When life hangs in the (electromagnetic) balance

Article published on Aug. 7, 2013
Article published on Aug. 7, 2013

The phenomenon of electrosensitivity is little known and it is unclear how many people suffer from health problems resulting from exposure to electromagnetism. Indeed, some agencies have a vested interest in it remaining under the radar. One electrosensitive woman describes her experience of the condition and her efforts to raise awareness

Rather than using the term 'electrosensitivity,' Céline describes her condition as 'an acute sensitivity to electromagnetic waves.' She is 37, has light brown curly hair and wears red glasses. Smiling a little nervously, she comes towards me. It’s been two years since she identified the cause of her numerous health problems: wifi. 

Bad Vibrations

Five years ago Céline started having allergies to certain foods, she wasn’t sleeping properly and found it difficult to concentrate. She was plagued with headaches and dizzy spells. Since her symptoms first appeared she was fortunate to have the support of her doctor, but despite all the efforts made to help Céline, her condition worsened. Her absences from work increased until she was finally forced to take four months sick leave. One day, over the phone, her doctor asked her about the electrical environment in her house and suggested she try turning off the wifi once she had hung up. Céline was doubtful but tried anyway. The result was immediate: her headaches stopped abruptly and she could finally think clearly. 'I completely freaked out,' she confides. 'I had never even considered wifi to be the cause. I told myself, I’ll never be able to control it.' For in the modern world it seems that wifi is omnipresent; in our neighbours’ houses, at work, in public places. The prospect was daunting.

Céline now manages to control her exposure to wifi to a great extent. She endeavours to live a life 'as normal as possible' and is glad she discovered  the cause of her ill health so quickly. 'Now I try to increase my tolerance levels,' explains Céline. 'By pushing myself to my limits I manage to tolerate more than before and to carry on with my daily activities. After pushing myself I just need to make sure that I rest well to recover.'

Paris under waves

Céline’s speech begins to slow down, she pauses between words. 'Sorry there’s something bugging me in here,' she apologises. I ask if she wants to move table or even go somewhere else. 'No, no I’m fine, it’s just a little difficult to concentrate.' Sometimes her gaze drifts and she seems distant.

Céline admits that she is lucky. She hasn’t been shunned by her family, friends or colleagues. Everyone believes her and is very supportive. She also has the support of her neighbours who know how sensitive she is and switch off their wifi as much as they can. One neighbour who lives on the same floor as her has even gone back to using cable internet for her sake! Her colleagues at work also took the news very well. 'They just want me to be able to get back to work, they were fed up of me being absent all the time,' says Céline. The wifi near her office has been switched off and luckily no other wifi from the building reaches her. 

Céline is aware, however, that her life cannot go on like this. 'I won’t be able to stay in Paris my whole life, sooner or later I will have to move to the country or find a house in the suburbs.' Despite all her efforts to live a normal life, she will one day have to compromise, for the sake of her health and well-being. 'I feel like everything is hanging by a thread.'

5% of land in france electromagnetic wave free

One major issue for sufferers is that electrosensitivity is not a medically diagnosed condition. It is not considered an illness or a disability. 'It depends on lots of different factors and it is unpredicatable too,' Céline explains. Her own experiences have prompted Céline to campaign for greater awareness of electrosensitivity. She has set up a meeting with Seybah Dagoma, the deputy mayor of her region.

Céline is proud of what she has set in motion. 'It’s been really touching,' she relates. 'I didn’t expect to receive so much support and understanding.' She believes that people are beginning to acknowledge electrosensitivity. 'More and more people are daring to talk about it. I’ve had several people call me to tell me they felt dizzy near the wifi at the Pompidou Centre or that they feel unwell around certain electrical devices. I even had someone who told me that until four months ago they thought they were the only person in France to suffer from it. I think it affects everyone to different extents.' Indeed, only 5% of land in France is completely free of electromagnetic waves, primarily high summits or danger zones where human habitation is no longer possible. 

Yet why does electrosensitivity remain unheard of? 'Because it scares people,' Céline concludes. 'It could mean going back to the dark ages before technology, imagine! Health experts say that if it was diagnosed as a real illness, we would be on the brink of one of the biggest healthcare scandals ever known!'

One might expect someone who is electrosensitive to view our increasing dependence on  technology, social media and the internet in an entirely negative fashion. Yet Céline does not eschew technology altogether; 'I think being electrosensitive has taught me to manage my use of technology. I have a mobile phone but I only use it to send text messages, I have a computer but I limit the amount of time I spend on it.' Her outlook is surprisingly optimistic: 'My approach is to learn to live with technology, rather than do without.'

To discover more on this topic : Site du collectif des électrosensibles de France. (Collective Site for Electrosensitives in France)