Next time you’re in your local grocery store, count how many varieties of pickles, mustard, or BBQ sauce there are. From condiments to phone plans to dog breeds, Americans love the variety and associate freedom with our ability to choose what we want.
Well, welcome to my world.
For 11 years, I worked in an aluminum smelter. I never really loved it, but it was a job. When it shut down, I worked temp jobs while getting my BA in Organizational Management. I started a new position in the spring of 2018, as a quality assurance incoming inspector examining steel that vendors brought in. It had taken a while, but I finally had a job I liked.
But then disaster struck. In the process of inspecting the incoming steel, I came in contact with rust-inhibiting oils that got on my gloves, and which I then accidentally wiped on my face. That summer, I developed a small rash on the side of my mouth that spread over most of my face. Then my eyes began to swell shut, which affected my ability to drive a forklift.
The rust-inhibiting oils I had been exposed to had triggered seventy-five allergies to things I’d never been allergic to before.
By Christmas, my breathing and swallowing were affected, and my mouth was constantly numb. I went to the emergency room twice and saw three different dermatologists. The last doctor finally diagnosed me with contact dermatitis. He put me on a Labor and Industries claim, then pulled me from work.
He also conducted the first of several patch tests, which eventually confirmed that the rust-inhibiting oils I had been exposed to had triggered seventy-five allergies to things I’d never been allergic to before.
My new allergens include formaldehyde, fragrances, corn, beef, rice, chocolate, dog hair, dust mites, and pollen. I have severe reactions to perfume, candles, dryer sheets, cardboard boxes, many clothes, and exposure to the sun. I am allergic to modern life.
I am allergic to modern life.
After being kept from work for four months, I was still flaring up, so my dermatologist told me that there was nothing more he could do for me. For me to return to work, he prescribed an immunosuppressant named CellCept, which prevents people who have had transplants from rejecting their new organs. But it destroys your immune system and has sixty-six known side-effects.
My choice was to either take the CellCept and find a job in an office setting, knowing that any time I caught a cold, it could be fatal to me. Or I could not take it and try to find some way of supporting my wife, two Shih-Tzu’s and two ferrets while working from home.
Though the choice was a difficult one, I decided to make another career change. Since I have always loved writing, I decided to try my hand at becoming a writer. What choice did I have?
Denial is often the first stage people go through after a traumatic life change. After my diagnosis, I believed I could go back to my old life if I could just avoid all my allergens. But now, I realize that this will always be impossible. The seventy-five allergies I have are just the ones I know of. How many others are waiting out there to trigger me… or even, perhaps, kill me?
My illness painted me into a corner, but it also forced me to realize that even when presented with a limited range of options, the only way you can ever lose is if you choose to quit.
Even though I still have hope that I can get this under control, I have accepted that this just might be my life now.
Changing careers at any age can be a challenge. I’ve had to do it twice: once because of the place where I worked closed, and the next time because severe allergies upended my life. It sucks, it’s scary, and it’s challenging, especially when you have health issues. But it can also be the start of something new, with your problems becoming the motivation you need to make the change successful.
In the end, you are never really without a choice. My illness painted me into a corner, but it also forced me to realize that even when presented with a limited range of options, the only way you can ever lose is if you choose to quit.