Scott Killingsworth’s experience with disability began in 1998 as a 27-year-old graduate assistant at Georgia Tech studying industrial organizational psychology.
“We had a termite problem in my office,” said Killingworth. “The university called in a termite exterminator and sprayed the pesticide Dursban (which has since been banned by the Environmental Protection Agency). I immediately started feeling very ill. I was dizzy, disoriented, and nauseous, and had intense flu-like symptoms.”
After two weeks and no improvement, he was allowed to move to another office. Over months, he progressively became more sensitive to perfumes, fragrances, cleaning agents, and dry erase markers, for example.
After graduating, Killingsworth started a career with Home Depot as an e-learning specialist helping train employees over the Internet. He loved his work. In 2001, due to being overly sensitive to traces of chemicals in his work place, he was allowed to work half his hours at home. By 2005, he was working at home full-time and eventually left his job in 2008. His sensitivity to chemicals had reached the point he could no longer work.
Killingsworth has multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). The Chemical Sensitivity Foundation defines MCS as a “medical condition characterized by debilitating chemical sensitivities. People chemically sensitive are made sick by exposures to chemicals found in many common products such as pesticides, perfumes, tobacco smoke, new carpets, air fresheners, new paint and building materials, and many cleaning and laundry products.”
Symptoms can be disabling, and include headache, nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, difficulty breathing, irregular heartbeat, and seizures.
He said, “To this day, five years later, I miss my job every single day. That job was a huge part of my identify. We had a fabulous team and I miss my colleagues dearly.”
In 2011, he started living in the Arizona desert in a travel trailer hoping the pristine air would improve his condition and he could return to his work. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened, but his condition has at least stabilized.
“I still get sick going into a supermarket or other public places,” he said. “I keep a degree of optimism that before I leave this earth there will be a medical breakthrough that will enable me to have improved health or a cure.”
He said one difficult aspect of having MCS has been people saying his illness is psychosomatic. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.