I was in what I now refer to as my NYC Deathtrap just shy of nine years before realizing it was completely infested with toxic black mold, among others. You see, the landlords – or slumlords, more accurately – had done a darned-good job of hiding the leaks for, what I believe to be, decades.
I watched my health decline for several years, becoming more and more of a recluse, simply too weak to feed my passions: yoga, exercise, seeing art, travel, time with friends. I’d save whatever energy I had for my high-stress freelance jobs in advertising. I’d finish one, collapse for 2 weeks or a month, and start over. Neither myself or any doctor put 2 and 2 together when I had repeated pneumonias, red under eye circles likening me to a drug addict, c. diff, candida, debilitating headaches, anxiety that seemed to appear out of nowhere, brain fog, cognitive issues, and the list goes on. I’d had a bad head injury in the past and, because the mold wasn’t visible, and mistakenly attributed my seemingly unconnected symptoms to my weakened immune system. After all, I had had the Housing Preservation Department (HPD) – whose sole job is to keep NYC citizens safe – out for a mouse infestation. They refused a mold test due to no evidence, upon me presenting concern over an obvious prior leak. You see, for many of us “Moldies”, friends, doctors and the general public look and speak to us like we’re crazy. So, it was no surprise I was made to feel like a hypochondriac for even bringing it up.
Eight years in: enter Hurricane Irene. And the very first blip of visible black mold reared its ugly head. My landlords offered to send someone over with a “mold paint pen” to fix it. That blip tested to be a full infestation of my entire 365 square foot apartment, and my world proceeded to collapse around me. This was it! This was what was making me sick for so many years, as I watched myself turn into a shadow of my prior self in every possible way. The slumlords tried to evict me upon receiving the toxic mold report and safe remediation guidelines. Since they had long used screaming and intimidation tactics to get their way (and sat behind bulletproof glass), I knew what I had to do. It was time to take this health bull by the horns, as I knew they were a lost, potentially-mafia (New Yorkers know) cause. It would be the first of many times over the next few years that I learned the hard way to trust my (malfunctioning) gut and do what I needed to save my own life. I couldn’t have packed any faster to throw near all my belongings into storage and get the heck outta dodge. The slumlords followed up by picking my locks the very next day, whipping out that paint pen, and moving the next tenant in, stat.
I packed a couple of suitcases, and left the Deathtrap with the thought a few weeks of rest would return me my health. I thought wrong. It seems I had brought my illness with me. My health continued to deteriorate, and I finally visited a local Dr. As many Moldies also learn, there is very little acknowledgement, research or knowledge in the medical industry about our illness and the co-infections that inevitably soon tag along. I initially spent parts, and now all, of my time since doing whatever research I could in the hopes of feeling human again. It’s become beyond a full-time job as I find my cognition and brain fog issues, aka “mold brain”, increasing rapidly. I found the most successful recovery protocol through a few well-respected specialists. To add insult to injury, it includes throwing away 100% of your belongings. Not most, But all. Even the most sentimental. It also includes a likely move to the sticks in a town and a home where the one requirement is guaranteed safety from mold. Mind you, this doesn’t exist. It’s actually common amongst “the groups” – online mold research and support groups – to proclaim you’d ten times rather have had your house burn to the ground, than become sick from mold. At least you’d be healthy, insurance would cover it, and people you thought loved you wouldn’t turn their backs on you. Hurtful remarks I’ve heard such as “that’s ridiculous” or “maybe you’re just depressed” when divulging this already-traumatizing information to my closest of friends can be enough to make those friends feel as toxic as the mold that did this to me. I shield myself from them as well as NYC – my heart and soul – as I admittedly have a PTSD association with the city that reminds me of what was supposed to be my future. Or, loss thereof. In fact, the only time I’ve been able to bring myself to step foot back in the city was to volunteer post-Hurricane Sandy. The thought of what was ahead for those poor souls was the only thing strong enough to get me on a plane. I watched and participated in what I knew would never be enough to protect them from what was to come. And returned – to sublet #5 of 30 – with bronchitis.
So now, I will continue to give up. The things. My friends (Only few, by choice). The successful career as a creative director, I worked so hard for. The places I thought I’d live. The social life, love life, parenting dreams. All former dreams, really. But, I will do my best not to give up, completely. For my mold-poisoned Uncle Arnold who never knew what hit him, Deathtrap next-door neighbor, Robert, who died a young and suspicious cancer, and all of the other Moldies that could use my support going forward. And, trust, there will be no shortage.