Book review: Living with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: Narratives of Coping

Gail McCormick
McFarland Publishing
ISBN 0-7864-0887-1

Loss of work, home, friends and community, loss of a sense of safety in the world, of belonging, of identity - these are common experiences for people with MCS.

In Living with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, Narratives of Coping, Gail McCormick records the personal stories of thirty three people whose lives have been dramatically changed by this illness. They describe how they have learned to cope with these losses, and with the day to day challenges of being chemically sensitive in the modern world.

McCormick, who also suffers from MCS, has organized the book as a series of first person narratives. Reading the book is a bit like having a series of conversations with interesting people you would like to know. Each person’s story answers many of the questions people with chemical sensitivity ask each other: How did you get sick, how did you figure out what was wrong, is your family supportive, what gives you the strength to go on?

Before they became ill, the people in this book would have had little in common. They were mountain climbers, auto mechanics, teachers, housekeepers. They had no unusual health problems. The events which triggered their illnesses could have happened to anyone: a pot burning on a stove, home renovations, chemical exposures at work.

In the Forward to this book, Pamela Reed Gibson, author of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: A Survival Guide, writes, “Coping with a hidden, non-legitimized disability is one of the hardest things one can do in Western culture. Even so, people find strength, inspiration and a sense of purpose in doing so. The people in this book have faced the void and survived, after which life is never the same. They do the impossible on a daily basis, and deserve the opportunity given in this book to tell their stories.”

This book is inspiring and informative. It carries a valuable message for people with chemical sensitivities: you are not weird, you are not alone, and what is happening to you is real and has a name, MCS. The stories contain many useful practical and emotional survival tips. If you are chemically sensitive, keep this book beside your bed to read on those days when you feel despairing and alone.

Living with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities will be an eye opener for anyone unfamiliar with chemical sensitivity. It is a helpful book for friends and family members of people with MCS who all too often feel frustrated and disbelieving of the unusual requirements of the chemically sensitive person in their lives. It is a must for anyone in the helping professions working with people with MCS. Thanks to McCormick for this addition to the literature of chemical sensitivity.