Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Long Journey Home

I wrote this as a possible editorial for the local paper. The idea is use two elements: a) human interest story and b) message to be grateful for what you have, to turn it into an editorial; and the goal is to get it into the paper so that the byline with the info on how to buy my book, which describes the events in my editorial, gets in there too. Whether it will work or not, I don't know, but I can certainly try!

The Long Journey Home

What does home mean to you? For two years, I had no real definition of or sense of home. I moved anywhere from every few weeks to every few months. I couldn't stay in any one place long enough to plan a dinner out, make friends, or have any sense of roots or belonging.

Why did I move so much? I have a condition known as multiple chemical sensitivity, or MCS. People who have MCS have extreme physical reactions to fragrances and chemicals in minute amounts. For example, perfumes, lotions, cleaning products, new carpet or construction, pesticides and air fresheners, among many other things, can all be a big problem. Even the residue from these things can enough to cause mental and physical deterioration.

At 24, after living with my parents in Standish for as long as I could, I couldn't find any apartments or roomshares that worked for me in Maine. So I set off on a journey across the country to find something that would. I used Craigslist or other MCS websites to find other people with chemical sensitivities who had houses that would be compatible with my needs. In this way, I ended up living in eight cities over two years: Burlington, Vermont; Liberty, New York; Missoua, Montana; Newport, Bend and Eugene in Oregon; Ballston Spa, New York; and finally back to Maine where I currently am, in the greater Portland area.

There was another complication. I have Asperger's Syndrome, a high functioning form of autism. This sometimes makes it difficult for me to communicate effectively with others, understand social rules and norms, and tolerate a lot of sensory stimuli (such as noise, certain kinds of weather, smells, fabric textures and so on). The two years I spent traveling from place to place were a challenge, but they taught me a lot about the world and my place in it. I learned the power of my own strength and the value of human connection.

But I longed for Maine. I yearned for the certain "je ne sais quoi" that is my home state. The fresh air, the rocky coast, the forgiving forests. The newspaper that had been narrowed in width by 1.25" years before, causing quite a ruckus; Monument Square, where the open space and familiar shops caused my heart to soar like a bird above the clouds; the narrow cobblestone streets of the Old Port, the radio stations I had been listening to since I was a teenager, and people who knew what real seafood was. I longed for street and city names that made sense to me, the festivals of my youth, for people who knew me. I longed for a city and an area that I had a history with.

The Oregon coast was magnificent, and I learned a lot from the woman who I lived with there. Staying in an ecovillage in Eugene was an experience I will never forget. Vermont and New York were interesting in their own ways, but they weren't home. I felt out of place, like my heart was living outside my body. But because I knew that any given living situation was the best I could do at the time, I stayed.

And then, six months ago, I was finally able to find a living situation that worked for me here in Maine. Finally, the air that had seemed so oppressive in upstate New York felt crisp and clear; the places and people that surrounded me were at once familiar again; and much of the anxiety and angst I had been carrying around with me melted away. By chance, I ended up only a few miles from the house I had grown up in. It felt like coming full circle. I am grateful every day that I live in Maine. Within half an hour in any direction, I can visit a dozen stunningly beautiful beaches; hike in another dozen wondrous hiking spots; buy organic food, wander the streets of the Old Port, and find a community with values that I share.

I took for granted living in Maine before I was forced to leave.
I took for granted the things I was able to do before my chemical sensitivities disabled me in many ways. Now, I try very hard not to take anything for granted, and despite my disabilities, I enjoy life more than I did before my problems started. My hope is that everyone reading this will take a minute to think of what they are grateful for in their lives, and make a point to appreciate it every day.

Kate Goldfield is a freelance writer living in the greater Portland area. She has just published a book about her travels across the country, "Common Scents: Adventures in Autism and Chemical Sensitivity," which is available at . You can email Kate at .


  1. Great editorial, Kate! And congrats on your book - I'm planning on ordering it soon!

  2. I just found your blog by way of Jess and wanted to tell you I appreciate your writing. My son (6) has autism. Also, I had a dear friend in college with MCS. You raise awareness for both, and that is so important.Thank you for your efforts.

  3. Thanks, I appreciate your comment :)