Thinking yourself sicker

The author of the blog The Dainty Peach was eventually diagnosed with a congenital bowel condition completely unrelated to food and chemical sensitivities. Had doctors diagnosed it earlier she maybe she wouldn’t have suffered so much from anxiety or wondered if she had MCS at all. On 4 September 2011 she wrote:

I was researching non toxic, organic living room furniture when I stumbled upon some links for multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). Sometimes I will research a condition and it will sound like there is some overlap with the symptoms I usually experience, and I will be a little freaked out that that could be what’s wrong with me. Not so with MCS. I’m convinced it’s what I have. Well, pretty convinced.

I downloaded the book Chemical and Electrical Hypersensitivity: A Sufferer’s Memoir by Jerry Evans, and read it on my iPad. I started reading it at 8 or 9pm last night, woke up at 8am and finished it off around 3pm today. …

I don’t want to get ahead of myself or anything….but I am scared/anxious/scared again. … Not sure how safe my work is for me. Working with a whole bunch of computers? Makes me think that maybe I shouldn’t go to work tomorrow. Or ever again.

On 13 September 2011 she described her reaction to chips and ice cream, and says that her thoughts about an ingredient made her panic even more. She wrote:

About eight hours after I had consumed the illegal chips and ice cream, I started feeling a little better and more talkative. This was a surprising turn-around time as I usually feel ill for days and days after eating corn or that ice cream. I started working on some art for my blog in photoshop. And then I really started to feel bad. I started to really feel like I was going to vomit. I went into the bathroom and everything started spinning like it does when you have had way too much to drink. It was hard for me to grasp which way was up. I could see things moving that weren’t really moving (I was hallucinating) and I was desperately trying to grab hold of reality. I got really scared and started breathing heavily and panicing. I started to think about it, that agave syrup (which is what the ice cream is sweetened with) is bad for your liver, and I obviously have problems with detoxification. Thinking this made me panic even more as I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of this and had done this to myself. This ordeal took about two hours, from development to back to my original not-so-well state. I went over to my husband and started crying and he held me for a long time, making me feel somewhat better. …

I’m fairly certain how I felt yesterday were symptoms of poisoning and that is what I was experiencing.

The next day, just ten days after reading Chemical and Electrical Hypersensitivity: A Sufferer’s Memoir she wrote that because of chemical sensitivities she had quit her job. There are doctors who can test for chemical sensitivities and advise on treatment, but she seems to have taken this drastic step based on her self-diagnosis. She wrote:

I just can’t believe that I suffer from such sensitivity to chemicals and food when I was going above and beyond on all the current mainstream advice. It just goes to show you just how helpful mainstream advice is on the subject of health and chemicals. Not very. Now I can’t wear make-up or use lotions or conventional personal care or cleaning products at all. I had to quit my job and am considering a potentially lengthy, expensive stay at a health clinic in Dallas Texas, and even relocating my life.

On 19 September 2011, in a post about her new safe bedding she wrote, “I can’t handle any smells”. People with real MCS don’t react to smells – they react to chemicals that they are sensitive to, which may or may not have a smell. Some people with MCS have no sense of smell at all. However, Annie Hopper, who “has years of experience as a Core Belief Counsellor, Life Coach, Workshop Facilitator, Keynote Speaker, Newspaper Columnist and featured guest as an Emotional Wellness Expert on talk radio” says on her website that the “most common primary characteristic of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity is an abnormal and heightened ability to detect chemicals in the environment especially through sense of smell and taste.”  She based her DNRS program on her own illness and treatment, and said in an interview, “With MCS, we develop a conditioned abnormal fear response to chemicals due to impaired limbic system function resulting from the repetitive brain trauma pattern. Fear stimulates the amygdala, triggering the fight or flight response.”  (I wrote about Annie Hopper, MCS and anxiety here.)

The author of The Dainty Peach blog became a DNRS success story. (You can read about more of them here.)  On 17 September 2012 she wrote:

I can do anything I want really….I don’t eat gluten or dairy still, but other than that I can do anything I want. I’m not afraid of things anymore, and I eat at new restaurants regularly, go shopping, wine tasting, to the store….I even went to IKEA recently and felt perfectly great.

I want to be clear that Annie Hopper’s DVD system is what got me started on my road to recovery, and made a huge positive impact in my life. I also had started seeing a therapist after I felt I had progressed as far as I could with Annie’s system. For me, Annie’s DVD worked fantastically for my chemical sensitivities and food allergies, but I still had generalized anxiety about pretty much everything. For that reason I decided to see a psychiatrist, and even started taking an anti-anxiety medication, which is something I thought I would never agree to do. I can’t tell you how much it has helped me thus far. I have actually started seeing my therapist less frequently–about once a month–and plan to continue with the anti-anxiety medication for hopefully no more than a year. At that point I can test to find out if my brain has learned to be anxiety-free on it’s own.

On 10 December 2012, she wrote that lactase enzymes solved her problem with lactose intolerance and she had also solved her gluten problem.

I really can’t digest gluten on my own. Without the enzymes (or without enough enzymes) I get pretty terrible stomach pain which lasts an entire day. But, all of the other symptoms I used to get: rashes, headaches, brain fog, nausea, bathroom issues….none of those things happen anymore. They were actually caused by my anxiety related to eating and being near gluten. I had recently been questioning if my previous gluten symptoms had been actually caused by anxiety, and now I know for sure that they were. For me, I didn’t used to be able to even go into a bakery or be around people drinking beer because I would start to feel ill from what I assumed must be me breathing in tiny particles of gluten.

In 2013 she wrote:

I have seen many doctors who I am very lucky to have come into contact with. The most important is my psychiatrist. I have been seeing her for over a year now, and I am doing so much better. It turns out that I had pretty bad anxiety, which was causing a lot of my physical symptoms. I am doing much much better now, and continue to improve every day.

Anxiety about food and chemical sensitivities can cause enormous distress and reduce quality of life, but it is easier to treat than real food and chemical sensitivities. Note that people can have both. Just because someone has some physical symptoms caused by anxiety doesn’t mean that all their physical symptoms are caused by anxiety.

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11 Comments

  1. This woman is the stereotypical self-diagnoser, and she scared herself into quitting her job. She then looked for an expert and who did she find? Little Annie Hopper, the famous who helps ensure that our disease remains in the area of whackos. Who needs enemies like Quackwatch when we have friends like Hopper . . .

    “who “has years of experience as a Core Belief Counsellor, Life Coach, Workshop Facilitator, Keynote Speaker, Newspaper Columnist and featured guest as an Emotional Wellness Expert on talk radio”

    Well oh my gosh, I had no idea that she was so well credentialed to diagnose and treat medical conditions.

    “With MCS, we develop a conditioned abnormal fear response to chemicals due to impaired limbic system function resulting from the repetitive brain trauma pattern. Fear stimulates the amygdala, triggering the fight or flight response.”

    That sounds straight out of Gupta’s amateur medical sleuthing.

    • It’s frustrating that Annie Hopper is misleading people about MCS, but I don’t blame people for self-diagnosing when they haven’t got help from doctors.
      Hopper and Gupta say very similar things.

      • -Paul-

        Could you please expand on this, i.e. Annie Hopper misleading people about MCS.

        The brain plasticity approach obviously works for some people – are you saying that Hopper should say that these people don’t have MCS?

        I’m aware of the Hopper and Gupta approaches but don’t know any details. Do you have any thoughts on supporting people who come to MCS support groups with regard to this? The Dainty Peach may have had far more insight than a lot of the people that I see, and so was more open to dealing with anxiety as the underlying problem, so I’d be interested in your thoughts on getting people to consider this approach, and how to decide which people to suggest it to.

        Thanks!

      • People are confusing hypochondria with MCS. Yes, some people will fear chemical exposure and I suppose that they may imagine that they’re having a reaction when they’re not having one, but that is NOT an MCS reaction. I’ve had MCS for 20 years. I lost my job, my wife and family, my home, and most of my finances. To put it bluntly: I don’t “fear” shit. While there is a physiologically-based anxiety associated with an MCS reaction, it’s a result of the increased glutamate that is circulating in the brain. NO AMOUNT OF PSYCHOLOGICAL FOOLERY WILL REDUCE THE AMOUNT OF THIS CHEMICAL IN THE BRAIN.

        I’ve had times when I’ve been exposed to chemicals with the expectation that I would have a reaction and I wound up not having a reaction at all. Conversely, I’ve had exposures that I didn’t sense at the time and later had a reaction. Fear of chemicals has NEVER played a role in my sickness. By placing fear at the top of the list of problems, these people have bastardized the condition into something that it is not. That isn’t medicine. It’s snake oil.

        “Could you please expand on this, i.e. Annie Hopper misleading people about MCS.”

        Annie Hopper is a “life coach”. She has absolutely ZERO experience or credentials in medicine. Life coaches have a well-deserved reputation for psychological quackery in their quest to make money because they can’t make money elsewhere. Her “explanations” for MCS are based on a phony claim that it’s a fear/amygdala response, which is based on a “paper” that Ashok Gupta wrote. That paper was the most bogus case of amateur cherry-picking that I’ve ever read in my life and it was published in a journal that actually says that they’ll publish anything that’s “interesting”. The only reason why they seized on this “fear” concept is that it fits into Gupta’s need to pigeonhole MCS into Gupta’s predetermined model.

        “The brain plasticity approach obviously works for some people . . .”

        Does it? How does Hopper know that any alleged improvements have anything to do with neuroplasticity? The most advanced neurological research centers in the world have yet to develop techniques that can effect neuroplastic changes in specific areas in the brain, yet here we have Annie Hopper doing just that. Someone call the Nobel Committee because she deserves a prize.

        So what is working? I’m very tired of writing about this, so let me try to summarize: people with MCS develop long-term chemical avoidance techniques. And it just so happens that these techniques help to improve the condition. It raises the thresholds so we don’t react as readily. However, a lot of people with MCS treat their conditions as static; they improve themselves via avoidance, but they don’t understand that their condition may have improved. In steps Annie Hopper to give them a bit of courage and we have a success story . . . attributed to the wrong “solution”.

        Have some people improved? Yes. Like the self-diagnoser in Catherine’s article: she admits that she never had MCS, yet you’re still trying to understand how Hopper’s technique cured her of MCS. Hopper’s method is nothing more than the same psychological methods that have been around for decades, like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The only difference is that Gupta found a bogus way to explain it in the context of neuroplasticity.

        So there are two kinds of people improving with so-called DNR: 1) people who already improved their cases and who needed to be fooled into coming out from their toxic-free environs, and 2) hypochondriacs who never had MCS to begin with.

        Finally: Annie Hopper is the classic charlatan. She was a self-proclaimed “life coach” who needed an angle to promote her business. She read about Gupta and decided to use that. She CLAIMED that she had MCS, but given her explanations and timeline, I don’t believe it for a minute.

        “are you saying that Hopper should say that these people don’t have MCS?”

        HOPPER ISN’T QUALIFIED TO DO MAKE MEDICAL DIAGNOSES! She isn’t qualified to say that someone has a disease or doesn’t have a disease.

        “I’m aware of the Hopper and Gupta approaches but don’t know any details.”

        I’m am. I researched them extensively with the aim of posting a thoroughly documented rebuttal. Gupta’s “research” was so bad, that the process of refutation was an all-consuming project.
        “Do you have any thoughts on supporting people who come to MCS support groups with regard to this?”

        That would depend on hearing more details of the support groups and your role in them.

        “The Dainty Peach may have had far more insight than a lot of the people that I see . . .”

        She so scared the crap out of herself into thinking that she had a disease that she doesn’t have that she quit her job! How is that insightful?

        “and so was more open to dealing with anxiety as the underlying problem”

        She’s potentially 1) a hypochondraic and/or 2) gullible and prone to suggestion. How else to explain that she would be so convinced of an illness that she doesn’t have that she’d quit her job over it?

        “so I’d be interested in your thoughts on getting people to consider this approach, and how to decide which people to suggest it to.”

        Your comments don’t suggest that you yourself have MCS; they’re only geared toward getting validation for DNR and finding out a way to get “people to consider this approach”. Why do you want to get people to consider this approach when you obviously don’t understand how it’s supposed to work and you’re not looking for an answer to why it doesn’t? Dude: if you’re looking to make money, do something that’s more reputable. Like telemarketing.

      • Hi Paul

        I’ve written about Annie Hopper and Ashok Gupta here: https://multiplechemicalsensitivity.wordpress.com/category/brain-retraining-for-mcs/. I’m planning to write more about MCS and anxiety when I have time.

        I don’t think a support group should be diagnosing people. Even if someone is obviously anxious it doesn’t mean that anxiety is their underlying problem. Maybe the best thing a support group could do is be aware of the anxiety issue and educate people about it, eg tell them that anxiety can cause physical symptoms. Note that the Hopper and Gupta programs are not the only treatments for anxiety.

  2. -Paul-

    This is an interesting story. It’s unfortunate that the original web site has disappeared so that we can’t check the original posts.

    • Hi Paul
      At the moment google still has cached versions of at least some of the pages the quotes are from so you can look at them that way. Copy a sentence, put it in google and if the link comes up click on the triangle next to it and then click on “cached”.
      I have kept pdfs of the pages I quoted from.

  3. E

    Hello,

    The article says “There are doctors who can test for chemical sensitivities and advise on treatment”.

    Does anyone know of any in the central Texas region?

    Thank you.

  4. There is a list of doctors here: https://www.aaemonline.org/. In Dallas there is http://www.ehcd.com/.

    • E

      Thank you Catherine! I hadn’t yet seen the AAEM site.

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