A Therapist's Guide To Navigating Mold Exposure
We chatted with Lynsie Seely, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, on her experience with mold exposure. Keep reading to learn more about Lynsie's top recommendations for navigating common mental and physical symptoms associated with mold toxicity.
Tell us a bit about yourself
"I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and have been working primarily with adults in a private practice setting for the past 12 years. I specialize in treating trauma and have a particular niche in working with people who identify as highly sensitive adults who are trying to make sense of childhood trauma, and people who are experiencing chronic health conditions.
All of my training and educational experiences have supported me in deepening my understanding of how our brain, body, and psyche (or soul) are interconnected and how these various parts function together as a whole. For example, it is not uncommon for unresolved past traumatic experiences to show up as a complaint in the body, or for imbalances in the microbiome of the gut to lead to depression, as a large portion of serotonin is made in the digestive tract. If we aren’t looking for and getting curious about these interconnections, we may miss something as health providers.
In addition to the spark of passion I have for understanding whole-body wellness, my own wellness journey has significantly impacted my understanding of these interconnections. In 2020, when many of us were sheltering-in-place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I discovered that I was being exposed to toxic mold in my home. Receiving the lab tests that confirmed mycotoxins in my body was a relief, as I had been trying to understand the cause of a range of unexplained health symptoms for a number of years. What I didn’t fully realize at the time was that my life was about to get a full detox upgrade! From my home, to the products I use, to stress management, to the intricacies of physically detoxing my body-- mold has been my biggest teacher over these last few years.
Full disclosure that mold toxicity is a heavy topic as it is far reaching in terms of its impact on one’s life, in addition to being the cause of some pretty complex health issues. I always tell anyone that I have the honor of working with that healing is not a direct linear process, there are highs and lows and twists and turns along the way. If you are healing from toxic mold exposure, notice the small wins, every single step matters and your journey is so worthy of being honored each step of the way. I hope my experience and the knowledge I’ve gathered can help support anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation."
What physical and psychiatric symptoms did you notice from mold exposure?
"I describe mold as a trickster - as soon as you think you’ve figured it out, it changes up the scene. This is how I feel about describing the symptoms I experienced with mold exposure: ever changing and constantly morphing into something new depending on the week. This is one of the reasons it can be difficult to diagnose toxic mold as the root problem.
The first set of symptoms I experienced that showed me something was out of balance:
- Gastro-intestinal issues, mostly constipation
- New food sensitivities
- Fatigue + Low energy
- Brain fog
Physical symptoms that developed as time went on on:
- Extreme thirst and dehydration
- Overall feeling of toxicity
- Amenorrhea (loss of period)
- Itchy skin
Mental health symptoms:
- Anxiety and feelings of overwhelm
- Depressed mood
- OCD symptoms (obsessive thoughts followed by compulsive behaviors)
- Difficulty with memory recall
Once I learned the symptoms were due to toxic mold exposure and I looked at the common list of symptoms, my mouth dropped as a mental health therapist. Yes, there were physical symptoms, but ALSO an extensive list of psychiatric symptoms. Additional mental health symptoms can include (this list is not exhaustive but these are often the most common):
- Panic attacks
- Difficulty concentrating
- Cognitive impairments
- Feelings of hopelessness
YES, all due to small mold spores and the toxic compounds (mycotoxins) these spores emit that we can’t even see. I told you mold was a trickster! Understanding the complexity of symptoms that can arise from toxic mold exposure offered me a whole new perspective on the potential root causes of what may be behind mental health related concerns and got my mind thinking outside of the box to consider how mental health is one part of an intricate system of how someone’s whole body (and life) is functioning."
What else is important to know when it comes to toxic mold and mental health?
"Another aspect worth mentioning is that consistent exposure to toxic mold can create inflammation and dysregulation in the central nervous system, which is why we see neurological symptoms related to mold toxicity. If the nervous system becomes hyper-responsive, it can cause someone to feel unsafe, on guard, hyper-vigilant, and/or anxious for no apparent reason as well as increase sensitivity-levels to other environmental allergens (fragrances, VOC’s, chemicals, etc), that can lead to multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS)."
What indirect mental health challenges arose throughout the process and post recovery?
"It has been a humbling experience to go through toxic mold recovery, the journey has given me a depth of insight into the complexity of the intersection of mental, physical, environmental, and financial wellness. Indirect mental health challenges can vary and can be many depending on each person’s unique path to healing. This list may include:
- The bell curve of learning about toxic mold and how it affects your body and home.
- The stress and overwhelm of figuring out a safe place to live as you detox.
- Making difficult decisions like whether to move or remediate.
- Additional stress of deciding what to keep, clean, or let go of because your belongings were exposed to mycotoxins. Experiencing grief of what you decide to let go of.
- Isolation and feeling alone in understanding what is happening to you.
- Feeling gas-lit by medical professionals, and other relationships in your life, who don’t recognize mold toxicity as an illness.
- The stress of financial concerns of moving, paying for medical bills, buying “clean” home items and items to help keep your home clean like air purifiers, mold testing, and any other costs related to mold treatment such as medications, supplements, etc.
- Experiencing brain fog and fatigue and attempting to go about your day as you would normally.
- Not knowing how you’ll feel any given day, therefore feeling hesitant to make plans, which may increase isolation or put a strain on relationships.
- Strain on romantic relationships for various reasons (e.g. moving from place to place or moving to a new location (or tent!), one partner may enter into a caretaker role, navigating a partnership while one person is not thinking clearly or experiencing anxiety, depression, etc).
- Grief and adjustment of limiting certain foods to reduce inflammation. Not knowing what you may be able to eat at restaurants or holiday gatherings, which may increase isolation.
- Decision fatigue or paralysis.
- Living in survival-mode."
How did you heal your symptoms?
"I am still in recovery, but I will say that finding a doctor who is mold-literate and a licensed Medical Doctor has been life changing as he has helped me to create a plan that includes finding a safe place to live as well as prescribing medications that have been instrumental to my healing. The first rule of thumb is to get out of the moldy environment and into a fresh and clean space so that your body can start to move into its natural detoxification process-- this can be easier said than done depending on the particular situation! Once in a mold-free space, the nervous system can relax, which further supports the healing process as it is difficult to heal when the body is in survival-mode.
Focusing on ways to decrease inflammation and limiting exposure to other toxins has helped enormously. Here are some actions I took:
- Eliminated dairy, gluten, and processed sugar from my diet. Focused on eating whole and fresh foods. Adopted a low histamine diet when at my worst.
- Replaced beauty care products with those that contain clean and non-toxic ingredients (like Primally Pure!). I found Primally Pure when looking for a clean deodorant and became hooked on the Cleansing Oil and Clarifying Bar as well as the Soothing Face Mask (and the deodorant, of course)!
- Replaced my conventional cleaning products with non-toxic alternatives and invested in items to keep the home clean and fresh such as air purifiers, EC3 candles, and EC3 mold spray.
- Movement and exercise that feels good to my body.
- Infrared sauna (helps with detox).
Depending on the severity of how someone’s nervous system is impacted by toxic mold, a limbic system retraining program (such as DNRS) may help to recalibrate the dysregulation that can ensue from mold exposure. There is much to be said about how these programs work that I cannot do justice here, but essentially these programs utilize the brain’s natural ability to rewire itself to shift out of a maladaptive stress response that can become stuck on after chronic exposure to mold, other toxins, and trauma. DNRS was a pivotal point in feeling more empowered and in control of my health."
What are your top tools for navigating mold exposure?
"First and foremost, if you think you have been exposed to toxic mold and are experiencing mental health (or other) symptoms as a result, find a trusted health professional who is knowledgeable about, better yet specializes in, mold toxicity that can help guide you through. This may be an MD, a Naturopathic Doctor, a Mental Health Therapist, a Nutritionist, an Acupuncturist, or a Health Coach. Healing from toxic mold is incredibly complex and it can help you to both relax and feel empowered to map out a plan with a professional.
Generally having a trusted “someone” you can talk to about your journey with mold and who takes you seriously (yes, there are many people, including doctors, who do not recognize the seriousness of toxic mold and may make you feel invalidated in your experience) is incredibly supportive. One of the symptoms of mold exposure is overwhelm, and unfortunately mold does not just affect the body, it also affects your ability to think clearly, to make decisions, it affects your home and belongings. There are many decisions to make and it is helpful to have a trusted other you can talk to and seek support from to help you navigate a step by step plan.
Having awareness of the body and how the nervous system helps promote a sense of "okayness" in the world is an unspoken superpower. Mold, trauma, busy schedules, and other various life stressors can put our bodies into high-alert mode, but we can consciously work to shift into a restorative state by:
- Deep diaphragmatic breathing, particularly extending the exhale longer than the inhale
- Getting consistent deep sleep
- Time in nature
- Yoga and/or moving the body in ways that feel good (do not overextend as this can create further inflammation)
- Meditation or mindfulness-based practices
- Taking a bath
- Getting a massage
- A hug from a loved one (or any kind of safe touch)
- Singing or chanting
Do not forget to participate in the JOY of life. Constantly feeling unwell in your body and navigating the stressors that come with any illness is taxing and can bring up a whole range of emotions. It is good to honor the feelings AND we are not meant to be in the heavy parts of the healing journey all of the time. Even if you don’t feel well, you can consciously choose to notice a part of your body that feels 30% okay, enjoy an evening with a good friend, participate in an activity that allows for a flow state, bask in the beauty of nature, or play with a pet. This is not to dismiss the suffering, but to hold the pain and the beauty of life together at the same time.
Be gentle with yourself and take it one step at time. Mold is messy, the journey can be confusing and frustrating. You are a beautiful human who deserves care and compassion on this challenging road. When you are at your worst, wrapping yourself in a big hug through those tender moments sends a signal to your body that you are worth loving no matter what state you’re in and that you are with YOU throughout all of life’s ups and downs. You got this and you’re not alone."
Here are some additional resources on mold toxicity to check out:
- Dr Jill Crista
- Surviving Mold Resource Page
- PJ Harlow Wellness
- Real Time Labs Mycotoxin Test
- ERMI Home Mold Test
For more information or if you're interested in working with Lynsie, visit her website here.