Moving Because of Mold Exposure

There were many reasons why I moved out of L.A. and came to San Diego a year ago (almost exactly a year ago, actually!), but one of the most important reasons was because I needed to get out of my moldy L.A. apartment as soon as I could. At that point, I had known I had mold toxicity for about 6 months, but I was kind of in denial about how important it was for me to move sooner rather than later. I had been exposed to mold in my childhood home and in my boss’s old apartment as well, so the lazy part of me thought maybe it was just built up from that, and my apartment wasn’t that bad. But I felt myself getting sicker and sicker in that apartment every single day, physically and mentally, and I did not feel safe. I planned to move to San Diego eventually, so it felt like the right time to switch cities, get a bigger apartment but pay less for rent, and escape the other things that were annoying me about L.A. When I moved here, it felt like the universe laid everything out perfectly for me. I found my dream apartment – plenty of space, good rent, big windows, white walls and a white kitchen — I loved it here.

As I explained in-depth in this post, at first I felt great after moving, but then things started to go south. My symptoms started returning, and in some ways I felt worse than before. When I realized I needed to overhaul everything and go hardcore with detoxing, I started working with a few new doctors and tried new treatments. I hadn’t re-tested for mold at this point, but I was sure I still had mold toxicity. And I always fail the Visual Contrast Sensitivity Test, which isn’t diagnostic, but it’s a pretty good indicator that you have mold and / or Lyme. I had never bothered to test my new apartment for mold when I moved here because I felt like it was open, clean, and looked brand new. This was ignorant of me, because I understand very well that many buildings have mold even though they look “clean.”  But when I dove into more testing, ozone therapy, and new supplement protocols, I finally ordered an ERMI test from Mycometrics, just to cover all my bases.

ERMI stands for Environmental Relative Mold Index, and it’s a test developed by the EPA to test the amount of indoor mold burden on a building. The test looks for the DNA of mold in the dust sample that you send into the lab. The ERMI test is pretty simple to do – you swipe different surfaces in your home with a cloth (which they send to you) until the cloth is filled with dust, and then you mail it in. It’s actually kind of hard to get enough dust to fill the whole cloth – my strongest points of attack were the vents in my bedroom.

At the time, I felt like it was highly unlikely there was mold here because it’s so clean here, so I wasn’t worried about it, but looking back I think I really just wanted to avoid that possibility, so I kept telling myself it wasn’t the problem. I ignored the fact that my brain always works better when I’m on vacation, and my fatigue improves. I love my apartment and didn’t want to even entertain the idea that I would need to move. I don’t think I really slowed down enough to consider it was a possibility until multiple psychics told me I was going to move soon. Ha.

Anyways, I had kind of forgotten about my ERMI test because it got lost in the mail and turned into a whole ordeal, and by the time the results came back it had been about 2.5 months since I first mailed it in. My lease for my current apartment ends at the end of November, so I signed the lease to renew for another year last Wednesday night. Like I said, I love my apartment, so it was a no-brainer to renew. Then I woke up Thursday morning with an email that contained my ERMI test results, and my heart sank.

ERMI scores range between -10 (which is a really good score) and +20 (get the hell out of there!). Most people with Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome need to live in a building with an ERMI score at or below 2, maybe 3. Some people need to live somewhere below a -1 to fully heal. When it comes to mold, it’s very individual as to how much your body can handle, and your body might be more sensitive to certain types of mold than others (the types are all specified in the ERMI report). Different people have different tolerances, but anyone with mold toxicity / CIRS is usually more sensitive. You can also use your ERMI to find your HERTSMI-2 score – this explains how. With the HERTSMI-2, a score under 11 is safe for those with CIRS, 11-15 is borderline (they suggest cleaning and re-testing before re-entering), and a score over 15 is dangerous.

My score was a 9 on the ERMI scale, which is far above the 2-3 I was hoping for, and I’m in the 11-15 range on the HERTSMI-2 scale. “Clean and re-test” isn’t particularly comforting. After I got the results, part of me didn’t want to even deal with it because I had literally signed my lease renewal 12 hours prior, but the other part of me obviously couldn’t ignore the information. I was in denial for about 2 days, trying to justify why I should stay in my current apartment. I did not want to deal with moving right now…at all. Horrible timing, and my fatigue in the last few months makes a move feel totally unapproachable. I also have a strong emotional attachment to my apartment and didn’t want to consider the fact that maybe my nice, white, bright apartment wasn’t a good environment for me. It was silly, but that’s where my head was at. I told some of my friends and talked to a few different doctors, and everyone pretty much said, “If it were me, I would move…” so I had to kick myself in the butt and stop avoiding the idea.

I stopped to really think about it. Would getting rid of all of my belongings and doing a thorough cleanout in this apartment be enough to help so I wouldn’t have to move? Even if I did all of that, what if it wasn’t enough? And I have to go through all of it again? And what about allll the work they’ve been doing on this building over the last few months because of the messed up pipes and water damage? That’s a bit concerning. And what about the neighbor I share my bedroom wall with, who has some serious negative energy and wakes me up with her screams every morning? I could live without that. I literally Reiki my wall every day.

The other hard part about moving when you live in an apartment is figuring out if there is mold in the new place you’re moving into. An ERMI test is expensive and the results take awhile to come back, so doing an ERMI test at every potential new apartment is totally unrealistic. If you find a landlord who will hold an apartment for 2 months for you while you wait for mold testing, you are quite lucky. Your best bet is to find a brand new building, a bridge location in between places, or somewhere that just feels better when you walk into it / doesn’t make you symptomatic, and then test when you get in.

What many people don’t understand is that you can’t always see mold. Mold spores are 3-40 microns — a human hair is 100 microns thick.  Mold spores are so small that you can fit up to 250,000 on a pinhead, and the gases they emit can penetrate materials and are very sticky. Obviously you want to avoid anywhere with water damage or with visible mold, but buildings can host fungi, bacteria, and mycobacteria as a result of poor ventilation, poor building design, flat roofs, poorly constructed crawl spaces, uncorrected water leaks, basements exposed  to ground water, and more. When brought into the right environment, mold can grow like crazy. Mold can grow in the bathroom and in your showerhead, it can grow on your shoes, clothes, carpets, furniture, papers, and books, and it can circulate in your air system. Mold produces toxic chemicals called mycotoxins, which are present on spores and fragments of mold released into the air, which can cause a wide variety of physical, emotional, and neurological symptoms. Half of all buildings in the U.S. have water damage (some argue more), which increases the chances that they have mold and can lead to mold illness.

I realized that I would rather be safe than sorry, and if I am going to do this, I am really going to do this. So I found a new apartment that weekend, and it ended up working out perfectly. I’m taking over someone’s lease so I only have to commit to a few months, and the apartment is walking distance from where I live now. A big reason why I didn’t want to move was because I love my location, so no harm done. I didn’t test the place before signing the lease, obviously, but it is much more open than my current apartment, has good air flow, and I felt good in it. If it was super moldy I would’ve felt it (and obviously I didn’t see any mold), and I can test the place once I move in. I also was easily able to get out of my lease here, even though I signed it, since the renewal hadn’t officially started yet.

So that’s why I’m moving, and distance-wise I am very happy that it’s such a small move. That being said, my main task right now is getting rid of almost all of my belongings.. Anyone who knows me knows I’m the worst at getting rid of things, so this is hard for me.

I want to bring as few “old” things into my new apartment as possible, so I’m getting all new furniture – couch, mattress, dressers, tables, bookcases, etc. Anything that’s glass, plastic, or metal should be fine, and you can salvage some things made from leather, but anything made from cotton / cloth / wood is suspect. This list is very helpful when trying to figure out what you can / cannot salvage. When it comes to clothes, there are steps you can take to save those as well, but I’m going to try to throw out as much as possible to be on the safe side. I’ll also be throwing out all of the random papers I have collected over the years, and I’m trying to take photos of my old notes so I can get rid of notebooks. What I am distraught over, though, are my books. I am very emotionally attached to my book collection. I’m going to try to air out all of my books for about a week, see what I think, and potentially bring them back into my apartment. Maybe I will still get rid of them, but I won’t let them die without a fight…

For weeks I have been feeling like I’m claustrophobic because I need to get rid of things anyways, and maybe this was the universe’s way of forcing me to purge my belongings and really energetically release everything from the past to have a fresh start. I’m honestly very excited for the fresh start.

I feel like people don’t talk much about the financial and emotional side of mold illness, though, which I wanted to mention here. Biotoxin illness is obviously difficult because of the debilitating symptoms, but it’s not an easy pill to swallow when you have to move your entire life, get rid of almost everything you own, and replace it all. I mean… ozone therapy and supplements are not cheap! New furniture is not cheap. And throwing out all of your photos, your letters, and your memories isn’t fun either. There is no use in complaining about it – it has to be done, so just gotta do it. But I do want to bring it up because I know there are people reading this who are going through the same thing, and it’s important to acknowledge all aspects of the experience. When you’re sick and shelling out all of your money and time to try to heal your body, it can definitely be frustrating to have to deal with your environment as well. It’s okay to feel frustrated – just let yourself feel it. But again, it’s a waste of energy to complain, and it’s not going to change anything. In the long run, it’s worth it to move and get rid of everything if that means you don’t stay sick forever.

Remember – these things happen for us, not to us. After my two days of denial and overwhelm, I realized that this move is really going to be great for me, and I wouldn’t have made the changes I’m going to make had I not been practically forced to. The more I think about it, the more excited I am to get rid of as many things as I can and have a fresh start, with perfect timing for the new year!

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