It was supposed to be the vacation of a lifetime. Me with my two young adult boys, a few days in Barcelona followed by a 12-night Mediterranean cruise. We were going to get some quality family time together after a really rough patch during the last year. And I was going to FINALLY get to see some of the ancient ruins in Greece that I’d dreamed of seeing for so long, along with some other amazing places along the Mediterranean. Spain. Italy. Greece. Malta. I had spent months visualizing our family time together exploring these beautiful places, eating amazing food, and relaxing by the pool. It was going to be fantastic!

Until it wasn’t. All the pictures I shared on social media during the vacation told a different story because I so desperately wanted to share the positive experience I’d spent so much time visualizing in my mind prior to the vacation.

After three amazing days with the boys in Barcelona, I stepped onto the ship a bit sleep-deprived; a combination of jet lag, later nights than I am accustomed to while exploring Barcelona, and traveling with an 18 and 20-year old who keep different hours than myself. It was all good. We were on the vacation of a lifetime. A little sleep deprivation wasn’t going to detract from the magic of this vacation!

The first morning, upon waking in our stateroom, I noticed that my chest felt a bit tight, my breathing was wheezy and my eyes were a bit itchy. I drank some water and rinsed my face not thinking anything of it. We had an early shore excursion to catch. We got to bike around the incredible city of Palma de Mallorca, Spain. The architecture and history were stunning, and my tight chest and itchy eyes were quickly gone and forgotten.

The following day was a day at sea, and a much anticipated day to laze around and relax. Reading by the pool, playing Sudoku, some exercise & sauna time and even meeting new friends in the hot tub. I woke up that second morning coughing, with my chest feeling a little tighter than the morning before, eyes itching, a stuffy nose, and not feeling quite myself. Uh-oh! Was I coming down with a cold? I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had a cold. It had literally been YEARS. Now was not the time. Good thing I’d packed along a jar of liposomal vitamin C!

Reading by the pool and filling my day with activities outside of our stateroom, my tight chest and coughing quickly subsided. Stuffy nose cleared up. Eyes stopped itching. I thought nothing more of the possibility of a cold creeping in. Until I returned to our stateroom to shower and prepare for dinner. As I got dressed and glammed-up for dinner and a night socializing, the coughing and wheezing started again and the nose blowing began. Damn! Maybe I was getting a cold after all. More vitamin C!

The third day was a day in Sicily, Italy with an early morning shore excursion on the docket. I’d had a difficult time sleeping with the coughing really setting in after I’d returned to my room, so it was rough dragging myself out of bed that morning. My chest felt extra tight, my nose was really clogged, eyes itchy. I grabbed some water, downed some Vitamin C and dashed out the door. No time to be drug down by a cold.

Sicily did not disappoint. I got to climb Mt. Etna and visit the quaint city of Taormina by the sea, hanging out with some really cool ladies from Spain that I’d met on the ship. All signs of my “cold” vanished about an hour after exiting the ship, and I enjoyed a fabulous day touristing.

Returning to the ship, having slept poorly the past several nights and knowing I had a late night ahead of me, I decided to head straight to my stateroom for a nap. Almost immediately upon entering my stateroom, the mysterious “cold” symptoms returned, along with a sinus headache. I never get headaches, by the way. My hopes for a nap were in vain, as I lay their coughing uncontrollably and blowing my nose. Damn! When dinner time approached, I drug myself out of bed, and spent some time in front of the mirror making a valiant attempt at making myself presentable for an evening out. On the way out the door, I crammed a fist-full of tissues in my clutch to accompany my lipstick.

Day four, after spending another wakeful night coughing uncontrollably, I woke up (Well, I’m not sure you can really call it waking up when you’ve pretty much been awake all night.) to a full-blown sinus infection. Great. I had a four-hour conference to sit through (part of this cruise was a conference that took place on the at-sea days), and I got to be THAT person in the audience trying to wipe at her nose and cough discreetly.

After the conference, I really wanted to spend some time at the hot tub socializing, but decided to keep my distance from other people as much as possible so that I didn’t expose others to what, at the time I thought was a bad cold. I found secluded areas on the open decks to read and play Sudoku instead. I began to notice that I wasn’t coughing as much while hanging out on the deck, although by now I had a full-blown sinus infection, so dragging tissues along was a necessity.

That fourth evening was the first of two formal nights, and I was SO excited for the opportunity to dress up in the sparkly red dress I’d brought along for the occasion. How often do moms get the opportunity to dress all fancy-schmancy? As dinnertime approached, I gathered my belongings from my deck hideaway and headed back to my room to shower and glam myself up for the evening. Almost immediately upon entering my stateroom the coughing and wheezing began, along with itchy eyes and skin, especially my face and neck. The sinus symptoms launched into a full-blown frenzy.

And then it hit me. MOLD! Why hadn’t I realized this before? I have a serious allergy to mold, and for years had to avoid visiting a relative’s home after nearly landing in the emergency room on several occasions after visits due to a mold issue in her home. A classroom I taught in for a few years in a sick building had me chronically ill and near death. The symptoms were EXACTLY the same! It now dawned on me that the coughing and wheezing subsided when I was out in open areas of the ship or at ports, and the symptoms were out of control in smaller closed-in areas of the ship…ESPECIALLY my stateroom…where I had to sleep. And I had eight more nights on this cruise. Eight.

Eight doesn’t seem like a very large number until you’re trapped on a floating vessel being poisoned by the air in the middle of the ocean, and it means the number of nights you have to breathe that poison. I’m just sayin’.

I fixed my hair and applied my makeup between coughing fits and nose blows, slid into my sparkly red dress, stuffed more tissues into my clutch, painted a smile on my face, and met my boys at the restaurant. I was going to make the best of this situation and put my best face forward. And I did.

The following afternoon, after returning to the ship from a shore excursion, I noticed the ship maintenance crew tearing up and replacing some water damaged carpet on one of the floors of the ship, a few floors above my room. Water damaged carpet means mold, and tearing that carpet up meant more mold spores in the air. Especially in closed-in spaces. Like, my room. Shit.

That afternoon, and for the remaining nightmarish days of the cruise, I was barely functional while onboard the ship. Oh, and did I mention that about six days in my hair started falling out? Looking back, I’m really not sure how I’m here to even tell the story.

While I had looked forward to meeting people and socializing on this cruise, I found myself turning inward and avoiding in-depth conversations because I couldn’t say more than a few words without an uncontrollable urge to cough. I had to carry around an extra box of tissues that I got from the stateroom attendant with me everywhere I went. I hid out in my little isolation zones in the evenings and at-sea days to avoid social interactions. I avoided my stateroom as much as possible, although I HAD to sleep (well, at least lay there and pretend to sleep between coughing fits), shower, and get ready there. On one particular morning at sea, while attempting to get some much needed sleep in one of my isolation zones in the pool area, I remember covering my face with a towel and sobbing quietly in defeat when other cruisers closed-in in the lounge chairs around mine, talking loudly and laughing. I just wanted…NEEDED…to sleep! I stopped going to the formal dining room in the evenings and opted instead for the informal cafe where I could go in casual clothes, looking like death warmed over and avoid social interactions. I missed the second formal night and the opportunity to wear the awesome outfit I had brought along for that.  🙁

This vacation of a lifetime had truly turned into a nightmare. I could not wait to get off the ship for shore excursions, and now not just in anticipation of visiting these amazing places I’d so looked forward to visiting, but to escape the mold poisoning on the ship for a few hours and have clean air to breathe. You could say it sorta put a damper on the excitement. Nevertheless, I got dressed and summoned the energy to make myself look as presentable as possible for each port and made the best out of a REALLY BAD situation. Although my symptoms were significantly improved while off the ship, my exposure had been so involved at this point that I had full-blown bronchitis now in addition to the sinus infection. I smiled for the photos and posted happy memories on social media, desperately seeking to make sweet lemonade out of really sour lemons. And who wants to hear Negative Nelly complaining about a dream vacation anyway?

I can’t even begin to explain how helpless it feels to be sick on a vessel in the middle of the ocean and have no way of escaping that which is slowly killing you. When the morning of debarkation FINALLY arrived, I could not wait to get off the ship. I was so ill and nonfunctional at that point, I should have gone straight to the hospital, but I had a plane to catch. Missing that flight was not optional as we had another flight booked for our move to San Diego just a day and a half after our flight was scheduled to arrive back in Boston. Oh, and did I mention that I got to be THAT person on the plane who is coughing and blowing their nose profusely, making my fellow passengers squirm in their seats and cover their faces?

As luck (not the good kind) would have it, flight delays left us stranded in Zurich overnight and we wouldn’t land in Boston until almost 24-hours after our scheduled arrival, which meant I’d be hustling to get everything in order in NH before hopping on another flight and leaving NH behind for good. A scare on our flight between Zurich and London had me in sheer panic that my eardrum was going to burst and I wouldn’t make it back to Boston at all. Fortunately, with help from a lovely angel of a flight attendant that involved chewing gum and placing a cup with a hot wet cloth inside it over my ear, the burst eardrum disaster was averted. Narrowly.

The night I returned home from the cruise after my mold poisoning. I should have been in the hospital, but I needed to be on another flight for my move to San Diego the following day.

Here is a picture of me the night I arrived back in NH, propped upright on my friend’s sofa to sleep because I couldn’t lie flat without coughing. I think the only reason I managed to stay out of the hospital that night was due to two things:

1) my sheer will to power through knowing that I needed to catch that flight to San Diego so that I would be at my new home when all my belongings arrived; and

2) because my pharmacist friend who I happened to be staying with medicated me to calm the cough and relax me enough to sleep. I was desperate, and she is an angel.

Within a few days of being off the ship, I regained my ability to speak without coughing and the sinus infection cleared up. I thought I was in the clear to get settled in my new home and start focusing on establishing my life in a new city. But that’s when other symptoms began to crop up.

  • Fatigue. Even after getting a full night’s sleep, I was waking up feeling like I hadn’t slept at all.
  • Postnasal drip.
  • Afternoon fatigue.
  • Digestive distress that was new and way outside of my normal.
  • Constant, unrelenting nausea.
  • Brain fog and an inability to concentrate on simple tasks.
  • Irregular menstrual cycle.
  • Tendonitis in my wrist with no mechanism of injury.
  • ANXIETY that was not my normal.

My first order of business in resolving these new symptoms was to really focus on good self-care, which involved:

  • Eating a clean diet including grass-fed meats, lots of vegetables and healthy fats with no chance of gluten contamination.
  • Hydrating daily with lots of clean, filtered water.
  • Implementing a regular bedtime to get my circadian rhythm back in balance, and getting a solid 8+ hours of sleep per night.
  • Morning sauna session (I’m extremely grateful to have a sauna in my bedroom—one of my best investments EVER!)
  • Daily meditation and gratitude journaling.
  • Relaxing daily walks with my dog giving me fresh air and time in nature.
  • Rebounding on my rebounding trampoline.
  • Exercise.
  • Basic supplementation.

I hoped that everything would return to normal now that I was settled and able to concentrate on good self care, but after a few weeks of good solid self care I realized I needed to dig deeper with some lab testing to find out what the internal HIDDEN causes of stress were that were causing all these unusual symptoms. I knew that the combination of chronic stress from the previous year and mold poisoning had created the perfect storm for chaos inside my body. It was time to put my training in Functional Diagnostic Nutrition to work on myself.

I don’t yet have my hormone test results back, but as suspected, the results of my gut test (aka, I pooped in a French fry tray, put some samples in a jar and shipped it off to the lab. I know, gross.) were not pretty, indicating a significant imbalance of unwelcome bacteria shacking up with my normal healthy gut flora, as well as fungal overgrowth (duh, mold), and…PARASITES…two of them! YIKES! In addition, my Secretory IgA, an important marker for immune function was trending low, indicating that my immune system had been under chronic stress. And if that all wasn’t enough, my anti-gliadin marker was elevated, clearly indicating that I’d had a gluten contamination while on vacation, which I had also suspected.

This was all clearly the cascade effect of the internal damage caused by the mold poisoning on the dream vacation, which had been the icing on the cake of a long and very stressful year. The good news is that my training as an FDN practitioner gave me the tools not only to identify what was going on internally to cause all of the symptoms, but the tools to HEAL my body as well, using a very targeted all-natural herbal supplement protocol designed to heal and seal my gut from the damage caused by the stress and mold, and to evacuate the invading critters.

I think it’s super important to emphasize here the importance of functional lab testing when chronic health symptoms of any kind are involved, especially when symptoms don’t completely resolve with diet and lifestyle changes. Eating a clean, nutrient-dense diet, along with getting good sleep, exercising regularly in a way that works for your body, and managing stress well are all critical pieces of the “getting healthy” puzzle, but sometimes those things just aren’t enough and you need to dig for the root cause. My situation is a perfect example of that.

If I’d gone to a conventional medical doctor complaining of the list of symptoms I outlined above, here’s what probably would’ve gone down. He/she would’ve palpated my gut and found nothing of concern, listened to my lungs, checked my heart rate, and sent me out the door with prescriptions for an anti-anxiety medication, an anti-nausea medication, and an allergy medication. All bandaids designed to suppress symptoms and chemical compounds that would lead to more distress and dysfunction in my body. No bueno.

Why is mold so dangerous, and why aren’t doctors talking about it?

  1. Mold produces a series of extremely toxic and dangerous mycotoxins which become airborne, and are often overlooked factors in many autoimmune conditions and cancers. Most doctors unfortunately don’t even know what mycotoxins are!
  2. Mycotoxins are potent immune suppressors, meaning that they inhibit your immune system’s ability to fight off the foreign invaders it is designed to fight off.
  3. Mycotoxins cause mitochondrial dysfunction, and since mitochondria are the powerhouses of your cells, this is kinda a big deal.
  4. Mycotoxins impact virtually all systems of the body…nervous, immune, respiratory, gastrointestinal, urinary, and skin. My reaction to mold is immediate and spectacular, while for some people the symptoms are much more insidious.
  5. Symptoms can include fatigue, headaches, numbness & tingling, short-term memory loss, joint aches & pains, shortness of breath, cough, anxiety/depression/mood swings, abdominal pain, hair loss, nose bleeds, skin rashes.

And I’ll repeat, most doctors don’t even know what mycotoxins are.

I am so grateful that my training as an FDN practitioner has empowered me to not only help my clients get to the bottom of their chronic health issues and to teach them to be empowered to be in charge of their own health, but also the tools to heal my own body when life happens and I need to focus on myself as well. If you are suffering with chronic health symptoms of any kind that you have not been able to resolve through conventional or even more holistic approaches and/or diet and lifestyle changes, there is no need to continue suffering. I help people like you (and me) all the time get to the bottom of their frustrating health issues! There is always hope.

If you are tired of the cycle of trial and error and ready to get to the bottom of your health issues, consider scheduling a Free 45-minute consultation with me so we can talk about your personal concerns and how one of my personalized 1:1 health coaching packages might be right for you. And if you have a friend or loved one who is frustrated with their health and tired of the cycle of trial and error, send them this link and encourage them to read it as well! Suffering really is unnecessary!