24th Anniversary Memories

(A gentle warning in case this may trigger PTSD in some people)

At 8.30am on November 20th 1993, 14 years into Severe ME & Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and 97% bedbound, I woke to find my bedroom filled with very strong paint fumes, the vaporised lead from the paint stripping and gas fumes (possibly carbon monoxide) from the heated paint stripper.
The workmen trespassing in my garden, in order to paint the upper flat, refused to stop working until I could escape the building.

Shortly after this, although rescued by friends who came and collected me, I was flat on my back in their entryway, unable to climb the stairs to their apartment even when supported under the arms on either side. I was taken to hospital by the kindliest and most solicitous paramedics and there told that paint fumes at these dilutions “couldn’t possibly affect me this severely.”

What followed was a massive adrenaline response which lasted for over 2 years.
There was pandemonium in my brain. It felt like a tiger was going to come through the window at every moment, like I was running through a burning building screaming and looking for my children.

The effect on my brain chemistry was intolerable.
I couldn’t stand any activity for more than 3-4 minutes.
I had to alternate between listening to the radio, lying in silence and looking at a distant television screen without the volume. My brain felt like it was completely demented, on fire, but I, Anita, was calm.

The handwritten letter below is what I wrote in the dead of night, with my left hand, on the hospital ward. I couldn’t use any other part of my body at all.


I’ve been unable to sit up, or hold up my head unsupported ever since.

That was when my life ended.
I’m not sure what to call it now…
I’m not at all depressed, you understand, it’s just a fact.

“It’s life Jim, but not as we know it.”