Sunday September 04, 2005
What the fuck is scrottie's problem!? My dark secret.
Time's come time for the world to know a little more about me. This has been a long time in the works, and here it is: the answer to the question, why
is scrottie so angry at the world?
The writing jumps around a bit, but everything is germane.
I don't hold a grudge -- but I'm no longer capable of relating to other people in a normal way. Plenty of people think the world owes them something or wronged them.
If I thought the world owed me something, I would actually send spam or any number of other detestable things.
Let me tell you how pesticide works. I won't direct you to any citations, because I've lost link to all of the best ones, and you'll get a far less biased view just reading what Google has to say. Pesticides disrupt the operation of the brain. Specifically, they inhbit various sodium pumps. The organophosphate used in today's RAID (tm Johnson Wax) has the same mode of operation as the original orgapophosphate, DDT. It targets the choline pump. Those of you drinking Red Bulls for the mental enhancing effects of choline should be aware you're undoing the good several times over by being exposed to pesticide, but anyway, we're talking about the same thing. Red Bull puts a little extra choline in your system, RAID blocks the sodium pumps in neurons that fill neurons with it so they can fire. Hence this class of pesticide is known as a "choline inhibitor". The effect is of shorting out the brain, in a nutshell. Current doesn't go where it should and does go where it shouldn't.
Not every neuron uses the same neurotransmitters, and there are numerous of these. Insect central nervous systems have more of different kinds than human nervous systems do, and the more expensive pesticides used by professional exterminators target neurotransmitters more common in insect central nervous systems.
Humans are different from insects in other ways. Our bodies detoxification systems are better,
we have a "blood brain barrier" membraine,
and our neural connections are massively
redundant (though the recent studies on
sleep apnea's connection to lost neurons in
the brain stem is fascinating).
So far I've been explaining this as if it were all very simple because, fundamentally, it is, and because I want you to feel comfortable with the explanation. However, there is a lot we don't know about the human biological processes that cause the situation to get really bad in some people.
Many people, I understand, will get a headache from the use of pesticide, but some people get really, really bad, disabling headaches, and other neurological symptomps at minute doses. This is refered to as "chemical sensitivity" or "hyper sensitivity". There's no good reason why the body should react as strongly as it does, but it isn't all in the head.
I'm not a biologist or a doctor. This is just paragraphased things that specialists have explained to me or that I've read on the Internet. Facts both will concur on is that there is no objective medical test test; it's a common ailment; it hasn't been tested under the Americans with Disabilities Act; there is no cure.
(Aside: Working tech support for Qwest Wireless, I'd get a lot of people who, while calling up to check some random thing on their account or order an accessory, would casually ask, "have you ever heard of anyone else getting a headache from using their phone?", to which I would answer trulyfully, "yes, I hear that all of the time, I use a headset".)
Many pesticides are fat soluable and cannot be elimited, but instead re-enter the blood stream as fat is metabolised (causing ducks feeding on ponds full of drainage water to drop out of the sky en masse mid-route home).
Also, pesticides have to be made more effective at a constant rate because insects are able to adapt very quickly due to their high populations (something like 70% of the animal mass on Earth is insect) and short generations -- fruit flies, as an extreme example, live only a few days, and this makes them a favorite of genetic researchers. If the most well adapted to the (pesticide riddled) environment survive each generation, which they do, resistant strains of insects emerge in just years and become widespread within 10.
Let me tie this into myself. Long, long ago, when I was young and industractable, I was an Internet junkie. This was around 1990. At a very boring AD&D game, someone wrote down instructions for me to get into an online game -- a MUD. I didn't realize it for another year or two, but that game was on an Internet host across the country, and I was on the Internet. But of course, this was before anyone really knew what it was -- it was the stuff of legand for me, a young wanna-be hacker (sic). Then the feature that allowed dialup users like me anonymous access was removed. I was left without access. But I had made lots of friends online, and we were a vital culture full of ideas and ambition, all focused on making AfterHours LPMUD (where I was Phaedrus) the greatest MUD on the 'net. So I established phone contact with another player there (a wizard, Bleys). When I was 17, I took the old family car from Minnesota, stopped in Sioux City to get my driver's license, and the car broke down not long after I got to in to North Carolina. Bleys was getting ready to start school at NCSU, but we hung out at Duke a bit first. I spent almost all of my time in the 24 hour computer lab full of DEC 3100's (my first exposure to Unix workstations and Unix). NCSU also had DEC 3100's and 2100's. For a good chunk of a year, I coded my fool brain out.
Access to the lab was easy, as your ID wasn't checked at the door and students would happily give you their password if you hadn't already guessed "baseball".
We both ate on his meal ticket, which allowed for three meals a day between the two of us, and I crashed in his dorm room (no, we did not have gay sex, we were geeks obsessed with coding, remember? Though we did have a passing interest in girls.).
Then Bleys got kicked out of school (my fault, partly, as I was feeding this MUD obsession)
and I got a job.
But a change was in the wind.
The job I got was a burger joint, the Char Grill. You could get a third pound burger or a half pound burger at this place, and they were hard-core into making a good burger, including getting the best beef, keeping everything fresh, serving it hot off the grill, and so on, so it was a popular lunch spot. Being near downtown Raliegh helped. I was the fry boy. During lunch, I fried the fries as fast as the frier would fry them and moved like crazy all day to keep up with the frier. We moved into a bachlear pad near NCSU, where
Bleys and I stayed with some of his friends for a bit, then some other friends, then I got a room in an old house on the poor side of town, where everyone but me was black. It was about a 45 minute walk to the NCSU lab and about 15 minutes to work. I think I was 15 minutes from down town, all of this at a brisk pace.
The old house I was in was a slum. Each room was let, and the bathroom and kitchen were shared. It was probably a 1910's era victorean style house. Rent was about $200/month and I was making minimum wage. People on the corner solicted you to buy "baseball" and even told you it was crack contain when you asked what the hell baseball is. You could sit inside and just watch people steal stuff from each other. I had nothing but a crappy walkman. The house had a cockroach problem, like much of Raleigh. Every day, the live-in manager would guy would empty can after can of RAID to try to make the cockroaches go away. The cockroaches didn't give a rat's ass. They would routinely enter my room, and the other rooms, and cover everything with RAID. The burger joint where I was working, too, had someone in every week, and this person was asked to "do the place, top to bottom".
I started missing at days work, because I was too confused, then doing a really bad job -- I'm sure they thought I was on drugs, which I was not (I'm a coding fiend, remember?).
I think there's still a lot I don't remember. That's hard for someone who's ready to finally put it all down in writing. I have little fragments...
I remember sleeping in people's unused dog houses, waking up, feeling like hamburger that's been through a grinder. Always trying to solve the riddle of "what's wrong with me?". I've always been a little strange, being a geek, and I was 100% convinced I had simply gone insane -- I'm recanting the pesticide use but it's not a detail that I thought of until much later. That wasn't my first exposure -- my first exposures were at my own hand. I was a white male in a black neighborhood. I was industractable. I'm not going to pay attention to something so simple.
I have one fragment of memory where I was walking down the road and I (think) held my breath for the entire block, and counted off about two minutes, thinking that maybe the air was making me crazy and if I didn't breathe I would get better.
I'd eat strange things, or drink strange things, thinking they might cure me. For all practical purposes, I was insane.
I'm pretty sure I got thrown out of the apartment at one point, but I was already wandering the street.
Winter came, and I had a light hoodie, some badly worn out and torn jeans and a worn out, worn through shirt. The jeans were size 28, and they hung off of me. I put a new hole in them for the button to go into, about 3 inches from the proper hole. I don't remember for sure, but I think most of what I ate was finding dollar bills on the ground (last night was a flashback) and spending them on dollar dotdogs at a convinience store, or shaking things out of vending machines that were just about ready to drop. I'd commonly go two or three days without one of these "meals".
The standard chemical sensitivity literature on the 'net sometimes hints that a lot of homeless people are simply chemically sensitive.
In standard literature, there are stories of people with plenty of money, supportive family,
and caring friends who suddenly turn homeless.
Standard literature speculates that it's mental
health, and they simply can't take civilized life any more. Instead they hide behind dumpsters, eat waste, and, like a beast, recoil from humans.
Mental illness is enigmatic and difficult, but I kind of imagine that if more people simply wanted to leave civilized life and they had plenty of money, they'd move to the country and not talk to their neighbors.
A lot of people who survive their first encounter and learn what their sensitivity is wind up miserable recluses -- they don't trust anyone as everyone uses the chemical they're sensitive to. They wind up hiding in their apartment or house, looking out a window nervously, watching what everyone is doing. I remembered a lot of people like this when I started doing the same thing. I try really hard not -- I just have to keep telling myself that when the neighbors spray, I'll simply pack my laptop and leave the house promptly and I'll be okay (or mostly) if I leave at first sign of a symptom.
The sleeping in dog houses paid off! Slowly I regained my wits, or started to. I went to the emergency room once, then I did it again, and the doctors had nothing. They gave me an MRI and a spinal tap looking for signs of a brain tumor. They gave me drug tests, and billed them to me, trying to find signs of drug abuse, and they of course found none. The second time I went in, they asked me a lot of questions, helped me find my family (who I had almost forgot existed), and then had the police escort me out. Thinking back, I must have smelled pretty bad by then.
My family paid for my car to be gotten out of storage, where it had been for three or four months after being towed from a hotel I left it parked at while I was hanging around NCSU.
They gave me gas and food money to make it home.
The carborators must been clogged or sucking
air or something.
It would kind of run but then it would kill.
That's a whole different story.
But, being friend on pesticide, my thinking
wasn't flexible enough to ditch the car...
getting home meant getting home in the car, period.
The money spent fixing it and getting it out of
storage could have flew me home several times over.
The car broke on the way, and a Christian man
paid for a Greyhound ticket for the rest of the
I was a little better at home, but by feeling a little better, I vowed to do whatever I had to get rid of this problem and be all of the way better. I moved to West Virginia and wound up sleeping in the computer lab after getting a job at a Pizza Hut then an independant pizza place and seeing the symptoms coming back each time. I didn't last more than a week at eater. Both had roaches. My feeble, damaged brain started to put two and two together. I was homeless for a while, again, when I got kicked out of there for being a deadbeat. I expected as much and don't blame them. Of course, through all of this, I was trying very hard to pretend everything was fine and normal while my life spiraled out of control. That omlette joint had the worst pesticide level I've seen anywhere except for one time when I walked into a comic book store attached to a Subway that was being fumigated.
I was homeless again, but I wasn't completely whacked out.
I didn't know what I could do, but I was
at least thinking about it.
I slept at the UVa computer lab (several were 24 hours, but most were CS students only) for a long time, following not for the first time in the
footsteps of a friend who slept in that same
I'd buy large bags of corn chips at the convience store for a few dollars, gorging then starving to make my money last, and I'd wash my clothes under the exceptionally hot water in the bathroom in the wee hours of the morning in the same building as the 24 hour lab. I'd sleep upright a computer in the lab (they were just 286's and 386's acting as telnet terminals, way uncooler than the DEC's), ready to pretend to be awake should anyone come in, which happened most nights. This is something else I now often have nightmares about -- sleeping in strange places, pretending to be awake... often I'll dream I'm sleeping behind a bush at a busy intersection, though I can't remember ever having actually done that. So, this time around, my homelessness was somewhat intentional, and temporary.
Eventually the campus security was asked to patrol the labs for non-students as someone (not I) had started stealing computer hardware.
They cought me once, and I started experimenting with new hiding places during the night. An instructor had a room in front of their office
that they left the door open to. I'd go in there around midnight and leave around 4am -- just long enough to thaw (it was winter again) and sleep a bit. I never had any trouble waking up in a few hours. I was extremely stressed about cought -- I don't know if I was afraid I'd go to jail, or just the public humilation and having to deal with the reality of my world, which I guess is just the overwhelming need for everything to be normal and in-control. I spent as much time in the library as I could, reading old computer books mostly, including Unix SysV manuals (which are all the manual pages, organized by section, I later learned). Eventually I was cought in the lab again by the same guard and told if I was found there, I would be arrested. So I hoped Greyhound back to Minnesota, where my family was still in the same apartment that I knew I wasn't safe in.
Back in Minnesota, I kept up the same shit... I slept in the basement of the building, which was storage and furance room, and walked off to libraries during the day, but then I got in trouble for that from the landlord. Then my mother rented a garage for me at my request as part of the attached unit out back, and for a long time, I stayed in there at night with the garage door ajar because the pesticide levels in the garage (I decided after experimenting with the door open and closed) were too high for me. So cars would drive by in the alley way just a few feet from where my head was on my sleeping bag on the pavement. I'm amazed no one saw me and called the cops. I was still at the library a lot, but I decided I wanted to try to get my own apartment. My brother was working temp jobs during this time, and I started going the same thing, following his lead. There are a lot of temp places in Minnesota and they're always eager to hire a clean-cut looking white boy (I didn't mean to abuse this discrimination -- I was just happy to get work so easily). They would tend to send me places where I couldn't work because of the high pesticide levels, but I'd tell them I didn't want that job and they'd give me another. Then it might be fine, but it would only run for a few weeks or a couple months, then I'd have to find another temp job, and the same temp company would send me somewhere I couldn't work, so I wouldn't work it, so they'd get tired of me and stop sending me on jobs, so I'd hook up with another temp company. This was devistating to my self-esteem, and I still have serious acceptance issues from it. I kind of know that if I had to, I could stay alive just taking a lot of temp jobs and burning through a lot of temp companies, then move to another town and do it again, but having to quit job after job when you really want so badly to work is a special hell.
Then I wound up at 301 University Ave -- I don't even remember how. I think a friend of my brother had a friend there, so I started tagging along, and I decided I was reasonably okay there. I was about to pass out once, and they told me I could sleep, so I slept for several hours. Then they had some people moving out, so I was invited to move in, which I did. For a while, we have five people there, then we were down to three, with a lot of people circulating. This was the first golden chapter in my life since coding with Bleys in the labs at NCSU. I worked temp jobs, but I started getting office jobs, which I was having better luck at, and was at some places for nice long stretches (though I had a *lot* to learn about being professional, which kept me from going perm). I went to school at the University of Minnesota after getting my GED and got a student job at an awesome little outfit in the business incubator called Java and Web Services where I was first exposed to Perl. I got a dorm I couldn't stay in, then got another one, then got another one. When I went off to school, 301 University was finally laid to rest, and the last of us moved out, but my mother had also bought a house I couldn't stay in (very high pesticide levels), but it had a detached garage that was absolutely fine. So I made a small sealed chamber in the back out of sheet plastic and duct tape, put a small space heater in there, and put a lot of blankets on a mattress, and there I slept. I did that for two years while I went to school -- life was good. I worked hard on my studies, and feel in love with a girl from the MUD. AfterHours had died in my asbence... I'm convinced I could have saved it. The admin got tired of the player whining, but if the MUD had continued to grow and offer enough new stuff fast enough, players would be whining about different things, and really, the whining was just their way of verbalizing how much they *cared* about the damn game, making the shut-down tragic.
Unless you're a programmer who
dedicated years to a project only to see the
project killed and the product shelved, you can't
understand the sense of loss -- I'd spent
many years of my life, and all of my hopes and
dreams revolved around that damn game -- and
I just couldn't be online enough, and
mentally okay enough, to do what I wanted to
do with the game.
But that was largely a poorly understood larger
problem -- being a cocky little wanna-be hacker (sic) boy, I thought I was smart, and I wanted to be smart, and being downright stupid most of the time and impaired most of the rest of the time, my whole identity was shaken.
I had some growing up to do.
The Material Safety Data Sheets talk about "neurological symptoms", "mental confusion", "dizziness", ... that's a sterile, unhelpful way to put it.
I've learned a lot since my early days --
people chemically sensitive to one thing
overwhemlingly tend to develop other sensitivities, especially if they can't avoid
their first trigger chemical.
I avoid perfume and pesticides that don't
bother me (there are families).
If I became sensitive to another thing as
common as organophasphate and other choline
inhibitors, well, I'd be a lot less functional
To this day, I have a lot of down time -- time where I can't think, can't reason, have no judgement, can't relate, can't conceptualize, can't behave reasonably -- and can do nothing but try to find a safe place and let my damaged system slowly process the pesticide load it's built up so that I can later return to work, friends, and so on. In the mean time, it's hellishly painful -- not unlike a migrain, according to a friend who gets those (also not fun).
Trying to cope with this limitation is a serious load: Work long hours to make money; don't get paid because I'm independent telecommuting; behind on bills; bills go to collection; stress inteferes with work; get behind on work; edgy around friends; clients get get ahold of me; can't keep my hardware running or my 'net access up...
People seldom ask for details. People frequently consider me to be lying and lie in return about their pesticide habits (which I almost never call them on, this being a sensitive subject with me). I seldom ask people not to spray as I know it'll do no good and likely cause a scene but I frequently avoid places where they spray.
Exactly how I work with this now is hard to explain. Some times I notice virtually immediately that there's pesticide in the air, so some people expect me to always notice immediately. That's rough. First, it's hard for me to point at something and say "there, that's the source". It could have been someone who just walked, and so I don't want to say "we must leave this resturant at once" because I take a blow. Even then, if it isn't too bad, I'll try to ride it out and just keep it to myself, and avoid the place if there's a pattern of it. Spray outside dimminishes much quicker than that inside. Some places that heavily sprayed have a level that only builds up to insane heights. Only when pesticide is just recently sprayed or it has accumulated do I notice it instantly. In the vast majority of cases, it takes hours or even days for me to notice it, but if I continue to stay there, my levels slowly build up until it's just as bad as if I had been sprayed right in the face. There are so many places that aren't safe for me and so many places that only have the "after a few hours" effect that I seldom complain about them. Also, if I've been exposed, which is most of the time, it's really hard to walk into a new place and decide if the levels are better or worse. Seldom am I feeling 100% fine. Often I'll be 90% okay. I need to be about 80% okay before I can point at a friend and say "aha! I cought you! You sprayed a bit a few days ago!", though in some cases, I can make this assessment. Also, apartments will spray outside, and I have a hard time figuring out if someone sprayed in their apartment or management sprayed the whole place, unless I come back another day and try somewhere else in the place. Put another way, my pesticide levels are sampled through a moving window with a decay rate. They aren't instant pin-point samples. And, for the sake of my credability, I only say something when I'm certain, or else I really need to leave for whatever reason.
I wish one or two people could sign off my story and have the rest of the world -- and the rest of my friends -- buy it. Anyone who has been with me for the last ten years can attest (though that isn't many people) that this is way too large of a charade to fake. I've been on jobs for a year where I was making good money, and I always went in to work, never called in sick, and was all around happier, until I got laid off or forced to leave when they started spraying. In several cases, I've taken pictures of the can of RAID on someone's desk. The whole mess has been a massive dissadvantage to me -- it's not something I'm benefitting from because I play the "I'm handicapped" card. Because I so hate being accused of playing that card, I've so far only mentioned it to my closest friends, and then done everything I can to keep it out of the way. It's only gotten me lost jobs, personal poverty, stress, and long work hours.
I'm writing this because a good friend, someone I like, called me a liar today, and accused me of making it all up. I'm quite used to people not beliving me, but in this case, I realized I've told her very little (though she never asked many questions).
A second friend who was there explained to me that I was wearing on the ex-friend too much, and it had simply reached a breaking point.
So I balled my eyes out and all of this came back... I feel like I'm busting my ass and hanging on by a thread, but just about everything else sees me as whining over little thing and being a hypocondriac, and being a lazy mooch.
And it pisses me off that the !&%^$ over at SC Johnson Wax company have more credability with most of "friends" than I do... "it's perfectly safe, it's perfectly safe, it's perfectly safe" we hear over and over until we're brainwashed.
The detailed history cuts off about 7 or 8 years ago.
In the mean time, as I mentioned above, I've had two jobs for about a year that were safe for me -- one at Mayo Clinic, were I built the intranet by accident, and the other at Contact Designs. May Clinic had to lay off a bunch of IT staff, and I was just a contractor, so even though I had a bunch of great people fighting for me, I was cut. Contact Designs let me telecommute early on, then they got a newly built office which was fine for me, but then bugs started crawling around, feed by all the water on the lawn, and the pesticide came out fast and furious. When I couldn't go into the office any more, it hurt relations that were already damanged and strained under the dot com bubble imploding. Aside from that, I've done a lot of interviews, not been able to work a lot of jobs, and envied people who had cubicles (crazy, I know).
I worked several months at customer support call center, as I hinted before, and if it meant having money to use to show affection and fondness for my few friends and being able to pay my own way on everything, I would.
I've found that if I keep my levels low,
I can avoid suffering from the small spikes
here and there, and be okay in resturants
95% of the time.
When I do get a large spike, such as being
stuck in traffic behind one of those huge
exterminator trucks that creates a pesticide
ventura, I recover much more quickly as I
keep my levels low.
I often have a bad day or a bad few hours,
or a bad 15 minutes now days, whereas before
it would take me weeks or a month to start to
regain sensibilities after an exposure.
But this is a paradox... I can't effectively
avoid pesticide exposure unless I'm able to
detect that I'm being exposed, and that only
happens when my exposure is bad enough long
enough. I bet you didn't know they sprayed the
trails and roads of national parks to make them
more attractive and pleasent for tourists.
I want my few remaining friends, and even my kinda-friend Internet chat buddies, to know what my problem is.
I want them to know that I am fucked up psychologically, but that I've trusted them to be my friend in the first place is a huge step for me, but it doesn't mean that I'm going to relate to them well.
I'm a gimp, but I'm not acting defeated any more than I have to -- quite the opposite.
To this day, I still go to interviews and get jobs I can't work.
But yes -- it's a lot easier not to be my friend, and I don't blame you for that.
You need positive, strong people in your life to lift you up -- not people that remind you of your own worst experiences and most difficult problems.
And none of this excuses or justifies me being an ass, which I tend to be, but it might explain me a little. Then again, when I was hacker(sic)-wannabe-boy, I was kind of an ass anyway. Maybe it's just that my kind inner person has taken a hell of a beating. I don't know.
Also, maybe this is the damaged, irrational
side of me (I can't tell normal from fucked-up
any more), but I want those people out there
who think they know all about me to realize,
please, that they really have no clue what it's like.
P.S.: comments are disabled as this is a very sensitive subject with me, but if you have a specific question or an informed comment, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm not asking for sympathy, and words of sympathy weigh very little compared to how people actually behave with regards to this, so if you're sympathic and want me to know it, go Google up "chemical sensitivity" a bit a and then if want to, email me and tell me you've learned a little bit more about life because of my coming out.