A member of SSMA shared the following story with us:
“I became electro-sensitive about four years ago after a smart meter, unbeknownst to me, was installed on an outside wall, directly behind where my head was in bed.
A week later I started experiencing symptoms including ringing in my ears, nausea, headaches, dizziness, irritability, brain-fog, flashing lights before my eyes and a debilitating buzzing feeling throughout my body.
A month later I was so ill I could hardly get through a birthday party without experiencing these worsening symptoms as well as others that made life very difficult such as uncontrolled urination. Two months later and I could not get out of bed to go to work. Three months later, with my hair falling out in clumps, I was sleeping outside in the back yard in a tent; it was the only place that seemed to give me some sort of respite from whatever was making me sick.
In utter desperation, I bought a small minivan and left Melbourne, my husband, our home, pets, verdant food-garden and my career in academia, and commenced a solitary existence; camping in state and national parks, as far away from phone towers as I could find. The longer I stayed away from places with wireless radiation, the better I felt. Gradually my health improved, enabling me to make brief forays back to Melbourne to see my family, shop and do ‘normal’ things. Retreating to the forest to sleep in my van at nights allowed my body to recover from whatever radiation insults it had received during the day.
Whilst on my peripatetic wanderings, I would communicate with friends and family by typing my sms messages, hitting send, then after taking the phone off flight mode and turning on the wireless function, walking away to let it update. Local libraries provided me with a lifeline, being my main means of sending/receiving emails. They also provided me with a never-ending supply of books, reading being one of the few activities available to me. Living as a virtual recluse in the forest, even the inane chit-chat that came with dropping in at libraries was valued.
Being based in a van, especially in Victoria’s cold winters, proved challenging. I began house-sitting for friends, and friends of friends, to obtain some respite. Even so, potential jobs had to be thoroughly researched before I could commit to a house-sit. Factors such as whether the WiFi could be turned off, and the distance from the bedroom to the smart meter, were of crucial importance.
Things were looking good in February 2020. I had been living in my van on a friend’s property on the outskirts of a small country town, caretaking and looking after the animals, whilst the owner was at work in Melbourne during the week. I had a solid bank of house-sits lined up for five months, which would take me through central Victoria’s chilly winter. Little did I know that COVID-19 would soon bring these plans to a grinding halt.
Just after Victoria’s Labour day long weekend in early March, in a matter of days, every one of my house-sits was cancelled. Nobody was going to be departing for their courses, workshops or holidays.
Quite a few of my house-sit friends were very kind, and offered to have me stay with them, even though they were not going away. “You can still stay in the spare room” they said, “it would be lovely to have you anyway” I was told. This was so kind of them, and I nearly cried at their compassion. But alas, after thinking about it, I realised it would not be workable.
I explained to them what I would do in the past, after being left in charge of the house. The first step was to go around and switch off all wireless signal-emitting devices; computers, TVs, air conditioning units, cordless phones, the lot. The next step was to go around and turn off and unplug nearly everything from electrical sockets; lamps, digital clocks, stereo systems, until only essentials such as the fridge and the washing machine were left on. The final step, for whichever bedroom I was in, was to move the bed into the middle of the room, away from wall sockets. Sometimes even all these precautions were not enough and I would end up spending nights out in my van. But at least I had a warm and dry place to inhabit during the day.
Clearly, if I were to insist on these measures, there was no way that my house-sit friends would be able to live a normal life, with me as a houseguest!
However, the situation quickly became even worse. I was in the nearby library, talking to the librarian, who assured me that she had not had any word of libraries being closed down. I was going to get some books but decided I would do it the next day. I left the library at 3pm; by 5pm the doors were shut and a notice was up, stating that the library was closed for the foreseeable future. My lifeline had vanished, overnight. Ready access to emails was gone. The books that I was looking forward to reading were unobtainable. There was nowhere to retreat to and read when it got unbearably cold and wet during winter.
I began to pack my things to ‘go bush’ again, thinking that I might be able to escape the cold which was about to descend in April by travelling north, to warmer climes. I was too late. State borders had already started closing. National and state parks, even caravan parks, were now off-limits, and people would be up for steep fines if found travelling too far from ‘home’.
The people who owned the land that I had been caretaking earlier in the year kindly offered me the use of a caravan on their property. This I gladly accepted only to find out, with the first downpour, that it was far from watertight. Two months later, moss was beginning to grow inside the caravan walls. I realised that this was also not a healthy place to be, even if only to read a book on a cold day. Finally, a neighbour offered to rent me her Airbnb granny flat. Serendipitously, it is a one-room steel-clad unit with a corrugated iron roof. Wireless signals do not seem to penetrate it. Even so I have had to move the bed into the middle of the small room and switch off all the power points at night.
Hibernating in the flat has been a godsend, not only from this very wet Victorian winter, but also to steer clear of the COVIDSafe app. With so many more phones now Bluetooth-activated, the radiation from someone’s device in the supermarket, even from two metres away, can mean that I end up with a splitting headache. But at least people don’t look at me as if I am crazy when I move away from them, as they assume that I am simply socially distancing!
Government-mandated isolation can be especially lonely for people with electro-sensitivities and lack of access to safe technology. Friends and family have been organising Zoom and Skype conferences to catch up; they wonder why I don’t attend.
As bad as the shutdown was, the easing of restrictions has also not been good for me. Although things are re-opening and most people are starting to get back to normal, none of my housesitting has resumed as overseas travel is still out. And now my landlady is signalling that she will soon wish to put her flat back on the Airbnb market; she can make more money via Airbnb than what I can pay in monthly rent. In the meantime, national and state parks are opening up – but only for those who have a caravan or camper van with an onsite toilet and shower. My little van has neither.
So again, I am stuck in a grey area, not able to go anywhere, and perhaps with nowhere to stay, and with radiation increasing by the day….”
9 June 2020
The writer has asked to stay anonymous as she is hopeful that at some point in the future she will be able to establish a base which affords sufficient safety for her to resume her career, and does not wish to suffer from the stigma of being labelled as a person with disability.
Do you have a story to tell about living with EHS in our new COVID-19 impacted world? If so, why not share your story with us using the Contact Us page. Unless you state otherwise, your name, email address and personal details will be kept confidential. If you have previously shared your story, we would love to hear from you, to find out how you are going now.