“In the past three decades, more than 100,000 chemicals have been approved for commercial use in the United States. Among these are more than 85,000 industrial chemicals, 10,000 food additives, 12,500 personal care ingredients, 1,000 pesticide active ingredients, and scores of pharmaceutical drugs.” -Kelly Brogan, “A Mind of Your Own”
When I lived in France, I remember coming back from visiting home on one trip, my carry-on stuffed with cold medication, Benadryl, OTC pain relievers, eyedrops, cough drops… everything I was used to using in Oklahoma that France just didn’t offer. I hated getting sick in France because nothing their pharmacies sold really stifled the symptoms, like our cold & flu remedies here do. You just had to tough it out until it passed, which, admittedly, was relatively quickly. My French boyfriend at the time would lay on the couch with a scarf around his neck for comfort. I’d never heard of that remedy. All I knew was that Europeans must enjoy suffering.
When I was going through security the Frenchman working the scanner laughed at me. “You’ve packed a pharmacy!”. I smiled to myself that he obviously didn’t know what he was missing.
It turns out the joke was on me. While living in Aix-en-Provence, in the south of France, for three years I was able to completely taper off of my Lexapro, which I had been on for close to six years. I was a competent student, graduating with my International Baccalaureate, living on my own (okay, okay my French guy and I were living together), and was voted prom queen. We didn’t eat out much because that just wasn’t the custom. You only went to a restaurant for a celebration. Restaurants were a luxury. You also didn’t buy a lot of sugary stuff often. Ben & Jerry’s was only sold at a special import grocery store and it was ten euros for a pint! I wasn’t a big fan of Haribo candies (probably because there is not nearly as much sugar in them as there is in watermelon Sour Patch or Milkduds).
I did smoke a lot of cigarettes, however, and put myself of Adderall — which is illegal in France, by the way, not recognized as therapeutic whatsoever. They see it as meth. I had it prescribed in the states and shipped to me after another American girl at my school told me how much it helped her with her schoolwork. I remember her saying “I could get all of my work done, go to the gym, hang out with friends, and STILL not be hungry the entire time. I would lose weight and be so productive.” It sounded perfect! We had a lot of family doctor friends so it was easy to get the prescription. In fact, now that I think of it, I’ve prescribed most of my own medication my entire life. With my Adderall prescription I overcame my dad’s death, all of my IB internal assignments (due within the month, including the 4,000 word Extended Essay that I hadn’t even begun), and I applied to eight colleges in two days, all within the same week. As my self-worth came largely from how intelligent I perceived myself to be, this was definitely a miracle cure.
As I began to shed the pounds I really started to look beautiful. I dyed my dishwater blonde hair platinum blonde and got a sharp bob cut. That summer, after graduating, my French boyfriend and I moved back to the states as we prepared to move to New York City so that I could attend NYU for studio art. I applied for America’s Next Top Model and was chosen to attend the auditions. After boyfriend and I visited Oklahoma and traveled the midwest for a little while, we drove a u-Haul with my mom to New York, and my audition was just a couple days later.
Lots of beautiful, thin girls were there. As I had only been this thin once before in my life — when I was hospitalized with an eating disorder at age 14 — I wasn’t used to being one of the beautiful ones. I had no self-esteem when it came to how I looked. But I knew I was smart, so I could still hold my head high. During the first “round” they asked us for headshots and to present ourselves to them. As we filed back along the edge of the room, each girls number that had been assigned to them was called out if they made it. One by one I watched these beautiful girls faces drop as they walked out of the room. They didn’t make the cut, but somehow I did.
The second round they asked us to address Tyra in the camera and say one word that describes ourselves. A lot of the other models were choosing “sassy” or “daring” or “sexy”. I chose “resilient”. Once again, I made the cut.
The final round before they would really narrow down a handful of girls to go on the actual show, they asked us to do a runway walk in front of the panel in our bikinis. I have struggled with my self-image my entire life, including one mortifying date to a water park at age 13 where I wore a giant t-shirt over my swimsuit the entire time. My stomach is my kryptonite. It’s always been pudgy (or so I thought). This time I did not make the cut. I was gutted. But I didn’t give up.
Something happened over the next six months or so living in New York. My mood changed. My skin quality changed. In fact, my overall quality of life drastically changed. I suddenly started feeling once again how I felt when I needed antidepressants. There was a lot to attribute this to — new environment, diet, lack of social structure, jet lag… but slowly the reasons were dwindling. The friends I was making at school should have been enough. They were bright, fun, talented people who enjoyed my company and supported one another. But I didn’t feel like one of them. Slowly that weird fog crept back into my life.
I tried to sustain my lifestyle. I started self-medicating, distracting, doing anything but realizing my health was slipping and so was my cognition, my emotional stability, my relationships with people around me. I became terribly, terribly unhappy. I remember thinking to myself there was something different between here and France, and it had little to do with the hustle bustle environment or the dog-eat-dog mentality. I couldn’t articulate it, but something felt off.
We’ll revisit this at another time, because it’s quite a long story. We’ll hashtag it the #NewYorkSaga, part 1. What I’m really getting to is that, in hindsight, my body was struggling with an environment that was teeming with toxicants that I happen to be very sensitive to. Toxicants are a funny thing. Kind of like my last post about having a “bespoke fit” lifestyle, the effect toxicants have on a person is a very unique thing. Some people develop migraines, other develop depression. Some people can’t smell pesticides, and some can. Some gain weight and struggle with their thyroid, others don’t. Your genes are so unique to you that they express themselves in unique ways when presented with triggers. Just like someone can witness a dog being hit by a car and not bat an eyelash, another person will witness it and suffer from PTSD. I now know that my body is highly sensitive to the environment around it and the weird xenohormones and oestrogens pumped into just about everything the average American uses destroy any stability I once might’ve enjoyed in a synthetic-free environment. My body then becomes dependent upon something else to try to level itself out — antidepressants, sugar, marijuana. I was always searching for that one thing to regain homeostasis, and I still am.
But today I am much more equipped to find the right answers. I know that self-medicating is a dead end. I know that psychotropic drugs and I largely do not go well together (see #NewYorkSaga part 2). I know about my sensitivities to medications and chemicals and food preservatives and dyes and additives and the myriad of unseen, inorganic components that float around in average American cosmetics, processed meat, plastic packaging, perfume, etc.
Why does this seem to only pertain to America? Because when we think we are broken, constantly searching for something to create homeostasis, we spend money on things marketed to us that seem like solutions. We are buying more chemicals to counteract the effects of the initial chemicals — the ones in our food, water, clothing, furniture. The ones we didn’t consent to. The ones the FDA decided are harmless until proven guilty. It. Infuriates. Me.
The EU has much more rigorous standards for chemicals to live up to when they’re being vetted for public consumption. Many countries in the EU also don’t fluoridate their water. They keep their people healthy, and protect them from potential damage. Profit doesn’t matter; a stable, thriving society does. Somehow along the way — within the past 30 years — America said “fuck it”.
We can regain our own personal empowerment to stop being victimized by the poor decision making of the government and companies who are claiming to care about our health. The companies putting weird, undisclosed chemicals in our feminine care products, and the government that doesn’t require them to list them on the label… the companies putting weird, undisclosed chemicals in our children diapers, and telling us there will be no repercussions.
What else have you noticed change in the past thirty years? People have lost their damned minds.
Ask anyone over the age of 60 what their childhood looked like. I can tell you it wasn’t riddled with diagnoses, mass shootings, rampant billion-dollar advertising industries, kids glued to their x-boxes, or an extreme dearth of common sense. It wasn’t the one-size-fits-all throwaway culture. It was beautiful, it was simple. There were fields, and scraped knees and forts and swimming in clean lakes. Neighbors cared about one another. There was Christ in schools and in homes; there was morality, accountability.
ALL IS NOT LOST. I refuse to succumb to hopelessness. You and me, we can turn this around, one product at a time, one child at a time. We do not have to inherit this culture. We can create a new one, based on all of the best things history has to offer. The world is our oyster: we can pick and choose from hindsight. It take a radical intentionality and strength of character. It takes a radical dependence upon God, and upon intuition. Somehow the grace arrives as you begin to navigate the deep waters. You’re afraid of drowning, but you don’t. You lose it all, and you gain everything. Does that make sense?
Basically, stop eating queso dip and buy a water purifier. You know, start small. Start somewhere.