Is My Story Scary and Depressing?

July 14, 2019

I recently received this comment on a post from a couple months ago.

I haven’t checked in to this blog in a while. The last I recall you had done mold avoidance, felt better and were moving into an apartment. I guess that didn’t work out and you built a van? How did the entire van get mold contaminated? I find this post and story scary and depressing. Fleeing hotels and campgrounds and apartments and vans. There’s no indication the new cottage will work though maybe it will. And then what? It sounds isolated. How will you work, go to school, raise a family, and participate in society?

These are some good questions, that get to the heart of some misconceptions about my story and about mold avoidance. So I wanted to respond to the comment here.

The last I recall you had done mold avoidance, felt better and were moving into an apartment. I guess that didn’t work out and you built a van? How did the entire van get mold contaminated?

Mold avoidance is an active strategy not a passive treatment. The bulk of the strategy involves spending time healing in pristine air and learning to sense problematic toxins so you can avoid getting sick again. It’s not simply a prescription for a certain number of months in clean air. It’s a skill that needs to be developed through experimentation. Which is actually super-empowering because it means you can make mistakes, learn from your mistakes and make better decisions in the future. You’re always learning and improving.

The mistake in Rapid City wasn’t moving into an apartment per se. The mistake was thinking that I didn’t need mold avoidance anymore. Instead of bringing what I had learned on the road and applying it to staying well in Rapid City, I abandoned the avoidance paradigm for something called “brain retraining.” It wasn’t too long before I relapsed, because spending six months in clean air isn’t a cure. Having symptom-free day after symptom-free day doesn’t mean you’re invincible. Certain molds are objectively harmful. Certain people are more susceptible to them than others.

When I relapsed, we chose to get back on the road because spending time in pristine air was the fastest way back to feeling good. We probably could have taken a more moderate approach and found another apartment. That was what we were going to do initially. But apartment hunting was exhausting and we knew I could heal much more quickly living in nature. We already had the van, why not use it?

How did the entire van get mold contaminated?

I haven’t talked much about how the van got contaminated. But it was another lesson that once learned won’t be repeated. It involved spending a lot of time with another mold-sick person who was carrying some rare super-bad contamination. It’s possible the exposure infected me in some way and/or sensitized me to smaller amounts of the same contamination. We didn’t know something like that could even happen. Now we know.

There’s no indication the new cottage will work though maybe it will.

This is ironic, since the cottage has not worked out. However, it had nothing to do with mold avoidance. There was every indication that the new cottage would work. We had camped in the area for several weeks. I felt great in the house. I didn’t sense any problematic molds. I wasn’t telling my body to shut up with brain retraining and I wasn’t inviting mold-sick people over for dinner. I did amazingly well in the house for the two months we lived in it and there was every reason to believe I would continue doing well. Unfortunately, the house had been on the market for 10 years and two months after we started renting, a buyer showed up.

And then what? It sounds isolated. How will you work, go to school, raise a family, and participate in society?

This last comment is the one I was most eager to answer. My answer is two-fold.

Firstly, even if I was in for a lifetime of isolation, it would still be a vastly better life than what I had before mold avoidance.

Before mold avoidance, I wasn’t working or going to school or participating in society. I was stuck in bed staring at the same four walls and ceiling day after day after day. I was a prisoner in my own body. Curled up in pain. Too sound sensitive to interact with other humans. I saw friends less than once a year and barely interacted with family. I was often too brain-fogged to carry a conversation. I was down to only a handful of safe foods I could eat without risking anaphylaxis. People stopped inviting me to weddings. The only social event I could consider attending was my own funeral.

Mold avoidance has been a journey of one gain after another. Sure, I’ve lost possessions and living spaces. But I’ve gained a life. I have a body that functions how it was designed to function. I feel good. I have joy. I can cook meals and eat them. I can walk my dogs. I can work out. I can talk to friends on the phone. I can contribute to online discussions. I can visit with my family. I can actually carry a conversation with other humans. Nobody can tell me that this life isn’t worth living. I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

Secondly, I don’t expect to live in isolation forever. This is a season. I’ve chosen to devote this season to healing because I believe it will enable me to be a better wife, sister, daughter and friend for the rest of my life. I’m only 26. I’m going to take my best shot at a full recovery.

Others have done mold avoidance in less extreme ways and still made impressive gains. I took a break from all civilization. At first, I was forced into it by the severity of my mast cell reactions. After six months, it was no longer a question of survival. Continuing to pursue a more “extreme” approach to mold avoidance was a choice my husband and I made deliberately. The bottom line is, the faster healing was worth it to us. The weeks of feel-good days were worth it to us. Not everyone has to take this approach. We chose to because we wanted to.

It’s been brought to my attention that many people equate mold avoidance with living in a tent in the desert forever and that stories like mine can reinforce the misconception. It’s true that mold avoidance always involves “getting clear” and that getting clear usually involves some variation of camping in the desert. But this is not a permanent living situation.

Science writer, Julie Rehemeyer, spent two weeks in Death Valley and returned to find a good house contaminated by possessions from a previous moldy residence. She was able to set aside her contaminated stuff, clean the house and recover by incorporating mold avoidance practices into her existing situation.

As I said, mold avoidance is a strategy. It’s a toolbox full of recovery tools. How you apply the strategy and use the tools varies based on the severity of your illness, the limitations of your situation, and your own desires.

The fact is, life isn’t going to be what we dreamed it would be when we were 16. Especially, not for those of us who fell victim to chronic illness. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a life worth living. Mold avoidance has given me the tools to rebuild a beautiful and meaningful life.

Our dream is to someday live a quiet life on our own homestead in a healthy location. We would like to have children and become foster parents. We would be far enough away from town to maintain my health but close enough to participate in the local community. Not only that, I would be skilled enough at avoidance that I could periodically travel to visit friends and attend graduations and weddings in less ideal environments. I would be strong enough to care for aging relatives when the time came. I would be stable enough to pursue bigger writing projects and other artistic ventures.

Like I said, I’m only 26. For all I know, I might have 60 more years to live on this planet. This is why I’m playing this mold avoidance game. It’s an investment into my future and into the future of my relationships with everyone I love. It’s a short term sacrifice in exchange for long term gains. Actually, when you take an honest look at where I would be without mold avoidance… it’s not a sacrifice at all.

Here I can echo what Erik Johnson, mold avoidance pioneer, has already said so clearly:

I am forced by this weird illness to spend my time hiking, biking, climbing mountains, seeing beautiful pristine places, and avoiding the toxic plumes which are rampant in “civilidevastation.” Still, it beats being dead or disabled. I’ve managed to get a lot of life back, much more than I dared hope for.

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  • Tami

    ❤️more beautiful writing ! Brings tears of joy – you and my daughter are so similar it is mind blowing – she has been so inspired by you and Erik and we are so fortunate to have you both in our lives 🙏❤️

    July 14, 2019 at 1:50 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Aww… Thank you for your kind words Tami. I love you guys! ❤️

      July 14, 2019 at 6:15 pm Reply
  • Coretta Hedstrom

    Thank you for sharing, Ana. Your honest and beautiful heart shines through in everything you write. Praying for you and Brett!

    July 14, 2019 at 2:05 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Thank you for your sweet encouragement. 💕

      July 14, 2019 at 6:18 pm Reply
  • Karin Anderson

    Love this Ana. Really does give those of us still figuring it out hope. And perspective. Thank you.
    Through this process , I am realizing how unimportant possessions are, and how important relationships are, even if they are being virtually conducted at the moment!

    July 14, 2019 at 2:38 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      I’m so glad to hear this Karin! Thank you for sharing. ❤️

      July 14, 2019 at 6:25 pm Reply
  • Erik Johnson

    I tell people, “Beats the Hell out of being beat to Hell”

    July 14, 2019 at 4:44 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Exactly! 😂

      July 14, 2019 at 6:01 pm Reply
  • Gail

    Maybe this is how we’re all supposed to be living – hiking, biking, being in beautiful, pristine places. Civilization doesn’t compare to that.

    July 14, 2019 at 5:44 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      It’s true! 🙂

      July 14, 2019 at 7:21 pm Reply
  • Laura

    Wonderful, Ana! I’m so glad you’re able to clear up some misconceptions, and that you are continuing to do well. I am so proud of you for doing everything you can to invest in your future! Love you <3

    July 14, 2019 at 6:05 pm Reply
    • Laura

      Also: yay! This worked! You’re website has been blocking me from commenting because it thought I was a bot for months now. I’m so glad it’s letting me comment again!

      July 14, 2019 at 6:07 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Thank you so much friend! I’m sorry my site was blocking you. I had no idea. Glad you can comment again. ❤️

      July 14, 2019 at 7:21 pm Reply
  • Cindy

    Written so beautifully. I love your strength , determination and love for life. You are such an inspiration. Have a fantastic life!! I know you will ❤️❤️

    July 15, 2019 at 4:11 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Aww!!! Thank you so much Cindy! Your comment made me smile. 🙂

      July 24, 2019 at 11:52 am Reply
  • Elizabeth

    Ana, I find your journal wonderfully inspiring – and hopefully a signal to us all that a change is needed in the way that we live and where we live and how we go about creating living spaces. While your experience has been extreme, I would say that there is every reason to believe that even people with much milder symptoms would be better served if mold was recognized as dangerous to us all and not just those whose reactions are immediately life threatening. I hope that your experiences and the experience of others like you will kick off an increased awareness and hopefully a resulting industry to construct better, more healthful living systems. And as a fellow believer, I want to say that your honesty and willingness to share the scary and hard and disappointing – as well as the beautiful and hopeful – is so refreshing and such a blessing. In this world we will have trouble – both as believers but also as humans in this world. God bless you both.

    July 18, 2019 at 8:08 am Reply
    • Ana Harris

      I couldn’t agree more! Thank you for sharing your thoughts Elizabeth. ❤️❤️❤️

      July 24, 2019 at 11:53 am Reply
  • Miss. Jones

    Oh Ana it is so great to see you blogging again! What an elegant, open and grace filled response you provided to those negative comments. It is great to hear your heart and see recent pics of you, Brett, and your puppies!

    July 22, 2019 at 2:31 am Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Thanks so much for reading Miss Jones! I appreciate your encouraging words. Love you! ❤️

      July 24, 2019 at 11:54 am Reply
  • Bella D.

    God bless you, dear Ana!

    Reading your blog has given me hope in my own life, even though I’m not personally sick. Seeing you battle your way through the hard time and up to health again for the purpose of glorifying the Lord is so inspiring, and when I’m tempted to think, “Life is too tough for me”, all I have to do is think of you and then realize that it’s always worth it to persevere, especially in the hard things.

    There have been posts here that were extremely emotional for me to read. I know and love so many sick people around me, and it’s heartbreaking to watch them suffer and be unable to do anything for them, even things as simple as understanding their pain. You have been so compassionate not only to your fellow sufferers, but also to people like me by showing us what we can do to help relieve those who are ailing. I want to thank you for that. I know this journey hasn’t been easy for you to take, but in taking it you have with your courage filled many people that I know with inspiration and hope for their own futures.

    I can’t ask God’s blessing on you enough. <3 <3 <3

    July 22, 2019 at 1:04 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Thank you for sharing how my blog has impacted you Bella! It’s so encouraging to hear from readers. I’m so glad to know someone like you is out there trying to love those who are suffering. 😊❤️

      July 24, 2019 at 11:55 am Reply
  • Jason Zimmerman

    Love you sister! You are strong and beautiful.

    I’m looking forward to the years ahead. Miss you a ton!

    July 23, 2019 at 11:18 am Reply
    • Ana Harris

      I love you too Buddy! I miss you so much! 😘

      July 24, 2019 at 11:55 am Reply
  • Mom & Dad

    Dear daughter, we are so proud of you! Our hearts are overflowing with joy to see you so alive again, and for the privilege we had to visit you. We still remember all of the times we were afraid you were dying. 😭

    God is good. You are amazing. And we love you and Brett so much! 🤗

    July 23, 2019 at 11:19 am Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Aww…. thank you so much! I love you both so much and am so grateful to have your support on this crazy adventure of healing and coming alive again. Thanks for never giving up on me! ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

      July 24, 2019 at 11:56 am Reply
  • Juliet Artman

    I love this post! I can feel your joy and not just your but the joy Christ has poured in to you!

    If you think about it you get to be in nature every day! I can’t even imagine how much beauty you are surrounded by on a day do day basis. It must be incredible to see God’s creation all around you.

    July 25, 2019 at 4:30 am Reply
  • Sandra Elam

    Thank you, Ana, for reminding me to be grateful that I am alive to experience God’s creation. Whatever mold disaster is happening inside my house or with my health, when I look outside at my beautiful garden and the rolling fields filled with bluebirds, I still find joy in life, as you do. God bless you!

    August 19, 2019 at 3:51 pm Reply
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