The Chemical Sensitivity Podcast

Episode 10: Living in Vehicles as a Refuge

August 28, 2022 Episode 10
The Chemical Sensitivity Podcast
Episode 10: Living in Vehicles as a Refuge
The Chemical Sensitivity Podcast
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Thank you for listening to The Chemical Sensitivity Podcast!

New episodes twice a month. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts to never miss one.

This episode is about living in vehicles as a refuge.

It features a conversation with two women with severe MCS. They have had to make difficult decisions to live in their vehicles because synthetic and scented chemicals that many people use make them very ill. 

You'll hear Maggie, who chose to use a pseudonym, and Evangeline Elmendorf Greene. Both women live in Arizona in the western United States, sometimes driving to neighbouring states where they are not exposed to chemicals and forest fire smoke. 

Maggie and Evangeline talk about: 

  • Social isolation that comes with living in vehicles.
  • The challenge of finding vehicles that allow them to be healthy.
  • How they are among countless other environmental refugees whose illnesses are not well understood and remain stigmatized. 

It was moving hearing Maggie and Evangeline’s stories. I’m very grateful to them for sharing  their experiences. I hope you enjoy the conversation and find it of benefit.

Thanks so much for listening.  

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 The Chemical Sensitivity Podcast

Episode 10: Living in Vehicles as a Refuge

Aaron Goodman  00:05 

Welcome to the Chemical Sensitivity Podcast. It's a podcast that amplifies the voices of people with multiple chemical sensitivity or MCS, also known as Environmental Illness, Chemical Intolerance and Toxicant-Induced Loss of Tolerance or TILT. The podcast also highlights emerging research about the illness.  

This episode features a conversation with two women with severe MCS who've had to make difficult decisions to live in their vehicles because of synthetic and scented chemicals that many people use make them ill. Maggie chose to use a pseudonym for our conversation. And Evangeline Elmendorf Greene are both based in Arizona, a state in the west of the United States. They know one another but haven't met in person. 

Maggie has lived in vehicles for over four years in an SUV a van and now they live in a compact car. Evangeline is starting her fifth year living in a number of different vehicles and currently lives in a Nissan campervan. Both women seek out places in the countryside and wilderness where there are less synthetic chemicals and fragrance products than in populated areas. Maggie parks on what's known as free land owned by the Bureau of Land Management, sometimes travelling to nearby states when the air is affected by forest fires smoke. Evangeline rents camping spots on people's private land after years of staying in campgrounds on roadsides and rest areas. 

Both women say it's exhausting. They have to venture further and further from places where people frequent in order to stay healthy. Van life is having a moment in the media and popular culture and it can sometimes look appealing on social media. But hearing Evangeline and Maggie made me realise how challenging it can be that it can be very isolating. Their decisions to live in vehicles is something many people in their lives who don't have MCS aren't able or willing to try to understand. And to think there are countless others like Maggie and Evangeline who are courageous enough to keep going even if it means living a displaced existence, unable to work further their studies and socialise with family and friends like they used to. I've been picturing all kinds of people living in vehicles and surviving mostly invisible to the rest of society.

It was very moving hearing Maggie and Evangeline stories, and I'm really grateful to them for sharing some of their experiences. I hope you enjoy the conversation and find it a benefit we release new episodes twice a month. The best way to never miss one is to subscribe for free wherever you get your podcasts. leave a review on Apple Podcasts. It's a great way to help others learn about the podcast and thanks so much for listening.

Aaron Goodman  03:02

I'm joined today by two guests, Evangeline Elmendorf Greene and Maggie. But Maggie is using a pseudonym. I'm really grateful to both of you for joining me on the podcast. Thank you so much.

Evangeline Elmendorf Greene. 03:17

Thank you, Aaron.

Maggie  03:18

Yeah, thanks, Aaron. It's good to be here. 

Aaron Goodman  03:20

I'd like to invite Maggie to start if I could. Do you want to introduce yourself, Maggie? 

Maggie 03:26

 Sure. Yeah, my name is Maggie and I have had two different stints living in a van. And I'm currently.  It's been almost two years, this time, about three years total, that I've been living in a vehicle to help my environmental illnesses, including Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, which I don't have any more as a result of living in the van, which has been a great blessing. 


Aaron Goodman  04:00

So would you say your illness is in remission, for lack of another word? Is it sort of not currently problematic for you because you're able to avoid triggers? 


Maggie  04:11

At first, that's what I was doing was avoiding triggers. And as long as I avoided those triggers, it was in remission, but, or maybe you wouldn't say that's remission. It's just, you know, really good avoidance. Now, what seems to be happening, the longer that I'm living in the vehicle and avoiding anything environmental that appears to trigger me is I seem to be having some healing in terms of my susceptibility to MCS. So I'm now able to use [company name beeped out] dish soap and do a number of different things that I wouldn't have been able to before with no reaction. So I'm not having to avoid as many triggers as when I first started. 


Aaron Goodman  04:58

Great to know. And just for our listeners, you're choosing to use a pseudonym because. Do you want to let us know why that's important for you? 


Maggie 05:06

Sure. Yeah. I think that people with MCS and environmental illnesses, even though it's becoming more and more well known, it's still a very stigmatised experience and choosing to live in a vehicle to deal with these things or, in some ways being forced to live in a vehicle because of financial concerns plus the constraints that illness puts. 

My experience has been that that's been even more stigmatising on top of the illness for me. And so I used to work I don't currently work, I used to work in a field. As a psychologist, I used to work as a psychologist. And so I'm just wanting to use a pseudonym so that if I choose to go back to work, it's my choice whether or not to disclose about my environmental illness. I'm not quite ready to be outed as a psychologist with environmental illness, even though I think that people being public about their journeys is very, very important. 


Aaron Goodman  06:07

I really appreciate you sharing that. And I really understand. So thank you so much. And where are you joining the call from today, if I may ask?


Maggie 06:16

Today I'm in Laramie, Wyoming. 


Aaron Goodman  06:18

And that's not always where you are, where you stay in your vehicles, but you've moved there to be healthy? And we can talk more a little bit about where you normally are, and sort of the routes you choose and the locations that seem to work for you. And Evangeline, would you like to introduce yourself. 

Evangeline Elmendforf Greene  06:39

 So I’m not choosing to remain anonymous. I had to give up my teaching career. And I'm now starting my fifth year in a vehicle and actually living in a relative's mini cargo van. As Maggie pointed out, there are some a lot of financial constraints. And so now my only income is disability. And unfortunately, I couldn't make my truck payment anymore, and the truck was taken away by the bank. So that's how I ended up in a relative's vehicle. And so I snowbird mostly between Arizona in the winter and New Mexico in the summer. But as I'm watching climate change very, very much affect the southwest, I may be rethinking that. 


Aaron Goodman  07:32

And a lot of the time you stay in your vehicles in the same state in New Mexico, and you know each other.


Evangeline Elmendforf Greene  07:38

We do have a mutual friend. And we are aware of each other's journeys, and of each other's healing, and basically what we're doing to continue to heal. And like Maggie, I also have been able to go more places go into more buildings, since I started spending more time in the wilderness. I have been less reactive, and can go into more buildings, although there are certain types of buildings I do have to avoid. 


Aaron Goodman  8:10 

And so just to note, you haven't met face to face, but you've been in touch, right?And you've known each other for some time, and I imagine you probably share some tips around living in vehicles.


Evangeline Elmendforf Greene  08:25

Now that Maggie and I are participating together in your podcast, Aaron, that we will likely have even more communication with each other. 


Aaron Goodman  08:37

 Yeah, that's wonderful. I'd like to invite you Maggie to talk a little bit about what life was like for you before you got ill with environmental illness / MCS. Where were you living and what were you doing? 


Maggie 8:53

Wow, life before I was ill. You know, it's it's a funny question, because looking back, now that I know what it feels like in my body when I'm having environmental exposures that are over tolerance, I'm able to look back at just these odd bumps even in my childhood. That why was that? One year, you know, my senior year in high school, I was having problems in English class that I'd never had before in my life and the English class was in the basement. And now I can look back and recognise that that was that environment was much too mouldy for me, and it was impacting my ability to even participate in class. But despite the seeming kind of susceptibilities to environmental toxins, I did manage to hang in there for a long time in life and I went to college, I graduated, I moved to Washington, D.C. I got the job that I was really hoping to get the job that would kind of help me towards being a clinical psychologist. I applied to graduate school in clinical psychology. I got in. And that's when I moved to St. Louis, Missouri. And that's when my illness really began. I had had one exposure when I was 20 years old, I had moved into a house that had visible black mould growing, you know, I didn't realise it when I moved in, but black mould start growing on my belongings. And that's the first time I developed a way anything weird with my health. And I was diagnosed with COPD. Basically, I had bronchitis like episodes for nine out of 12 months of the year and needed to be constantly on antibiotics. But after that mould exposure, even though I left and that the lung issues continued, it remained localised to the lungs. And so it wasn't until graduate school in Missouri, when I got exposed to the black holes in their buildings.

And then I began to develop, basically a multi -systemic illness. And I remember being on vacation, going to see my family over the holidays, and starting to wonder, for example, I'd started to get headaches. I'd never had those in my life, they were turning into migraines. I was starting to wonder about triggers starting to wonder about chemicals just a little bit. And I was describing all of this to my younger cousin what was going on with my health. And she actually knew about MCS before I did. And not that this is recommended to do to anyone, but she actually she went and she got some chemicals out of a cleaning closet. And she asked permission and we held them under my nose and she watched just all these health symptoms pop up. And so she was the first one to suggest that I might have MCS.


Aaron Goodman  12:05

Was there a point, Maggie, when you started to consider the possibility of living in a vehicle? Was that something you'd considered over time? How did it come about? Was it a gradual decision or a sudden decision you made where you came to a point where you couldn't live indoors anymore? What was the process like? 


Maggie  12:28

Yeah, it's interesting, it was both It was sudden and gradual, although I would emphasise the sudden part. Because, you know, I learned about other people living in their cars before I did it for Environmental Illness and for Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. And so that's why I say it was gradual. And when I first started doing it, I thought of it as a choice a little bit.

And I remember thinking about this group of people and not identifying as one of them and thinking, I'm not sure I want to be like them. You know, I'm not sure I want to choose this. But it really wasn't a choice. And I ended up in my car because as I progressed through my graduate programme and into getting licenced, as a clinical psychologist, I continue to be exposed to mouldy buildings and environments that were over my tolerance in terms of environmental toxins.

In order to get licenced, we have to complete an internship. And we don't quite get to choose where to go, the computer does a matching process. And I got sent to a training programme that I was very interested in being part in being I was interested in being trained by the people there. But what they hadn't told me before I got there is that there was a lot of environmental toxins. You know, a fourth of their new hires become permanently disabled after working there, lawsuits have been settled. And so I was teetering on the edge of needing to live in my car before that internship and that internship is what pushed me over the edge. And I went from that internship to Oregon, where so after I completed internship, I now had my PhD that was the final requirement for that, but I was not yet licenced, so we accrue postdoctoral hours to get licenced, and I did that in Oregon. And Portland was full of mouldy buildings and the outdoor air was also full of some type of environmental contaminants that are over tolerance for me. And I remember the first night I lived in my car, I had moved into a new apartment building that at the time didn't seem mouldy to me. I'm more able to discern mould now, but it seemed to be okay.

I was on the first floor, and everyone would smoke outside my window, and my MCS was getting worse and worse in Portland. And I felt like there was just nowhere to hide nowhere to run, I would have a migraine, I started to just to not be able to get out of bed. I just yeah, I didn't know how I was going to stay alive in this world that didn't feel made for me. And it was a Friday night and someone was smoking the eighth cigarette outside my door, and my symptoms were flaring. And I picked up my dog, and I got in the car with no plans and no belongings, and I drove out into the high desert in Oregon, because other people like me with environmental illness have gotten relief out there before. And I felt the difference immediately to the outdoor air. I felt hope for the first time. 


Aaron Goodman  15:59

That is really amazing. Thank you for sharing all of that. Evangeline, do you want to take us back to what your life was like before and while you were starting to learn more about the illness that you had?


Evangeline Elmendforf Greene  16:16

I began to notice a few little changes in the early 2000s. I started feeling pressure in the back of my head. A heaviness. And I would stumble over words and sometimes stumble over my feet. And so I went to several doctors, and none of them quite understood what was going on. The symptoms seem to get worse in the spring, so eventually they attributed it to allergies. 

Now that I look back on it, I think maybe that I already had Lyme Disease, and that these were symptoms of Lyme disease, but I can't say for sure. So that was in the early 2000s. That was in New Mexico. So fast forward to Tennessee, where I was getting my master's in theory and practice in teaching English as a second language. And I didn't really have any symptoms beyond those symptoms. But then I'm once I graduated, I moved to Iowa, and I moved in with my fiancé and his house. I'm going to say it reminded me of the House of Usher. There was black mould all over some of the walls, there was this smell of mould. But at the time, I didn't understand that mould was dangerous. I had this sort of blase attitude. Oh, you know, let's just roll up our sleeves and start scrubbing with bleach. But I, I actually missed a part of this. 

And I'm going to take you back a little bit. So in 2009, I was also in Tennessee, and I had an industrial accident at work, I was working as an interpreter in a pawn company, and somebody brought in a damaged diesel generator, and the clerk turned it on inside the building and filled the building with black smoke and I passed out and hit my head on the counter on the way down. And so then I had to go to the hospital and get a brain scan. And from then on, I started having reactions around chemicals I would every time I got around a very heavy duty chemical, a cleaning supply, something like that, I would feel my eyes roll back in my head and I would have to grip a wall not to go down.

And so back to Iowa in 2013. The first symptom that I had in the mouldy house was that my joints began to swell up and get very painful. Eventually, my fiancé and I moved into a house that I bought, not knowing anything about the mould issue, we moved all of our belongings into that house, and my symptoms began to increase. Long story short, eventually I had to go to the doctors because I was having a lot of digestive issues. I was having some cognitive issues, and I would have what turned out to be seizures and bloody noses, especially when I crawled into our bed. And it turns out that the mattress was just infested with mould. I was displaying the symptoms of Parkinson's and still trying to hold down my teaching job. So eventually my doctors sent me to an environmental allergist when the Parkinson's test came back negative.

Long story short, I had moved into another house by that time, which was equally mouldy, and I lost all my belongings. And I moved into a hotel to finish out the school year. By that time I could barely even walk had to inch along a wall to walk. And so moved back to New Mexico, which is my home state, and did hold down another job in a small town for a year but couldn't find any safe housing. And at the end of that year is when I moved into a vehicle.


Aaron Goodman  20:33

And can you talk a little bit about the first night you slept in a vehicle? What was that like for you? 


Evangeline Elmendforf Greene  20:40

So I stayed for about a month or so, maybe two months, at a wolf sanctuary campground, and the air was good and listening to the wolves at night was amazing. But eventually, I began to run out of money. I had borrowed money from a friend. And I was still hopeful that I could find a teaching job with some safe housing, and I wasn't able to do that. So eventually, a family member, my specifically, my aunt, brought me into Santa Fe, and began to help me out there. But living in an urban area in one's vehicle is way different than camping out in wilderness. And so for about two years, I think I lived in Santa Fe, and slept at the rest area most nights outside of Santa Fe, while I accessed resources like food stamps and went through the disability application process. And I realised that another winter spent at the rest area was just not feasible. It was too cold and I was getting too depressed. I decided I was going to go to Arizona and just start camping. And I've been lucky in that I have found people with private land who have rented me camping spots, but I don't know how much longer that's going to be feasible. And I'm wondering if soon I will have to become instead of a snowbird really become a nomad and start venturing further out, for example, with regard to where Maggie is now, maybe I need to start venturing into eastern Oregon or Wyoming, or further north, depending on what happens with regard to climate change, because I feel like I'm watching the southwest die with wildfires and not enough water. 

This summer, I decided that I would rent a room to escape the wildfire smoke, and I was hopeful that I would be able to transition into a building. But that turned out not to be feasible. The room had some water damage, and my health started to spiral downward. So now I'm back camping above Santa Fe. And once the weather starts to turn cold, I will have to go back to Arizona.


Aaron Goodman  23:05 

And be in a vehicle?


Evangeline Elmendforf Greene  23:07

Well, I do on some friends’ property. I do have a small, converted cargo trailer that I stay in down there. It doesn't have any plumbing, but it's much more of a homey hearth feeling than living in a vehicle. So during the winter, now that I've gotten that cargo trailer established, at least for right now, I feel a little more grounded. Unfortunately, I don’t have towing capacity for the trailer. So I'm not really sure when and if the trailer has to be moved, which eventually it will, where I'm going to go with it or what I'm going to do. 


Aaron Goodman  24:33

I'd like to ask you, Maggie, what's been the most positive thing for you about living in a vehicle? I mean, you talked about that it's allowed you to regain your health in some ways, right? 


Maggie  24:54

Yeah, the most positive thing is, is the changes to my health. And along with that, how empowering it feels after, as Evangeline mentioned, seeing so many doctors and struggling with my health for so long to finally be seeing movement towards health. And just last week, for example, I hiked to the top of a 12,000-foot mountain, and in 2018, just three years ago, I couldn't get six feet from the couch to the toaster oven to make myself a big potato. 


Aaron Goodman  25:28

So you've noticed a lot of improvement.


Maggie. 25:31

Yeah, you know, at first I just felt grateful that I had a way to avoid the triggers. But to have more than that to be regaining foundational levels of health and have increasing tolerance to chemicals and environmental toxins. It's not that I'm gonna go live a life where I'm immersed in those things. I still think that they're not good for people. And I wish that we were treating the environment differently treating the land differently. But to have the choice to walk down any aisle in the grocery store to be able to tolerate someone wearing perfume to get a goal of mine met. I mean, it's hard to really describe how much it means and what it means for my life. 


Aaron Goodman  26:22

Yeah, that's really significant. There's so much to think about, obviously, and as Maggie noted, there's been some benefits, but there are a whole number of challenges. And you've talked about climate change. And I can imagine you're just that much more exposed to wildfire smoke and the heat. I wanted to invite you to share if there are any other challenges. Maggie, would you be willing to talk a little bit about the greatest challenge that's come for you with living in a vehicle? 


Maggie. 26:58

Sure. The greatest challenge for me has been heartbreak, I'm struggling with feelings of societal betrayal, and what really feels like an interpersonal trauma to me, that I am, in some sense, an environmental refugee with no hotline to call, no one available are so few people available. Most of my friends are unwilling to have even casual conversations with me, because the honest truth of what's happening to me in my life is too distressing, not acceptable.

And so, while I've had all these health gains, when I had to move into a vehicle, I cried so hard, I was choking on my tears for nights and months. And I've had times when I was suicidal, you know, more often than not, when it gets to that kind of an extreme level of sadness for me or despair. That means I'm in an environment that's over my tolerance, I usually find that no matter how sad I am, when I get away from the environmental triggers, the suicidality goes away. But I have had to read a lot of books. I searched for every book on betrayal and belonging. I have read obscure I read someone's dissertation on what is it, I forget the name, this is another thing Environmental Illness has done. It has impacted my memory. But I read a book on the impacts of nuclear waste and people who are struggling with that, and the politics of I remember, yeah, it was something about the politics of invisibility, it was called, you know, and what gets to be declared a problem. And I'm reading Bell Hooks’ book right now about belonging and all about our relationship with the earth. 

So there have been other struggles, in terms of being deemed homelessness or, you know, homeless or illegal. Lots of problems with the police problems with the environment. Like how last winter I figured out how to survive in zero-degree temps for the first time. The answer is Hot Hands, supersized Hot Hands. But I think the interpersonal layer of this breaks my heart into pieces in ways that the other practical challenges don't. And it has also brought up for me interpersonal trauma from my past. And so it's not just feeling the betrayal of these things happening right now. And the fact that I've fallen through the cracks of society, but it's feeling that at the same time, as I feel the betrayals of my past and my in my childhood, and so I've had to seek out some good trauma therapy for that. 


Aaron  29:55

Thank you for sharing. Evangeline, how have your family and friends responded to the situation that you find yourself in? 


Evangeline Elmendforf Greene  30:04

Well, I lost my husband. He left as well. Four out of my five children. And I think that I want to perhaps echo what Maggie has said that I feel a constant sadness, and a constant feeling of yes, isolation. I want to pay tribute to my aunt, who literally rescued me starving out of the wilderness. And if it hadn't been for her being my biggest cheerleader, and helping me to survive through these years, I don't think I would be here but at the same time, becoming aware of and connecting with so many other environmental refugees. I feel that this is suddenly something that can be validated that I'm not alone, that this isn't in my head. I've come to understand that we are indicator species, just like amphibians, who are born with extra limbs and fish who are born without gills. It stands to reason that with how the earth is being destroyed in the name of profit, and being polluted and poisoned, that eventually, humans we're going to start becoming indicator species as well. And we are them. But yes, isolation and loneliness is huge. Because my social life is now online, and the few chances that I get to come into physical contact with people who are important to me, the few chances that I get to be able to hug someone, it's, I can't even begin to describe how it affects my soul to be able to touch someone or to be able to look someone in the eye or to be able to spend time was with someone, with people who are understanding who or who are experiencing a variation of what I'm experiencing, or who are caring and compassionate. 


Aaron Goodman  32:14

Well, I'm so moved, hearing both of you share and I think our listeners will be really, really moved hearing you. So thank you so much for sharing. Well, we have one question from a listener, whose name is at least online is Bub and Jonesy on Instagram. They write, I'm super curious how they do this with all the new car smell related chemicals and vehicles. I can barely tolerate being in our now almost five-year old [car make beeped out], which I thought was supposed to be one of the least toxic brands. So how do you deal with the new car smell that sometimes just doesn't go away? 


Maggie  32:57

Sure, yeah. When I when I fled Portland, my MCS was at an all-time high, and I was in a leased vehicle that was a year and a half old, I hadn't known that it was going to be such a trigger for me when I leased it, and I couldn't go in it without getting a migraine. And so for that first year, I camped outside the vehicle. And this is obviously not ideal to have to get into a vehicle that gives you pretty bad MCS reactions. But I spent as much time as I could outside the vehicle. I know sometimes people have asked me, you know, well, how do I find a tent that I don't react to? Because they often come with flame retardants. You know, there are some companies that make them without fire retardants. And I do know of one person and there's a resource. There's a website that speaks about this, who sold their own tent. They're not a great sewer or anything. It's very, very simple, but they sold it out of materials that they didn't react to.

But new car chemicals and smells was a problem for me for a long time. And so I had to find used cars that I tolerated. As I started doing this, I quickly started healing is really the answer. And right now I'm in a rental car with 7,000 miles on it that's filled with a new car smell and it's no longer an issue for me.


Aaron Goodman  34:35



Evangeline Elmendforf Greene   34:36

Well, I will say that what I find to be really interesting is that every one of us who has MCS reacts differently to different things. And I really have not had a problem with new car smell. Both the vehicles that I've lived in have been brand new, and I never had a problem with it. There are other things that I've definitely had problems with, for example, the sleeping bag that I always relied on, and I knew I could order safely and be able to use it. Suddenly I stopped being able to tolerate it. So with regard to new car smell, I haven't had a problem with new car smell. But I definitely have had problems with other things that are that have, you know chemicals. And at one point, when my credit was still good, I even tried to buy a travel trailer. And that was another story in and of itself the first night that I owned it. The RV company had forgotten to put a plug in the hot water heater and it flooded. So I had to do a voluntary repossession. But in in the search for that travel trailer, I had a lot of issues with travel trailers as I went into them to try them out. So definitely, I've had some issues, but the new car smell has not been.


Aaron Goodman  36:07

Well, another question that comes to mind is mould. And Evangeline you've talked about mould and the challenges it's caused you. Do you think about mould in vehicles that you live in or consider living in? Is it an issue for you?


Evangeline Elmendforf Greene  36:25

It's hugely an issue for me. And last year, and this year, I've had to kind of give a treatment to the HVAC system in the van that I'm living in now because the H vac system went mouldy a little bit, or I'm not gonna say mouldy, I'm gonna say musty. So sometimes I can safely use the HVAC system and sometimes it doesn't feel so great. But definitely, I think mould is more my kryptonite than chemicals as I have continued to progress in my healing. My chemical reactions have gone down, but the mould reactions, really mould is my kryptonite.


Aaron Goodman  37:08

I wonder if you happen to have any recommendations for people who may be listening who have MCS and maybe considering living in vehicles? 


Maggie. 37:16

Yeah, what I would share, Aaron, is that there's lots of other people like you out there. There's entire online communities with thousands of people in them, just like the MCS communities that you might be a part of where people are not just living in their cars, but are doing so because of Environmental Illness, and are experiencing some health benefits. And so the thing that got me started in living in my car made me aware that it was an option made it realistic or possible for me was first finding those people and learning from their experiences. So I would recommend doing that. 


Aaron Goodman  38:00

Thank you so much. Evangeline? 


Evangeline Elmendforf Greene  38:02

Well, definitely, I have friends who have been through the wringer when it comes to trying to choose a vehicle. So I guess my recommendation, and I know this is my even almost sound trite, but just that when you go to look at vehicles, you have to spend some time in them. You have to lift up carpet and look underneath it. Definitely turn on the HVAC system and sit in the vehicle while the HVAC system is running. I'm going to be very hopeful and optimistic here and say that eventually, if someone is searching for a vehicle to live in, to start out on a healing journey or a sabbatical, that eventually you will find one. It's just it's a process. And maybe it's not fair for me to really give recommendations because I've only been in new vehicles, and I haven't had a problem with them. But I know that there are older vehicles that do have that are problematic because of mould. So it's kind of between a rock and a hard place. You want an older vehicle because it's off gassed. But then there's the mould issue. So I think it's just different for everyone understood. 


Aaron Goodman  39:23

So before we wrap up our chat, I wanted to ask if there's anything else you'd like to share with our listeners. 


Maggie. 39:30

Thanks, Aaron. And thanks for holding the space. I think one thing that might not be represented in the in the talk today that might just be good to be transparent with our listeners about is social class. I do know people in my community of environmentally ill people who live in vehicles who have much more access to money than Evangeline or I do. And while the money doesn't allow them to escape many of the aspects of the obstacles and struggles that that Evangeline have talked about today, I do notice that it has it has made things slightly different for them. So for example, they might be able to, I know someone who owns multiple properties in multiple states. And so the likelihood that they are sleeping on public land or sleeping places where it's not legal to sleep is a lot lower. They're able to buy large tracts of land and to keep people away from their acreage. So I think there can be some nuances to this journey depending on your access to money, but certain things like the stigma, certain things will remain the same. But I just wanted to mention that for people who might have more money and might want to pursue this, this type of healing.


Aaron Goodman. 40:53

Yeah, no, I hear you on that. There's also the obvious factor that you're both women. And I wanted to perhaps invite you to reflect on if that's something that is part of your thinking and your experience when it comes to being in the wilderness or in remote areas?


Maggie  41:16

I was scared at first. I was an outdoorsy person growing up. I was a whitewater raft guide, but I hadn't done a lot of camping. I'm also a queer person, and I was afraid to even drive out to eastern Oregon to the high desert. As a queer person, I was glad that I gotten rid of the car that had identified me as a queer person. I at times have considered wearing a fake wedding ring. What I did to ease my way in is I first stayed in locations that weren't as good for my health but made me feel safe until I worked up a sense of comfort with this type of lifestyle. Now I stay in very remote locations. I'm not sure that I'm the best role model. I no longer carry pepper spray on me, I don't have the hunting knife I used to carry. I do have a small 11-pound dog with me, but but he would invite anyone in that wanted to give him a belly rub. 

So those fears in the beginning, they were really real. What I've found, although things have happened, like a friend of mine, the other month had someone she was sleeping in a public area in her car, and he came up and tried to get in through the back of the hatchback. So I always try to remember anytime the car is stopped have I press the lock button. But for better or worse, I have lost some of that middle class sensibility I used to have. And I kind of now consider the car is the physical barrier. Like unless you've touched my actual car, I'm not going to move. 


Aaron Goodman  43:01

And Evangeline, would you like to share anything with the listener? 


Evangeline Elmendforf Greene  43:03

Oh, yes, I think it's interesting, the point that you brought up about the difference between men and women who are on this journey. And I think it would be really interesting if you did a podcast with a few men who live in their vehicles who are pursuing healing from MCS. I will say that, at first, I was scared. I read the book called “Camp Like a Girl” by Sara Riley Matson. And that really helped out. And she sent a personal message to me about sleeping that first night in her vehicle in a hammock across the front of her vehicle out in the middle of the desert. And that gave me so much courage to go out and to be able to do it. 

And one thing that I did find going out into the wilderness alone was this new passion for nature photography and wilderness photography. But I also have become pretty tough in terms of not being so trusting. I do carry pepper spray, I do carry a very sharp knife, and I would not hesitate to use it if someone attacked me or someone came for me. 

I spent one winter camping, being almost the only camper in a very remote state park, and it was actually a pretty wonderful experience. So I think there is that fear that that can overtake us. But at the same time, I feel stronger. And I want to be able to be someone who stands up not only for myself, but for all of us that we deserve a place in the world. 


Aaron Goodman  44:51

That's amazing. Well, having, you know, ventured into some remote state parks, they’re pretty spooky at night. So you really have a lot of courage. 


Evangeline Elmendforf Greene  45:02

There were some times when I would walk to the shower in this state park and I would be the only camper and it would be dark and I would have my flashlight. And I would feel fear and I would hurry. But eventually,m I overcame that fear. And I did carry my pepper spray with me. So I think now at this point, I don't venture out of the van after dark or if I'm in a tent, although mostly I spend camping in a van. I don't do much tent camping because of safety issues. 


Aaron Goodman  45:42

Yeah, no, I hear you. Makes total sense. Well, thank you so much to both of you for sharing everything you've shared during our chat. And I think it'll be really beneficial for listeners. So, thank you so much, and I wish you all the best. 


Evangeline Elmendforf Greene  45:59

Thank you so much, Aaron, for your amazing podcast. I love all your podcast episodes. And thank you, Maggie, for sharing this podcast episode with me. 


Maggie  46:09

Yeah, thanks. Thank you, Aaron, for having us on. 


Aaron Goodman 46:14

That brings us to the end of this episode of the Chemical Sensitivity Podcast. Thank you very much to Maggie and Evangeline for sharing their experiences. The podcast is produced by me Aaron Goodman and Dani Peneloza. Please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts to never miss an episode. Leave a review on Apple Podcasts. It's a great way to help others find the podcast, and follow us on social media. Just search for the Chemical Sensitivity Podcast or PodcastingMCS. If there's someone you'd like to hear interviewed on the podcast or a topic you'd like us to explore, just let me know. Email me at info@chemicalsensitivity, and thanks so much for listening.

Intro to the episode
Maggie introduces herself and talks about irmproved health after years living in vehicles.
Maggie talks about why she chose to use a pseudonym for the conversation because of stigma people with MCS face.
Evangeline recalls her history living in vehicles.
Evangline talks about how Maggie and her know each other.
Maggie discusses how she developed MCS and first began living in vehicles.
Maggie talks more about what led her to live in vehicles.
Evangeline recalls how she developed MCS.
Evangeline talks about her first time living in a vehicle and places she has lived in vehicles.
Maggie explains how living in vehicles has allowed her to improve her health.
Maggie explains how living in vehicles has allowed her to improve her health.
Maggie talks about the social isolation and struggles she has faced living in vehicles.
Evangeline talks about the isolation also.
Maggie talks about how she has deal with new car smell.
Evangeline discusses new car smell and other issues with vehicles she has lived in.
Maggie encourages people considering living in vehicles to explore online forums and groups focused on the topic.
Evangeline encourages people to spend time in vehicles and test the HVAC system before buying them.
Maggie discusses how people with more financial resources may have a different or easier time living in vehicles.
Maggie talks about safety issues and overcoming feelings of fear as a woman.
Evangeline also talks about overcoming fear and safety issues as a woman living in her vehicle in remote places.
Aaron concludes the episodes and reminds listeners where to find the podcast online.