not watching my chemical exposure. Stress, lack of sleep, and certain dietary factors can make me feel tired and achy, but not like how I get with chemicals. Luckily I know that the person I become is not me. Knowing this has helped me to be a lot more patient with myself and others, since I know everyone has exposures that they don’t know about. This took a long time to figure out.


Dorothy (who prefers to go by “Dot”) sits at her desk, staring at her computer screen, in her studio which she calls “The Yellow Submarine.” That moniker came out of her time with Vincent and the acrylic paint. The adjacent rec room is now deemed “Area 51” as it is where Dot likes to practice astral projection. It is where she went to learn about solitude for nine-ish months.

What exactly was she doing all that time? Wouldn’t being mostly alone for all that time cause a person to go crazy? She was healing. Her soul had been battered.

It’s hard to learn that you’re a canary in a coal mine. You deal with a lot of disbelief. The suicide rate is very high for people with chemical sensitivity because of this. Dot believes now that we’re actually all a little mad here, it’s just that there are a lot of people who are too proud to admit it.

Much of this is because of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. We are all susceptible to this, even Dot. It’s difficult to objectively analyze oneself. Many people learn about themselves through interacting with other people. When doing this, it is important to get enough time to oneself to be able to separate one’s own identity from that of others. This takes a lot of practice, and is easier the more comfortable one becomes spending time alone. When we’re alone, it’s easier to discern what feels good and bad. When we are with others, sensory overwhelm and desire for acceptance can create confusion.

Because there is a societal stigma around isolation, what this means is that we have created a population of people who are totally out of touch with themselves, their health, and their level of consciousness. It’s precisely the kind of culture that creates shame around susceptibility to illness, and ignorance around one’s own vulnerability. It creates risky behaviors in the name of social acceptance.

And, it causes pandemics.


Dot has just had the rest of the small bowl of cannabis she started up last night, which was a little Alien Dawg and Brain OG. She feels guilty for smoking it - for one thing, because of the deadly respiratory disease going around, and of course because smoking is not good for lungs. But cannabis is the best thing for the symptoms she gets. She is vaping the herb for the most part, but that still carries risks.

Her thinking is a little bit muddled without cannabis, and even more muddled with it. She figured out that it had augmented her satiety mechanism, such that she never really knew if she was hungry or not. And this meant that she could skip meals while high, and end up in a state of panic once the high wore off. Or, in classical stoner style, have a gluttonous case of the munchies, and overtax her digestive enzymes. The tradeoff wasn’t always worth it, especially if there was a mania triggered, which sometimes happened with sativas. While a lot of really brilliant stuff can come out of Dot’s mania, she can really pay for it later.

So, nine months in the desert was on order for Dot. She was actually unwell enough that she was having difficulty with verbal communication. She would have trouble remembering simple words. She tried to communicate this to her immediate family, and the significance seemed to be lost on them, which made her really worry about them! She was actually having stroke symptoms. She was having intermittent problems with her hearing, too, which may be connected, but canceled her hearing test due to concerns about coronavirus.

In looking back at her old journals, she sees the difficulty with staying on topic and word choice more clearly. There was some shame around that - in the early months of her isolation, she had numerous attempts at writing that ended in frustration. There was a lot of guilt for not being able to write, because she felt like she should be doing something.

Luckily, what the Universe pointed out to her is that she needed to take care of herself. And it turns out that she didn’t really know how to do that. Her existence had been interrupt-driven for a long time. She had to learn how to take advantage of that, which took some time. So, that’s part of what she learned in her nine months in the desert.

The more time she spent alone, the more chaotic she realized the world was, and the more she realized that we choose our own hell. We choose it through ignorance, actually. We choose it by being creatures of habit. Sometimes it’s really little things! And not what one would expect. For instance, Dot had a habit of not resting enough.

And that is something that is difficult to do around other people.

Her time away from other people helped her see how much chaos other people choose for themselves, and how much effort it takes for those people to maintain their chaos. Sometimes the chaos people choose is associations with others. Sometimes it is gluttony. Sometimes it is mindlessness.

And unfortunately, there are a lot of people who don’t have the choice to opt out of chaos.

For people like Dot who can opt out of the chaos, it is increasingly important.

And, it’s possible to learn what chaos we have chosen very easily. It just takes some time alone. If one is in a group, one can just dis-associate from the group for a while, and note how that affects well-being. Right now, most of us are stuck at home, so we can pay attention to how we feel now that the chaos outside our homes is not part of our everyday lives. If we were part of particularly chaotic groups, we might find that separation increases a sense of calm, and decreases stress. Different people see different things as chaos, but for Dot it always comes down to spending too much and lack of concern for how our choices affect others and the environment.

She’s been working on those things in herself, and she wants to let you know that it’s not easy. These are things that are encouraged in American society.

It’s just counter-productive use of our lives and resources.

At some point, the time for talk has passed. This is the time, people. It’s the time to slow down and consider what we can do at the individual level to make things better. We really do change the world by changing ourselves.

Otherwise we are just contributing to the chaos!


How much toilet paper do we really need? How much food do we really need? How are we going to entertain ourselves? It is not someone else’s duty to entertain us. Nobody even has to listen to us. This is the time to grapple with our personal entitlement.

Every single thing we get is from the effort of some other person. And those people probably are not living nearly as comfortably as we are. A palette of toilet paper is a ridiculous idea to a lot of the world. It was ridiculous to Dot, too, even though she is highly dependent on it. On her trip to southeast Asia, she learned that there is a whole part of the world that doesn’t even use toilet paper! She is trying to ration her use, realizing that a lot of body parts have been liberated from societal institutions and now need residential wiping at unprecedented levels. Who knew that toilet paper was a work benefit?

Let’s do some toilet paper math:

In a large pack of toilet paper from a certain warehouse store, there are 275 sheets per roll, 45 rolls per package. That is 12,375 sheets per package. If Dot uses the restroom 5 times per day, and on average uses 8 squares of toilet paper per restroom visit, that is 40 squares per day. So on her own, Dot would use the pack of toilet paper in approximately 309 days. Maybe Dot can use a little bit more toilet paper.

A lot of her own toilet paper use was due to menstruation, but she is trying some other products she learned about from a sex educator on YouTube. She invested in some period panties, and those have been helpful. Dave Chappelle was right; vaginas can be a bit of a hassle.

Say Dot was able to get some toilet paper so that she didn’t have to touch or think about her own poop. Maybe she designed a robot to do her shopping for her, which carefully brought her golden TP home to use with her Golden American Toilet. She could then sell that robot to grocery stores to do shopping, and prevent the spread of a lot of coronavirus.

This allows her more time to think of a new invention, and actually make something useful to the world instead of just spreading worry. This is the kind of stuff we can use boredom for, too.

What if we are quarantined and still think we’re too busy? We can stop answering non-essential texts, emails and phone calls right away. The people who respect our time won’t mind. The people who aren’t just looking to share their anxiety with someone won’t mind. We can get back to the messages two days later, with calmer, more thoughtful responses, too!

By identifying the sources of our own anxiety, we can help not feed the chaos. Imagine how different the world could be!

Let’s all hope!


...Continued in A Life of Illusion: Chapter 3: The House of the Rising Sun

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