One day last April, as I left the elementary school where I work, I suddenly couldn’t breathe. I ripped my purse open and grabbed my mask, clutching it to my face as I made my way towards the exit in a panic. As I turned the corner, I saw the janitor cleaning the floors.
She wasn’t supposed to be there right then. I knew her schedule, because I planned my life around it. My ability to breathe depended on her being nowhere near me. I was furious! Why was she there in that hallway when she wasn’t supposed to be? Why did she use chemicals so harsh that it made it impossible for me to breathe? Why did no one else care that this was happening? Why was I the only one impacted so severely? What made me different from my co-workers, who walked by those chemicals without reacting?
As upsetting as this was, unfortunately, dealing with severe health problems was nothing new to me. I was diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease when I was 13, and spent most of my teen years bedridden and in a wheelchair. Then in college I was exposed to toxic black mold and spiraled downhill once more. After dropping out of grad school and working with a mold specialist, I finally reached a place where I was mostly better, except for two big symptoms: severe food and chemical sensitivities.
For four years, ever since starting mold treatment, food had made me very sick. At the worst, for about a year straight, I had only eight foods I could eat. Food caused many grueling symptoms, including violent nausea, breathing problems, stomach spasms, and burning skin. I was diagnosed with Mast Cell Activation Syndrome and was told to cut out all foods that made me sick. That was a long list.
As my food problems worsened, so did my sensitivity to chemicals. Initially, when I was exposed to cleaning products at work, I would feel only slight discomfort. In time, however, I started having severe body-wide reactions. The skin on my face, neck, and arms would feel like they were on fire, lasting hours after the exposure. I’d come home from work each day and place ice packs all over myself, often going to bed with them on. We bought cooling towels, and I would cover as much of my body with them as possible to lessen the burning so I could fall asleep.
My hands would burn bright red, and I found that wrapping them in cooling towels really helped lessen the pain. I got in the routine of wrapping them immediately upon returning home from work.
Just a whiff of a Clorox wipe (used often in elementary classrooms) could trigger a searing headache and set my skin on fire. Merely walking by one of the restrooms—with its fumes of sanitizing chemicals spilling out into the hallway—would provoke such fatigue and weakness that I had to hold onto the wall for support. If I was going to keep being able to do my job, something was going to have to change, quick.
As exposure to cleaning products made me sicker and sicker, I realized that outside help wasn’t coming. No one was going to solve this problem for me at work or anywhere else. Any change would have to come from me and me alone. That made me lose hope, because how could I fix any of this by myself…?
And then I learned about DNRS—Dynamic Neural Retraining Systems—and suddenly, there was light at the end of the tunnel!
DNRS sees problems like food and chemical sensitivities as limbic system impairments. The limbic system is an area of the brain that supports a variety of functions, such as emotion, behavior, learning, and long-term memory. It plays a big role in the autonomic nervous system.
According to DNRS, my problems were not from the food and chemicals per se—rather, they arose from the fact that my brain was misinterpreting the signals it was receiving. The DNRS program is designed to help you actually retrain your brain to respond differently in these situations. It sounded hard to believe—and yet it offered me a way out of chemical sensitivity hell. I decided to go for it.
I sent away for the DNRS videos and followed the program as best I could. Every single day I did exercises designed to form new neural pathways, and to disrupt the old, dysfunctional ones that were sending false signals to my brain. To my amazement, I saw progress within the first week. I was in the middle of a conversation at work, when suddenly I realized we were standing just feet away from the bathrooms. I had no trouble breathing, my face wasn’t burning—I wasn’t reacting in any way! I saw more improvement as the weeks went on. And as I worked my way through the program, I eventually experienced a profound shift in how my brain functions around chemicals and fragrances.
I set up my home office to be my DNRS space. Every day I do my hour of brain retraining in there, and when the sign is posted my husband knows not to come in.
DNRS uses the power of association to change the way your body reacts to certain stimuli. For example, if you eat a cookie and immediately throw up, even for reasons completely unrelated to the cookie, your brain may make a new association:
That specific cookie + you = not good.
In the future, if you see that cookie, smell that cookie, or even think about that cookie, you might very well start feeling nauseous. That’s because your brain is trying to protect you. While you were busy throwing up, it made a mental note (pun intended) that you should avoid such cookies in the future.
It’s the same with multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS). With MCS, your body is constantly on the lookout for that cookie. Even if you’re nowhere near food of any sort, it’s still trying to protect you and keep you safe. In fact, just to be extra safe, your brain might start to check other desserts off the list, anything resembling that cookie, even a little. Thus, people with MCS don’t just have a couple of fragrances that bother them. The list grows, and grows, and in many cases doesn’t stop growing.
DNRS uses the limbic system’s amazing ability to make associations, but this time, it uses it to our advantage. The program teaches you steps to form new connections in your brain, using the power of happy memories, paired with things that at one point triggered you, such as walking by the chemical aisle at the grocery store, but reframing it in your mind to now be no issue at all.
DNRS has steps laid out to follow every day. Each session of brain retraining (called a “round”) lasts about 15 minutes, which you do four times throughout the day. It’s important to be consistent and practice every day due to the nature of creating new pathways in the brain.
One day, I audio-recorded my DNRS session, and went back in and added in the sound effects that I was envisioning. This is not my whole DNRS round, but just the back to back memory parts, starting with a real past memory, and going into a fictitious, but realistic, “future memory” where I could be around chemicals and feel perfectly fine.
There is only audio in this recording.
By following the program, and training your brain for an hour a day for at least six months, you can form long-lasting, healthy neural pathways in your brain, and prune away the old pathways which generated the negative symptoms. Pre-DNRS, when I walked into a room with a plug-in air freshener, my brain’s old, broken neural pathways would send an immediate “GET THE HECK OUT OF THERE” message. But now, after DNRS, a new pathway labels the fragrance as nonthreatening—not anything I have to worry about.
Our brains are aware of so many things at all times. My brain knows that the room I’m sitting in right now has a wood floor, that my dog is asleep to my left, that my TV is in front of me, but turned off, and that I hear a bird chirping outside. But because none of those things are a threat, it sorts those messages out as being not important at this time. Instead, I’m aware only of the computer keys against my fingers as I type this, and the words appearing on the screen. With DNRS, the smell of “ocean breeze” or “birthday cake” coming from the plug-in air freshener also becomes one of those background stimuli that doesn’t need your immediate attention.
After a month and a half of practicing DNRS on my own, I was lucky to be able to attend a five-day in-person DNRS workshop in Canada. The techniques I learned there helped me up my game considerably.
When I got back from the in-person DNRS seminar, I made this DNRS Rap. 🙂
I started DNRS specifically to target my severe MCS, but I knew some people used DNRS to overcome food sensitivities. With DNRS, I saw the miraculous changes in how I could handle being around chemicals at work. Although my main goal was to eradicate my chemical sensitivity, I decided to start training around food as well, and in less than two months I was able to add in every single food I hadn’t been able to eat for years. All of a sudden, I could eat dairy, gluten, citrus, fruits, foods that had given me such severe reactions that I had never even cared to try them again… I could eat everything. With no reaction. (Even things that maybe aren’t so good for me from a nutrition standpoint!)
To be honest, it was so unexpected that at first it really threw me for a loop. I felt as if I had just gotten out of jail after being told I was serving a life sentence—everything in my world had changed. At the beginning, I couldn’t stop from bursting into tears. My husband kept saying, “but these are happy tears, right? You can eat now!” And I didn’t even know. When every single thing you’ve known to be true is no longer true…what do you know anymore…? But each day, I grew more accustomed to my new, amazing life. I could now go out to a restaurant with friends, and actually eat the food being served. I could eat all the fruits and vegetables that I used to react to. I no longer had to eat a strict low-histamine diet, or try to solve my problems by avoidance. I could eat anything I wanted.
In DNRS, you come up with what they call your proclamation. It’s supposed to be a short, powerful statement about how you want your life to be. While I was in Canada for the in-person DNRS seminar, I came up with this one: I can go anywhere, eat anything, and feel fantastic. I figured, if I had to fit everything I wanted in life into one statement, then I might as well touch on everything. Go big or go home. I can go anywhere (chemicals) eat anything (food) and feel fantastic (#lifegoals).
Filmed this video after a month and a half of doing DNRS with the DVDs.
DNRS has given me my entire world back. Six months ago today, I started this amazing journey, having no idea just how much of a spectacular ride I was in for. The program states you need to consistently do DNRS for 6+ months, and after thinking long about it, I’ve decided to keep going with my practice. I’ve seen so much progress in these 6 months, but I know there’s still a little bit more to fix. So I am going to continue retraining my brain.
In a message I sent to a DNRS friend, I expressed that for six months I was working towards my 6-month mark…towards being done. And now that I’m continuing past six months, I said I didn’t know now what specifically I’m working towards. She said, “You’re working towards complete healing, Rachel.” And she’s right. That’s exactly what I’m doing. And it’s exactly what I’m going to get.
I am most active on my Instagram account, ResilientlyRachel. I post a lot about my day to day experiences with DNRS, and the ups and downs that come with it! Follow me there to see the next part of my journey! 🙂
To learn more about Dynamic Neural Retraining Systems, click here