This is the one, I thought, scouring the internet for a rental property.
It was a lovely, affordable apartment in Palm Beach, NSW, and just a two minute walk from the water.
I’d been living in the Hawkesbury area for the last year with my boys, Tyde, then five, and Reed, two. But as Tyde was about to start school, it was time we returned to our roots.
Moving into our new home in Palm Beach, in January, 2016, life was idyllic.
We spent the rest of the summer down at the beach.
In June, after we’d spent a weekend visiting my mum Jenny in Wiseman’s Ferry, north-west of Sydney, we came home to a strong, musty odour.
What is that? I thought.
I opened the windows and doors to get rid of the smell, and within minutes it was gone.
It must just be moisture from being near the ocean, I figured.
It was also an older apartment, and I had smelled a subtle odour when we moved in, but didn’t take much notice.
Weeks later, I got a cold and then my asthma worsened.
Thinking it was just the usual winter sickness, I went to the doctors.
The medication I was prescribed made me feel better, but then I fell ill again soon after.
At each appointment, doctors put my colds and fatigue down to stress.
‘But I’m not stressed,’ I insisted.
I was happy in my job as a preschool teacher, and although life was busy as a single parent, I loved being with my boys.
‘You should try yoga,’ a friend suggested, thinking it would help me feel relaxed.
So I started practising yoga and meditation three times a week.
I’m not stressed, but whatever is making me sick is making me stressed, I thought.
Thankfully, I had an incredible support network of friends and family to help.
And in September 2018, I met a kind man named Phil, then 42, at the skate park where our kids were playing.
We soon began dating, going out for lunches and swims at the beach.
But although I tried to soldier on, I’d often crash and burn, forced to take time off work.
I’d sometimes spend days lying in bed with watery eyes and ringing in my ears. Any energy I had left, went to my boys.
I soon began noticing red patches forming on my face.
When prescription and over-the-counter drugs weren’t working, I began researching alternative therapies in the hope of finding a solution.
I went off caffeine, dairy, alcohol, gluten and sugar.
I even tried out the GAPS diet – a food and psychology program to naturally treat chronic inflammation of the gut.
However, just two months later, the redness got worse and became hot.
‘It feels like I have tiny spiders crawling under my skin,’ I told my doctor.
Using a cream prescribed for rosacea, the rash would return 10 times worse!
Researching, I thought it could be lupus, an autoimmune condition.
Thankfully, tests for that came back negative, but I was at an all-time low.
‘It feels like I have tiny spiders crawling under my skin'
By the summer of 2019, I mostly stayed indoors at home.
And when I did take the kids to the beach, people made comments about how sunburnt I looked.
‘We’ll find an answer,’ Phil reassured me.
Then my friend Jane had a suggestion.
‘You should see the environmental nutrition doctor in Mona Vale,’ she advised me.
Desperate, I booked an appointment the next day.
‘That looks like a rash from mould,’ the doctor said, before I’d even sat down.
‘I don’t have mould,’ I replied.
‘Well, do you have a musty smell?’ he asked.
While opening the windows helped, the apartment did have a slight smell.
He set me up for tests and suggested I move out.
‘But we love the apartment,’ I said.
‘I’ll see you in hospital in a week, then,’ he warned me.
While we were looking for a new place to live, I got up to go to the bathroom one night and collapsed.
‘Amy!’ Phil panicked, rushing me to hospital.
There, doctors confirmed I had pneumonia and chronic inflammatory response syndrome (CIRS), which is commonly caused by mould.
When my inflammatory levels finally lowered a week later, I was discharged.
Meanwhile, at home, Phil decided to check the air vents with a torch.
Shocked, he discovered black, green and white mould.
The place I’d spent all my time recovering from illnesses, was what had been poisoning me all along!
‘That’s it, it’s time to move,’ I said.
‘That’s it, it’s time to move'
My mum, my friend Anna, and my sister Michelle helped us pack, as I was so weak, and we found another rental nearby.
I checked the place for visible mould and any musty odours before we moved in.
As time passed, I slowly detoxed and felt healthier.
Within six months, my asthma, brain fog, and chronic fatigue began to ease.
Although I still had issues with my skin, I started to feel like my old self again.
By September, I’d quit my job and decided to study building biology, to better understand contamination and health hazards in buildings.
I learned that the mould in our vents had likely landed on the carpet, then seeped into everything when we’d vacuumed or walked across it.
In February, 2022, I became a qualified mould testing technician, and started up my business – Beaches Building Biology.
Now, I inspect all kinds of buildings for damage, water marks, leaks and smells, and look at how mould can travel through a building in the air vents.
It’s such an interesting and rewarding job, and no two buildings are ever the same.
I hope that I can help others before it’s too late.