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ElectroSensitivity: When the Modern World Hurts

electrosensitivity by Alison Main, photograph by Victoria Wright

Photograph by Victoria Wright

A debilitating journey as an electrosensitive individual serves as a wake-up call to the hidden dangers we are all exposed to living in a wired world


A few decades ago, it was rare to see a gluten-free menu, a “Certified GF” symbol, or a food intolerance awareness sticker. If you had Celiac disease in the early 1980s, the food world was hazardous. It was impossible to dine out, order out, or shop for packaged products. Sure, you could have stayed home all the time; skipped those hot summer nights at Ben & Jerry’s; ditched your friends’ diner jaunts for burgers and fries; and passed on adventurous road trips due to the impracticality of toting one month’s worth of food in a cooler.

But that seems unfair, doesn’t it? To fathom that a person with a physical illness can be ostracized from the world as we all experience it. Or alternatively, that such an individual would have to consciously choose bodily harm simply to take part in life.

That describes my world today.

I have a condition called electrosensitivity (ES), sometimes referred to as electro-hypersensitivity (EHS). Technically it is an ‘environmental illness’, which means I experience debilitating neurological and immunological symptoms in the presence of man-made electromagnetic fields (EMFs).

“What type of symptoms?” I am always asked.

The gamut includes migraines, arrhythmia, cognitive dysfunction, vertigo, nerve tingling, muscle twitching and spasms, numbness, gastrointestinal dysfunction, urological inflammation, rashes, nausea, tinnitus, and joint pain, all worsening with degree and intensity of EMF exposure.

“But what causes these symptoms?” This is always the logical follow-up question.

The extensive list of electro-toxic triggers includes:

  • Radiofrequency radiation: from Wi-Fi routers, wireless enabled devices, gaming consoles, cell towers, Bluetooth devices, smart gadgets, etc.
  • Low-frequency electric fields: from unshielded electrical wiring and devices.
  • Magnetic fields: from power lines, home appliances, home wiring, and current running on a home’s grounding system.
  • Harmonics (commonly referred to as dirty electricity): These are frequencies other than our 60 hertz cycle generated by things like solar inverters, dimmer switches, florescent lighting, electronics (computers, TVs, radio), etc.

In essence, the modern world, quite literally, makes me sick. 

This is not a subject most electrosensitive individuals talk about in mixed company, fearful of being labeled kooky, crazy, or being socially marginalized and professionally ostracized. There’s the tendency of people to insensitively label you as, “The Sensitive,” like this is some cult-classic horror flick. Do people with diabetes introduce themselves, “Hi. I’m Sharon. The Diabetic.” No, because that’s putting the disease on par with the person — and we are not our afflictions.

Nonetheless, there’s a societal stigma attached to saying “I’m electrosensitive.” People tend to conjure an oddball character hiding in an aluminum foil underground bunker; an agoraphobic conspiracy theorist, a psychologically-unstable technophobe, or at best, an eccentric shamanistic mystic.

But none of those descriptors portray me. If I were to keep silent about my health and EMF hazards, and just sit elegantly in a café, dressed nicely as I do, drinking my latte, talking to you about the latest essay I’m writing, ad campaign I’m designing, or cute guy I saw at the bookstore, you’d never know that I’ve been in physical torment and thrown out of my former life, all because of a nearby Wi-Fi router or an electrical smart meter system.

I’m far from unique in the universe. I’m just one of the few to make my story public.

It’s currently estimated that 3-5% of the world’s population is severely electrosensitive, with 30-50% moderately affected symptomatically. These numbers are predicted to rise significantly, as our world becomes more overrun with electro-smog pollution, given the evolution of smart homes, smart cities, 5G wireless and the Internet of Everything – none of which has been pre-market tested for long-term safety.

There are thousands of peer-reviewed research studies by notable scientists and epidemiologists showing harmful biological effects from radiofrequency and other artificial EMFs. These biological effects, including DNA damage, oxidative stress, and breaks in the blood brain barrier, are all precursors to chronic disease and cancer. These effects occur at the microcellular, metabolic level, regardless of whether you presently feel sick or not. Those with electrosensitivity are just the first to feel it.

Plenty of people are getting very sick from electro-pollution. Right now. Everywhere. In every state. In every country. These people are not mere statistics to me. I know this because they’ve all contacted me. From China to Mexico, from California to Australia, people with ES have reached out to me, in their own physical pain, scared, confused, displaced, dispossessed, traumatized, hopeless, helpless, lost…. and homeless. There are a lot of ES people who are homeless. Like me.

People with ES are getting evicted from their lives, losing friends, families, spouses, jobs, and homes. They are losing their livelihood, their savings, their safety, and their security. And with the global Wi-Fi rollout in both bustling cities and rural enclaves, people are losing access to hospitals and medical facilities, office buildings, restaurants and cafes, drug stores, grocery stores, and public transportation.

Of course, no one is talking about this over cocktails or at gallery exhibits because no one wants to admit that just like tobacco, asbestos, BPA, glyphosate, and PBDEs, our wireless technologies and our energy systems might be highly toxic to our complex, bioelectrical bodies. That this could be the very reason we are seeing an unprecedented rise in chronic illness, autism, ADHD, and neuro-degenerative disorders.

There’s a curious disconnect on this subject, an intense cognitive dissonance that must have been around in the heyday of Big Tobacco. I’ve witnessed thousands of parents rise up in arms on social media when they discover a popular baby-wipe brand has been recalled for mold. But few and far between pay attention to the biological hazards of radiofrequency, letting their 5-month old teethe on a transmitting cell phone which emits microwave radiation directly into their baby’s brain, unaware that this violates the device’s safety guidelines and puts their child at risk.

I do not hate technology. In fact, I love it, and I still find ways to use it — safely.

I am now 39-years old. Until a few years ago, I can remember the majority of my life happily and easily connected to technology, from my childhood Atari system through my first smart phone at thirty. As a creative director in Manhattan, my iMessages were never far from my fingertips. I was the gal who’d respond to any text in five seconds flat (if I didn’t, my friends assumed I’d been abducted). I bopped around Manhattan with my iPhone in my back pocket, rocking out to Pandora as I multi-tasked grocery shopping at Whole Foods and responding to my clients’ emails. I’d chill with my MTV friends in hipster Tribeca bars, out until 3am, music blasting from one shindig to the next. I even once summoned my home internet provider to upgrade my Wi-Fi so I could share design files in the Creative Cloud faster than the speed of light.

And then, very quickly, all of that became physically impossible to endure.

“So what happened?” That’s the question everyone astutely poses.

Let’s take it back a few years. In December 2013, an unusually powerful electromagnetic field overtook my apartment. It blew out the power port in my laptop, drained all the batteries in my remotes, and shocked everyone who dared enter my studio, myself very much included. Within 24 hours, I could not physically tolerate using my computer or my mobile phone, nor could I be around Wi-Fi. Any engagement with these technologies brought an instantaneous onset of neurological symptoms. But when I’d disconnect from my electronics, and move to a space without Wi-Fi, I immediately felt better. So, like a catalyst, this incident made my body highly sensitive to EMFs.

But that wasn’t what kicked me out of my life. For one year, I lived a non-wireless lifestyle in New York City. As long as I controlled my immediate living space, with a haven for sleep, I was still able to work and play. After an environmental home inspection from a New York building biologist, I permanently unplugged my cordless phone, disabled my Wi-Fi, directly connected to Internet via wired Ethernet, stopped placing my cell phone on my body, and worked using a wired external keyboard and mouse with my laptop.

At the same time, the wireless world was burgeoning in Manhattan. Electrosensitivity is progressive if not properly addressed, so it didn’t take long for me to develop heart palpitations for the mere ten minutes I stepped inside an Apple store. Or week-long migraine headaches from sitting in a Wi-Fied Starbucks for an hour. Or dizziness from visiting my friends in their wirelessly pulsating flats.

The truth is, I didn’t understand the extent of my condition, nor the effects of wireless radiation. And that’s because medical practitioners don’t talk about it. The media doesn’t warn about it. We’re all so tech-addicted that when this first happens, you don’t even want to believe it yourself.

In January 2015, I moved to a new apartment rental in a downtown Manhattan luxury doorman building. As a self-employed, single woman, without a lineage to Rockefeller, I had to move heaven and earth to be accepted as a tenant. But after signing away my savings, they handed me keys and a welcome packet. It was like getting accepted to the Harvard of NYC real estate. I was elated. I pictured Sunday afternoons in strapless sundresses chilling on the rooftop with my best friends. I imagined an elegant housewarming party, with editors and writers sipping champagne, overlooking my coveted view of the Hudson River and the Statue of Liberty. I envisioned days of creative collaboration with my colleagues, while art directing photo shoots for our demanding clients.

Unbeknownst to me, my elite new residence had a wireless smart home energy management system that sent frequencies along all of the electrical wiring. This was not something I could control or disable. Nor was I informed about it upon lease signing. I didn’t ask, because I didn’t know such a thing existed.

Within 24 hours of occupying the space, I had body-wide tingling, twitching, and vertigo. By the seventh night, I was in full neuro-immune-endocrine collapse. I had sharp, icy pain inside my spine, shooting up into my brain; a migraine headache; nausea and tremors; my heart skipped beats every couple of seconds; my hands and feet were numb; I couldn’t walk in a straight line. I had an itchy red rash and painful urological spasms; my skin turned yellow; I had a wired form of insomnia; and cognitive dysfunction such that I couldn’t spell my name nor remember how to unlock the front door.

If you’ve never before heard of a ‘smart meter’, this is a fair warning lesson about what this technology can do to a person. This wireless electrical metering system created a building-wide radiofrequency electromagnetic interference mess — one that nearly killed me. After only one week in that apartment, I called my mother and said, “I need to come home. I’m very sick.”

Manhattan realty management companies are notoriously not generous to those who renege on a 100-page rental contract.

They required payment of seven months’ rent to release me from the remainder of my lease. My attorney requested I send him ‘proof’ that a person could be ‘allergic’ to wireless technology. I explained, “It’s not an allergy. It’s far more serious than that.” He said it didn’t matter. I’d never win a court case because no one would admit these technologies could cause biological harm. He suggested that the best thing I could do was walk away.

So I walked away, bankrupt and homeless. Too sick to function, I relinquished my business, my clients, my social life, and my home. I stayed on my mom’s couch for a few months, until one day, without notice, her building upgraded to a smart tech system. It’s been two years since I was physically ousted from her apartment. Since then, I’ve been wandering through transitory housing situations, unsuccessfully trying to find a safe and permanent home of my own.

Electromagnetic fields are everywhere. Our bodies are electrical beings. Earth carries its own natural electromagnetic resonance that is healing. It’s why we feel better with our bare feet in the dirt, grounding ourselves in a forest, or scrunching our toes in the sand.

But we as humans were never meant to evolve nor thrive in a soup of artificial frequencies that interrupt our bio-rhythms and disrupt our mitochondrial DNA patterns. And even though we can’t see any of this with the naked eye, some of us can now feel it. And it does not feel good.

Yet this is not as invisible as we’d like to imagine. It’s really a matter of paying attention, of reading the thousands of research papers on the biological effects of radiofrequency radiation and EMFs. It’s a matter of talking to the professionals who aren’t getting air time – the engineers, environmental medicine doctors, scientists, biochemists, physicists, public policy officials, building biologists and EMF experts. It’s a matter of starting a conversation about this.

Now everywhere I go, I see signs promoting “Free Wi-Fi” — which to me simply reads “Do Not Enter.” I see telecomm trucks installing new cell antennas on back country roads, sometimes mere feet from someone’s home. I see ubiquitous ads for smart tech gadgets, from wireless baby cribs to Bluetooth tampons. I see my best friends wearing iWatches, and I see my friends’ kids sleeping next to their cell phones.

My thoughts often shift between two worlds, remembering what was, and being present in what is. Of course, I miss the exhilaration of looking up to Manhattan skyscrapers, waking up to sunrise in Central Park, and mastering the subway maze. But those irradiated sidewalks, parks, and transit systems are no longer safe for me.

I take solace in knowing my loss and displacement serve a higher purpose, that my body can be a warning signal to others…. that these new man-made frequencies and technologies do not resonate properly with the human body. We need to step back and reconsider our relationship with our electromagnetic environment. So I started sharing my story, my knowledge, my research, and my experience, in the hope that people will start listening, and start taking precaution right now.



Practice Safe Tech

This is not about No Tech. It’s about Safe Tech.

Here are some easy ways to reduce your EMF exposure:

  1. Turn It Off When Not In Use. Wireless-enabled devices are always transmitting even when you are not surfing the internet, talking, or texting. When not in use, turn off your device, or set it to Airplane mode.
  2. Protect Your Kids. Whenever you hand a child a wireless device (cell phone, tablet, laptop, etc), set Airplane mode to ON, set WiFi to OFF, and set Bluetooth to OFF. This stops the radiofrequency transmissions.
  3. Protect Your Body: For adults who use a mobile phone, use speaker mode or a hands-free Air-tube headset. Avoid carrying your cell phone on your body (i.e., in your pocket, in your bra). Place devices and laptops on desks, not on laps. Fine print manufacturers’ warnings instruct us to keep our phones specific distances from our bodies, otherwise we may be exposed to radiation levels that are higher than the tested level.
  4. Give Yourself a Bedtime Break. Wireless radiation and other EMF sources seriously impact our sleep. Before bedtime, power off the Wi-Fi router, power off all screen devices, and unplug all electronics in the bedroom. Charge all cell phones and tech devices outside the bedroom (charger gear generates other low-frequency fields also linked to health issues).
  5. Get Wired. For your internet, home phones (landline), printer, speakers, entertainment gear, and other computer accessories, connect by cord or cable, and turn all Wi-Fi features OFF.
  6. Use a Corded Landline. Swap your cordless phones for corded. Most cordless phone base stations constantly emit high levels of microwave radiation whether or not any connected handset is in use.
  7. Safe Travels. Taking a road trip and your children want to watch movies on your device? Before you leave, download the movies onto the device, then turn Airplane mode ON. This allows your child to watch the movie without the radiofrequency transmissions.

For more information on EMF safety, please visit the Environmental Health Trust at EHTrust.org and EMF Analysis at EMFAnalysis.com


>You may also enjoy reading The Power of Off: Your Best Self In a Virtual World, by Nancy Colier