Petition On A Mission

I realize not everyone receives the updates sent out on the status of the petition from change.org, so this is a basic copy and paste of that update with a few additions so we’re all in the know. It shares  the latest action we took and where things stand as of today.

I’ve been effectively in and out of a crash, and trying to manage pain that seems to have surpassed manageability. This has made it difficult to be the sort of advocate that executes all my ideas, completes so many goals, and more simply, publishes all the writing I do but bury in miscellaneous places.  I will be better at posting here like I used to do. Apologies for going AWOL a while. I suppose that’s another matter altogether. ANYway…

***

The box was too big for Matt’s car, so we assumed my moms car would suffice: a larger mid-size sedan. Still the corners jammed against the dashboard and window panels. The trunk? No, the trunk would not contain it either. So finally we had to put it in the bed of my step-dads old Toyota truck. I say ‘we’ but who am I kidding? Matt did all the literal heavy lifting. I actually took a photo by accident that perfectly depicts this point.

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On the way to Kinko’s, storm clouds of a distinctly Southern nature darkened and began thickening across half of the sky. A small part of me worried it’d start to rain and the box would get wet. But a bigger part of me felt more alive and hopeful than I’d felt in a while. Finally this thing was happening. But let me backtrack.

On Friday morning, (Sept 14th), I sat at my type writer fuzzy-headed after a crappy night of painsomnia and two hours sleep. But I was determined to finish this letter and write the words I felt Francis Collins would ultimately read. Something about that day, despite my feeling like a rotting banana, told me this long-ago set goal needed to happen without further delay. Time for that damn ginormous box that’s turned into a veritable piece of my living room furniture to finally leave. Time to begin the vital journey to its’ intended recipient in Bethesda, Maryland. (The NIH) (Francis Collins) (You get it)

This all took much longer than anticipated– to finish this part of the project. We printed the rest of the accumulated signatures since hitting 50,000. (!)  Printed the hundreds of pages of public comments left on the feedback page. Painstakingly blacked out all personal information on the 350+ prescription bottles I’d be using in lieu of packing peanuts. We’d completed everything but the personal letter to Collins I wanted to go on top of everything, Should he see or look through none of the rest of it, my hope was he would at least read a letter. A last attempt, if you will.

It was so hard to know which route to take in writing to him–what angle would really reach the guy. So many ideas had swirled through my head for weeks every time I laid down and stared at the ceiling, a hundred different drafts sat waiting inside me. I had to trust that the right words would emerge that day.  So I sat at my desk and banged at the keys of my typewriter. Intuition told me it might speak to him in a more immediate way for some reason. By the end it looked like a telegram to the president in the 40’s on the status of the war. (Not so far off, hardy har.)

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My healthy ally, close friend, and now fellow ME/CFS advocate Matt, told me a week earlier he’d also written a letter. We could include it if I wanted to. When I read it and saw how incredible it was–saw the effectiveness and resonance of words from someone watching this disease from the outside, I knew it needed to be included too.

Anyway, it was time to finish this last part of the job. When it was done, I began to pack the last of everything.

***

The box was filled with two tall stacks of paper on the bottom, comprising more than 2,300 pages of printed names. That’s what 51,000 signatures of support looks like. Cushioning and surrounding those bricks of names were the hundreds of empty pill bottles. (We don’t have recycling in my parish so I mean, why not?)  On top of the orange plastic ocean sat a brown box, just about the size of a Life cereal box. Inside were nearly 500 pages of your words–everyone that signed who had something to say. Voices of support for change, personal stories, loved ones stories, people sick for decades still holding out hope, and people sick at the end of their rope.

I was surprised how poignant and succinct so many of these messages were. These were the voices our government needed to see and hear (an ongoing need), so that box of papers went on top. Then of course, our letters.

The point is, we did it. We all did it. We came together and hit more than 50,000 signatures. People spoke up. The pill bottles piled up. Letters written, stories shared. Everything made it’s way into that box. And on Friday the whole kit and caboodle was taped up, sitting in the bed of a truck to Kinko’s, about to begin it’s travels to NIH. I kept looking out of the back window at it, as if it were a dog we were bringing to a farm for a better suited family to adopt.

At Kinko’s, a mostly disinterested, monotoned man asked us the typical questions and entered my uncertain answers into the computer. I was told to double check the info before hitting “accept.” National Institute of Health, Office of the Director. It felt dreamlike. I forget this man actually exists. Accept. And just like that, all that work, all our voices–in a box and carried with a grunt over to “outgoing.” Not without a picture first, of course.

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This mission so far has been possible because of the digital world we live in. Undoubtedly, none of it could be achieved without the accessibility and capability to assemble provided by the Internet and social media. For that, I am so grateful to live in the age we do.

But by putting this work onto actual paper made this crisis and our words come to life. I am one of the “millions missing”, and yet sometimes I have to remind myself my life isn’t normal. We can just do so much better, and the simple act of printing out each of your names made this reality, this need for change take on a visceral urgency in a way that names and numbers on a glowing screen can’t always do.

This was one of my major intentions in sending a box with everything printed. I wanted something people at the NIH could feel the literal weight of, could touch and hold. Something concrete they could carry with their hands. They’d be able to see what thousands of names demanding change looked like, and read our actual stories on paper. Holding our voices and stories and pleas for help in his hands, maybe Collins and those at the NIH might realize our fate is in their hands, too. They have the power to fix it. This is so much more than just a box of names.

My other point in all of this was to disrupt in a way that was not easily ignored. I wanted to get our truth and demands and personal messages delivered in an unconventional way–one that for instance, couldn’t be sent to spam. So thank you for providing me with material to disrupt with. A 24 x 24 box weighing in at just under 50 lbs should at least spark some curiosity on their end. So long as someone opens that box, I think something important is going to transpire.

I want you all to know, I realize this mission is far from over. The petition will stay open and running for as long possible. Sending this obnoxiously sized box with the things it contained was just one attempt at reaching the NIH. It’s certainly not the last, and I realize it may not work. But to really try always involves taking a risk. If this doesn’t work as intended, I can’t see it as a failure. It will only make me try harder.

So. 48.8 pounds. $100. And a lot of hope and prayers this box reaches the target. Thank you to my healthy ally Matt, for doing so much heavy lifting in all this. And thank YOU, if you’re still reading. For signing, sharing, speaking up, and helping demand change. It’s because of you we have something concrete to disrupt with. My gratitude is immense.

Out of everything, we cannot underestimate the power of our voices in this fight, and I intend for this petition to stay open as one channel where we can come together and say what needs saying. Thank you all who have spoken up and continue to. Thank you for making all of this possible.

Health, Happiness, O’ Little Town Of Bethesda

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Cutting Down Trees Won’t Stop the Wind

77969e290ad545088eeb06c11ef0ce88When I was little, I thought wind was created by trees. I watched the branches bend and break sometimes, as I felt the currents move over and past me, blowing my hair around like I was a passenger in a convertible. A very strong force, what those trees could do. It wasn’t so long before I learned that wind existed in the desert. Whoopse. Naturally I then learned about currents and the true science of wind. Trees were indicators that it was windy, but were themselves were not creators of the wind. Duh.

So, how does this tie into the thinking around a disease I have? And secondly, why am I always writing about this damn disease?! So boring, Mary. But hey, this is my notebook after all. But mostly because there remains a lot of thinking to be done around this subject. The public’s view in this case matters, particularly the medical establishments. *Inconsequential anecdote, it’s very windy out here! It’s also really hot and I’d rather write indoors, but Monty made me come outside. In this case, the wind helps.

So, imagine for a moment that wind is a disease. It’s not so hard to do—sometimes you can feel it wholly, you can watch the effects of its existence in past and present form, you can even predict it to an extent, but is of course itself, invisible. That’s the start.

A powerful and controlling school of thought pervades many minds surrounding this disease; it confuses the behavior of trees as the cause of wind. Or it says that the reaction of trees to this wind is maintaining the wind itself. In other words, doctors—mostly psychiatrists, a lot of them British—are thinking the way I did when I was four. OK six. You get the idea. 

This dominant school of thought looks at the symptoms of this wind, some of which can be quantified through tests, some of which are subjective (self-reported) in the absence of diagnostic material and a lack of conventional biomarkers, and a lot of it hiding in plain sight somewhere, yet to be found. We’re getting closer, but that’s beside the point. 

Instead of seeing tree branches swaying violently as an effect of wind moving through them, this school of thought sees the behavior of trees as having something to do with the cause or sustaining of it. A common case of conflating cause and effect. Hence, their idea is to cut off the branches. Or in other cases, to just chop the tree down. So they do it. They take a chainsaw and remove the branches, one by one, and then stand outside next to the stripped down, naked tree, or in more unfortunate cases, the mere stump that remains. Outside, what happens? A blustery wind snakes up through the air, kicking up the leaves around their feet then letting them settle, blows their hair around the way a roller coaster does. Sometimes it makes a haunting, high-pitched howl. Still unseen, there’s no disagreement that the wind is making a nearly aggressive presence. In spite of all that chopping! Other times it arrives as a gentle breeze. In any case, they witness the wind despite their efforts. And for the little value it’s worth, the tree stumps says “Just an FYI, I um, I can still feel the wind.” The tree stump is generally ignored and a bird then craps on it. 

But they try other versions. They tell the tree stump to quiet his thoughts, imagine no wind is blowing. Or accept the wind, and live life as he always did as a tree…with branches…and leaves, despite not having those things anymore. He’s been reduced to a tumbleeed and being asked to live as a 30-year-old flourishing Live Oak. In spite of feeling like a tumbleweed, he attempts to live outside in the wind. He’s told to go slow, be cautious. But it doesn’t go well.

The wind blows on, the psychiatrists scratch their heads. They go back to the drawing board. Cutting off the branches, chopping down the tree, and still these powerful gusts of wind! It’s hard for them to wrap their heads around, and they’re not the only ones. This is a complex wind with a lot of strange behavior and variables. Particularly, standing in the middle of the desert where a wild wind blows, so forceful it’s difficult just to walk, none of it seems to add up.

Frustrating as a disproven hypothesis can be, it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s still an answer. A real scientist knows you go back to the drawing board despite you’re hypothesis being “wrong” or “right”, or more accurately, true or not true. You don’t throw it out, but by ruling out one idea, you make more room for the true one to emerge, right? It’s all useful information. Knowing what works and what doesn’t. For instance, Well my humble colleagues, it would appear the behavior of wind is not based on the behavior of trees. Let’s look into one of a thousand other ideas we have. It would seem that’s how progressive science would go. 

But…

Alas…

No.

Back at the drawing board, they can’t give up the ghost. They’re stuck on the idea that trees either make the wind or maintain it somehow. They’re convinced that stripping the trees, changing the trees thoughts, encouraging the tree to do things he’s hardly capable of, even if just slowly at first, will eventually make the wind stop. In the meantime, forrest are demolished, the wind blows on.

Hopefully, one day, this school of thought will be carried away like a fine dust caught up in a large gust of wind and patients with MECFS won’t be subjected to it again. Like in Aladdin when he drop kicks the magic lamp containing the evil genie into some other universe. It’s not that what they’ve found can’t help the people with this disease. Every finding is useful in it’s own way. But something like psychotherapy being touted as a treatment for this disease is as effective as cutting down forests in expectation of the wind to stop. It won’t. The studies that say they have are chock-full of issues, and the patients speak for themselves, if we’ll listen. Typically ruling out one theory means pursuit of another. It also means letting go, if you’re really seeking answers and aren’t attached to outcome. 

This BPS model has dominated the whole scene: the narrative helped shape the media coverage (and vice versa) that CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and GET (Graduated Exercise Therapy) were helpful treatments for those with MECFS.  It informed policies and advocated for “treatments” that don’t work, for a disease causing immeasurable harm to millions of people. And yet, they can’t let it go, convinced somehow, if we trim the branches like this or hack off the top like that, eventually this will work! If we continue to pursue this idea some perfect way, eliminating the tree will eradicate this wind. It won’t. They have worked this idea to death.

Specialists of this specific wind will tell you, will show you, that’s not going to work, because the wind is due to underlying geological processes. The people, the TREES, having their lives destroyed will tell you the same thing, but their voices won’t be heard as loud or clearly. Doubt has muffled their voices for decades. As such, there has been a lot of loss.

Like Peter Paul and Mary Sang:

The aaaanswer my friend,
Is blowin’ in the wind,
So pleeeease stop
Decapitating treeeeees

Very slowly, this historically dominant narrative is finally starting to change, despite opposition, which has doubled down on their bet that CBT and GET are actual treatments and helpful for sufferers. They will disagree with what I’ve written here, but that is nothing new. The BPS model, (biopsychosocial model) has reigned long past what it’s warranted, but in an historical absence of biomedical research and answers, it’s been easy for that to happen. We know better now, we know so much more, thus it’s far time we let that model go concerning MECFS. And for the sake of sufferers everywhere, we definitely don’t tout it as a treatment, when we know that this “treatment” can and has made patients worse. For many the damage has been irreparable. 

We are getting closer and closer to real answers, thanks in particular to organizations like the Open Medicine Foundation and the handful of specialists who’ve dived deep into the heart of this disease. But this organization runs off the charity of the public. I’ve said it time and again, but real scientists and doctors working as hard as they are, shouldn’t have to protest on the weekend so they can get their work done throughout the week. This is the whole reason for institutes like the NIH, which the public already pays for. 

The paradigm is shifting and I’m grateful for that. But charity alone is not going to pay for what is needed in the way of biomedical science. When you continue to pursue a model that’s collapsing in on itself, that’s half of how you’re harming sick people—by taking away already scarce resources that could be allocated toward research that has an actual chance of providing answers, and putting them toward a method that’s already yielded results. Those results aren’t the answer here, but there is one. There many be many. Answers lead to treatments, and hopefully, eventually, one day a cure. We need resources to go there.

I believe that will happen. I can only hope in the meantime that we hear and validate patient voices, recognize more humbly what hasn’t worked, and that we use past research to lead us in a new direction of what will.

Health, Happiness, Save the Trees 

 

**Please add your voice to the petition if you haven’t, especially if you’re an MECFS patient. Your story is important. We’re very close to 49,000 signatures …Good stuff yall, good stuff. THANK YOU.

https://www.change.org/p/increase-research-funding-for-me-cfs

Me Vs. Myself In My Own Campaign

I have to admit something that feels a little shameful, and since this blog seems to inspire little dignity in me and zero reverence I’ll go ahead and do it.

Lately I’ve felt a schism crack inside of me. I don’t know what it is, a Campaigner and a Skeptic. I’ve been advocating these last two months since I began the petition asking the NIH for an increase in funding for M.E. I can’t tell you how tired I am of just writing that sentence, and probably if you’ve kept up reading this, your eyes just glazed over. And then I feel bad about feeling exhausted by it. I believe deeply in the campaign and I want more than anything for it to do what it set out to, which is actually to change things in a quantifiable way. This whole thing has been fronted by social media, so I’ve spent hours posting it on every forum, every ME/CFS Facebook page, (of which it turns out there are like 4,000), tweeting to the same groups and other organizations I’d only just discovered,  and any and everyone involved in the CFS community, including celebrities who I’d read had the disease. This includes Sinead O’Connor and Olympic Soccer Athlete Michele Akers, but I didn’t hear back from either. I thought about singing a version of “Nothing Compares” to Sinead but rewriting it with lyrics that explained the issue and pleaded for higher funding. But I never did it. I head Glen Beck has ME, but I’m just not going there. I just…I can’t.

I did actually write a song, a two chord song on the guitar, so far titled “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” but we’ll get to that later. Similarly I’ve been sending emails to both friends and strangers, asking them to do something. But doing this day after day can start to feel..a little desperate. Sometimes I didn’t like myself. It feels like I’m asking all these people to do something for me, people I don’t even know. But I’ve had to constantly remind myself, when I start to feel like some kind of annoying car salesmen with poor boundaries, this isn’t really for me, but for something so much greater. It always has been. One look at the comments page of the petition and it’s so clear that we need help, and we’ve needed it for a long time. So if I’m gonna go for it, I need to go for it. STOP BEING A PANSY, in other words.

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Pansies are quite beautiful it’s a shame they’re synonymous with WIMP

Despite many people and organizations reading my story for the first time, I find myself rolling my eyes at my own account. And I think God, what’s wrong with me? Where’s my pride for this fight? I have to remind myself that this has been a 30 year injustice that started before me, and I am just trying to help fix it. And then I find myself even struggling with that word. Is this really an injustice? And I realize when I ask that, it’s coming from a failure of perspective. The insecurity considering my own experience with this illness, and my sense of normal, which is inside out and backwards. Even though being sick has been the hardest battle of my life, I still look around at things and think “But I’m OK.” Sick or not, I can find ways to make it all work. I have so many people and so much love behind me that I know I’ll be OK. But there are 2 obvious flaws in that thinking. To begin with, when I really break it down, I think

Mary, you’re living in your parents pool house. You aren’t able to work anymore. Sometimes weeks go by without leaving the house or seeing anyone even close to your age. You live in a town you have no connection to except for the pharmacy and three doctors. You hang out with your parents A LOT. Last week your own mother washed your hair for you in the bath because you were too weak to do it. And showers, let’s not even talk about showers. The point isn’t that my life not being normal is the problem, it’s that I’ve become so accustomed to what the illness has done with my version of normal. I forget, this is actually kind of a huge mess that I’m just living out as best I can, one day at a time. I don’t plan things, I can’t keep them. Somewhere, I sense a clock is ticking. It can’t last this way for long, right? And if it does, would I be OK with a life like that?

So is this an injustice? Yes. Read everything that’s happened with this illness pertaining to the CDC, HHS, and the NIH over the last thirty years, and it would be hard to call it anything else. Just because I’m surviving and ‘OK’ doesn’t say anything about the millions who aren’t.

And that brings up the second flaw in my perspective: I am not nearly as sick as so many others who have this disease. There is a scale to the illness in terms of intensity. A portion can function partially, but it’s hard to call those who are at the other end of the scale “sick.” Their bodies are shutting down. Confined to one room, unable to talk or tolerate sound, eating through a tube. Would we call that living? So many people have been sick for decades, their husbands or wives gone because life with this disease hugely impacts relationships. Some can’t understand it or even really believe it. One woman told me her husband divorced her because, he said, “I can’t watch you slowly die anymore.” People, especially husbands, hate feeling like there’s nothing to do for it, no way to help. And at this point, that’s basically where we are. You’re lucky to find a doctor who knows much about it. All of this reminds me; sure, you can make lemonade out of lemons, but there is a far deeper issue at play here, and it’s been slowly building into what is now a health crisis. It’s like the equivalent of the Velvet Revolution- a calm, quiet crisis. It’s gone on gently behind the scenes, behind the noise of other major news, of more important health issues, diseases with names that don’t make a person stop and hesitate whether it’s “real” or not. So I have to remind myself, this is beyond lemonade, and this fight reaches for things far beyond me. This is for the thousands of people who are far and away worse than me, who can’t fight for the change that has long been needed. “Sick” is such an understated way to describe them. “Slowly dying” is more accurate, just like the woman said.

So, I need to stop feeling apologetic for fighting for this change. Yeah, it’s probably annoying on Facebook News Feeds, but I’ve seen my share of weird engagement albums of couples in urban settings, and political rants and pictures of peoples lives that are awesome that make me feel incredibly small and boring. So, I guess it’s OK to annoy with a petition for a while. It doesn’t mean I have to become a full-time advocate, but I need to see this thing through to the end, and getting petition signatures is really only phase 1. I need to participate (at least virtually) in the protests this week, because it matters to me, and I don’t know why I feel like I should keep it a secret that it does. The real work might just be beginning–getting the big dogs on the phone, and in person, and making the case. I will say, I feel more far more confident reaching out to these people with 33,000 signatures behind the request. Printed out, that’s over 1,500 hundred pages of names. That’s impact! And that’s what I was looking for. So Thank You, all of you. A petition doesn’t work unless the people sign. The next phase will be interesting and could take a while. But, as always, I will keep you posted.

I see big change up ahead. Monty too.

Health, Happiness, Justice

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”            -The man, Barack

You Know What To Do

(Or if you don’t, it’s Signing this petition..that’s what you’re supposed to do..just in case there is any misunderstanding there. OK then..)

Friends, Families, Duders,

This is one of the most important posts I’ve published here, and I need your help. It’s been a very sick winter/spring for me and I’ve worked hard to try and stay positive, maintain hope, and keep from getting overly discouraged. I don’t always succeed in this, but I try my hardest and I have a lot of reinforcements: my dog, family, loving friends, and funny internet videos that truly sometimes help shift me into a lighter shade of blues. I found that one another way for me to maintain hope and stay positive about my life is to at least try and influence change in regards to how this disease is treated, both socially and federally. Things have already begun to change in a few ways in just the last few years, and I have always held onto the hope that I will see a cure within my lifetime.

Yesterday was particularly hard for some reason. Physically things have been roigh, but emotionally I was really feeling it– all of it. Sad, mad, hopeless and discouraged. My phone rang and it was my sister calling, but I didn’t feel I could even get it together enough to pick up the phone and say that sinply, I was a mess. So I texted it instead and after going back and forth a while, I decided there Was this one thing I could, something I’d been putting off for various reasons, none very good, that could help pull myself out of that dark hole, and that was to invest myself into a cause that may have the possibility of producing real change, of making a vital impact on CFS/ME. I think and pray often that other people will do things and enact change and that I will eventually reap the benefits from them. But that’s a somewhat limited hope. And it leaves all the possibility and power out of my hands, when the truth is we all have the means to effect change (even be it extremely small) if we believe in it and work hard enough. That’s what inspired the campaign I wrote using the platform change.org, which helps deliver our message in a very efficient way. I like that it gives a chance for all our voices to be heard, bed-ridden or not, and only requires a few seconds and click of your mouse t have it be heard.  It’s a great alternative in lieu of a “March for CFS Awareness and Funding!” I think we all know how that would turn out…

We’d start out like “Yeah!!! Race for the Cure!! Screw CFS!!!

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Let’s Run and Raise Some Money People!
But then in a matter of, oh I don’t know, 5 minutes..the scene would inevitably change.

So, since a “Race for the Cure” is not exactly in the realm of possibility for a lot of us, but access to the power of the Internet is, I know that this is a great option for us. We’ve just got to acquire as many signatures as possible. Signing this campaign, which asks the NIH for a larger chunk of money to be allocated toward CFS/ME research, is a way to get this message across quickly and with bigger impact. I also like this methodology, because each time someone signs the petition, an email will be sent to the Head of the NIH and the Secretary of Health and Human Resources, and these are the people who have huge influence on how this disease is treated at the CDC–in particular how much money is dedicated to its research. This is our chance guys, so please please please, sign the petition and share it if you’re feeling extra awesome. I have copy and pasted the campaign here so you can read it, but you’ll need to click the link at the bottom of the page in order to sign it. That’s all it takes, the click of a button.

I thank you all in advance for taking part in this, and I truly believe if we circulate it in a wide enough circle, we can influence some major, desperately needed change. But we have to act. So sign it! Then get back to dicking around on the internet. I mean working, or whatever you’re up to. OK, here it is.

Petitioning Director of NIH Francis Collins and 1 other

Demand Increase Of Research Funding To Help Cure “Invisible Disease”

All I want to do is take a bath.

Before I became sick, that wouldn’t be so hard. Now walking is hard. Standing is hard. Some days, I don’t leave the bed and weeks can go by without my leaving the house. I call in sick to doctors appointments and take between 25 to 30 pills a day just to manage my symptoms, but they do not help the disease. I am 31, and I wasn’t always this way.

My heart is heavy knowing that roughly 3 million other people in our country are suffering from this same disease: Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. ME/CFS is a complex, multi-systemic illness that causes a lot of pain and disabling symptoms, specifically severe weakness and crippling fatigue brought on by even minor exertions–taking a shower, walking to the mailbox, or vacuuming the living room can land you in bed for days. There are currently no FDA-approved treatments and no cure, so we are left fighting this crippling disease in the dark. I was diagnosed with this illness at age 9, a happy gymnast at the time, at which point very little was understood about it and we were left with few options. I slowly regained much of my strength but at age 26 I suffered a severe relapse, could no longer work or take care of myself and had to move in with my parents. Despite twenty years having passed since my initial diagnosis, there are still no FDA-approved treatments and no cure. How could that be?

In a word: interest. In a bigger word: money. For more than a decade, ME/CFS has lingered near the bottom of the Allocated Funds list at the Center for Disease Control, never acquiring more than $6 million annually for research. This may sound like a substantial amount, but to provide some context, Male Pattern Baldness receives $12 million a year, so it’s easy to see that our meek amount is on account of low priority, not the result of insufficient funds. This is why I am asking the director of the NIH and the Secretary of Health and Human Resources to increase the funding allotted to the CDC to $100 million per year to research this devastating disease, so that the millions of people afflicted by it who’ve lost their jobs, families, and overall livelihood might finally have a chance at a healthy life again. Whether the lack of action originated from the stigma of the inaccurate, alternate name it was given in the 80’s, (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) or the fact that it effects mostly women, I don’t know or care anymore. All I know is that we’ve waited and suffered long enough. It’s a time to come together and solve this health crisis, and I know that we are capable.

There is no better time for these agencies to step in and deliver on what’s been promised. The NIH received a $2 billion dollar budget increase this year, and two independent reports from the Institute of Medicine and the Pathways to Prevention have emerged recently calling for An urgent increase in research funding for ME/CFS, both noting how dire and overdue this situation is.

Governing agencies have always played a huge role in how diseases find treatments and cures. Similar illnesses like MS and Lupus are allotted $100 million each, per year, and collectively they effect less people. Due to these higher funding amounts, both illnesses have diverse and far more effective treatment options under their belt. This is how it’s supposed to work, and I know the current SHHR and director of the NIH are the right people to step in and change the game. We can do better, and so we should start now.

I used to have a pretty outgoing life. I was able to travel in college, fall in love, live in France, enjoy SEC Football, and graduate. Now most of my days are sedentary,  spending a lot of my time in bed with my dog and best friend Monty (see photo)– reading, writing, or sleeping. Sometimes it feels like life is passing me by right outside the window. Truthfully I am lucky when compared to the many people who are sick with ME/CFS and don’t have the help or resources that I do. I especially write this campaign with those extremely ill people in mind–too sick to have their voices heard and suffering alone. The point in all this is that it doesn’t have to be this way. This is something we can change. The country loses billions every year in lost productivity due to this illness alone, and so many of us would want nothing more than to enter the workforce again, if we could only take a shower without having to spend the next whole day in bed recovering.

Please help keep the promise of bringing this invisible disease into the light and dedicating the much deserved attention and funding to it that it’s lacked for all these decades. By signing you will help give millions of sick people hope that they are not forgotten, and show our governing institutions that we trust in them to step in and follow through with improving the health of millions of people, many who are desperately sick. I know with the proper resources, this is something we can treat and ultimately solve. Please sign and share this petition. We can do better, and the time to start is right now.

Thank you.

Mary C Gelpi (and Monty)

#WeCanDoBetter

Click Here to Sign

 

This petition will be delivered to:
  • Director of NIH
    Francis Collins
  • Secretary of Health and Human Services
    Sylvia Burwell

Click here to sign the petition, and copy and paste the address below to share it any way you want.

https://www.change.org/p/ask-nih-for-increase-in-funding-to-help-cure-invisible-disease

Again, thank you. #WeCanDoBetter. So let’s do it.

Health, Happiness, CHANGE

We Can Do Better.

I noticed an article in The New York Times recently titled “World Health Organization Urges More Care In Naming Diseases.” In early May, the WHO issued new guidelines for naming infectious diseases in an attempt to avoid damaging inaccuracies and stigmas that often the name alone can cause. They emphasized caution and symptomatic detail when choosing one; no animal names like ‘Swine Flu’ or peoples names like ‘Lou Gerrigs Disease.’ The new guidelines are a proactive attempt to prevent “Unintended negative impacts by stigmatizing certain communities or economic sectors.” They also mentioned that “The best practices apply to new infections…for which there is no disease name in common usage.”

Of course I read the article expecting to see CFS as a prime example of how damaging the effects can be from a poorly named disease. When Myalgic Encephalomyelitis was renamed “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” in the early 80’s, it solidified an environment of dismissiveness, doubt, and critcism. A new stage was set: everything from the publics skepticism to the medical establishments cold shoulder were put into place, and little has changed in 30 years. Now if you had the misfortune of being sick with this disease, you were going to have two battles to fight.

I don’t just hesitate to say those three words out loud, I feel anxiety about it. Sometimes in doctors offices, I feel shameful saying it out loud, as if I’m confessing to how many packs of cigarettes I actually smoke each day. When I’m forced to say it, I swear I can hear any perceived validation deflate out of the room like a popped, zigzagging balloon. The words don’t hold any water on their own; they necessitate explanation that ends up sounding like defense. The words “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” are not only misleading and insultingly trivial, they sound like a hypochondriacs failed attempt at making “tired” sound serious. And that seems to be the general consensus–that this is a “disease” where people simply feel sleepy all the time. Sleepy is for kittens and babies, and the primary symptoms of this are far, far beyond the bone crushing fatigue we experience. But this is the problem with labels, namely inaccurate ones. There is damage in what the words imply and even more from what they fail to say.

Here’s an example. A few months ago, the Institute of Medicine released a 600 page report devoted wholly to examining and better understanding CFS/ME. The committee not only provided new diagnostics guidelines and better disease management, it acknowledged the severity of the disease and put to rest the idea that it is at all psychological. Surprising many, they acknowledged the issues stemming from the name CFS and suggested a new one: Systemic Exertional Intolerance Disease. (SEIDS) It doesn’t exactly slide off the tongue, but it does finally address a discerning symptom of ME, which is the adverse reaction, down to a cellular level, to even mild exertion. This is far different than general fatigue. An exhaustive study like this one from an Institue with no previous involvement with the disease is a huge step in the right direction. The validation it provided for many sufferers was big, and the recognition of the staggering lack of science and funds to support it will presumeably apply more pressure at the federal level for a major increase.

I happened to read about the IOM’s report and name suggestion from NPR News, which I follow on Facebook. When I saw the hundreds of comments underneath the article I decided to look, and they weren’t anything out of the ordinary. Out of hundreds of responses, most of them were like this:

.
Thanks, Steph. I’m cured!!!!
.
Totally! It’s like I’ve never met anyone with Diabetes who can eat copious amounts of sugar. It’s obviously bullshit!
Em, you don't have this.  -Mary
Em, you don’t have this.
-Mary
.
This person actually doesn’t believe in Carpal Tunnel so I don’t know where to go from here.
NOPE!
Hi Brianna, NOPE!

I know it’s a leap to project the reactions of a few Facebook commenters onto the general public. But in this case, these attitudes are not at all the exception. They represent a ubiquitous perspective most people have, whether online or in person. And maybe it’s redundant to say, but this is simply not a normal response to sick people. It just isn’t. It’s easy to see why sufferers hesitate to say the name out loud at all. Look at the environment we’d be entering into.

So, is this of any consequence? Does it really matter that the general public understand a disease? Not really, besides the demoralizing and crappy way it makes already sick people feel, no, it doesn’t. These people aren’t doctors, (most of them) and so who cares really? Besides basic human kindness, is this of any real concern?

The thing is, yes, I think so. Namely because this attitude pervades more than an uninformed public. This lack of concern, eye roll response travels all the way up to the federal level. Or maybe it trickles down from it. It’s hard to say anymore. Irregardless,  by now the two are in some osmotic relationship– One fueling and informing the other. And when this is the attitude at a federal level, the effects are far more detrimental and consequential. $5 million allocated toward research for the last five years from the NIH is a detrimental effect. No cause, no cure, and zero FDA approved treatments are all the result of a disease not getting the attention it requires. Ironically, people who are sick with this don’t want attention at all. They just want to get better so they can have their lives back. But the shot at finding a cure relies heavily on the desire to find one and fund the science for it. When the perception of it is so casual and misinformed, it contributes to negligence– it prevents that possibility of a cure the way it has for the last quarter century.

I can’t help but wonder if the same outrage would exist from people if the disease went by its original name: Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. Would people scowl at its existence and call someone with the diagnosis a lazy-ass complainer who just needs to eat better? Would they judge them for being too sick to work? No, because those responses are not to a disease called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. They are responses to feeling fatigued; one is fire cracker, the other is an atomic bomb. I realize all of this may seem a little petty. It’s just a name and there are bigger fish to fry when it comes to this illness. But I cannot help but wonder if what’s fueling the size of those fish is at the core, a simple misfortune of a name. It’s crazy to think that a label could do such harm or have such far reaching effects, but I don’t doubt it in this case. The evidence is right there, in this abnormal anger healthy people have against sick people as if they’ve chosen to be sick.

The point is not to harbor on issues I cannot change and I know that. Forward is the only direction now. But there’s such a lesson here in accepting things at face value and the harm it can do when we trust that we know better, before knowing much at all. It’s not just a poor social stigma we’re dealing with. It’s having a totally debilitating disease which costs the country roughly $18 billion a year in lost productivity, and the lowered chance we have at getting better because it just doesn’t appear or sound serious enough. This is where labels have much larger implications than just confrontational dialogue and ousting sick people. It’s bigger than that.

It makes me think of the way I perceive things and other people in my own life. How easily I make up my mind sometimes, one way or the other, about all kinds of things. I think of hearing or reading about issues and people and how fast and automatic a decision or feeling arises inside me. Sometimes I’m proud, thinking I know better about something, even when I hardly know that much at all. I think, if I never would have gotten sick when I was nine, were I still a healthy, functioning person 30-year-old, quick thinking and totally capable, and I heard of a “disease” called “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome,” what conclusion would my mind jump to? What feeling would I get? If all I had to go on were those three words, given that I wasn’t a doctor or otherwise well-versed in diseases, what would that label say to me? That name in its own twisted way, appears to say everything, enough for people to hold up their hands and say “I’ve heard enough, thank you.” Enough to feel decidedly one way or another without hesitation. Quick decisions and judgments like that do harm for all kinds of people with respect to all kinds of issues. I think we can learn from this one, and do better in the future across the board when it comes to making up our minds but remaining strictly at the surface.

Illness is not something to undergo alone, and anyone who has experienced it long-term will tell you that. When people email me about their families dismissing them, doctors referring them to psychiatrists, or marriages that crumble because someone is suffering from a disease with so few options and a world that just doesn’t quite “buy” it, I feel angry and discouraged. Mostly because I believe in the good-heartedness of people and I know we’re better than this. We can do better. Turning your back on someone who is sick is more than insult to injury. It causes its own tragic pain, separate and worse than the physical kind. It’s a new kind of loneliness, in a time you need people the most. After twenty years of being sick, the last five being the sickest, the hardest and most demoralizing part is battling something that so invisible to everyone else, all the while your whole world is crumbling.

The truth is even though it’s still massively lacking, there is more research than ever going on, and thanks to recent reports like the IOM’s and the Pathways to Prevention, pressure is building to invest more into solving this thing. My hope is that in the meantime people will be at least a little diligent before ousting an entire population of sick people as hacks. I hope if you’ve got major beef with the illness, you haven’t just heard the name and stopped there. To learn more about it, Cortjohnson.com is a great resource with vast information, including current and future studies and well-written dictations about their meanings.  To those who are sick and discouraged, I hope you’ll read this and have faith that you’re not alone and that the answers will come. Progress is slow but it’s moving. Until then, please don’t lose hope. Worse than being sick is the thought that our life is over if we never get better. There is value to gain in all of these experiences, whether you’re sick defending yourself or dealing with someone who’s sick with something you don’t understand. But try and remember we’re all brothers and sisters here. We need each other. Maybe the history and politics of this disease hasn’t been our kindest hour, but we can still turn it around, even if it’s one less person casting judgment or turning someone away. As is the case with all social change, it always begins with one. We can all do better, and I’ve never lost hope that our future will be far brighter than our past.

Labels and categorizing are important, they exist for a reason. But in the case of CFS, and the WHO’s new guidelines for naming disease with caution, help exemplify the power and possible harm of labels. They must be chosen wisely. The  CFS label was not, and it did an injustice to millions of disabled people. But it doesn’t have to stay that way. And despite how long and twisted the history is, it’s not ever too late to turn it around. Slowly but surely, I believe that change has begun and we’re on the cusp of something major. Despite my bad days, I believe in the awesomeness of humankind. We can do better. So let’s begin doing it now.

Health, Happiness, Better.

A Sick Kid With Some Questions; The Scandal Behind Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

It is midnight and I just finished taking a bath. I experienced a really bad crash a few days ago and spent the last two days in bed waiting it out. I am unsure what caused this most recent crash. I have been taking it very easy here but something zapped. A fuse blew. Bye bye Mary. The bath I just took was the first one I’ve taken in four days. I know that this is disgusting. I am someone who prefers to shower everyday, do my hair and makeup everyday, and wear clothes that are coordinated like the commercials tell me; transitional outfits from day to night! It’s no secret that my frequency of showers has lessened in the last two years. But when the simple act of getting up to blow your nose, or reaching for something that is more than an arm’s length away and you return to your position panting, out of breath, heart racing, body weighed down…it sort of leaves showering out of the question for the time being. It’s impossible to stand that long. This is why when I do muster up the energy to get clean, I take a bath, which requires a lot of energy in itself. But I take a sick person bath. I use a water bottle to pour water over my head so I don’t have to sit in weird positions and once I’m in, I’m in for a good hour. I don’t know why, but I often start to feel like a human being late at night. It’s like the clouds part just for a moment. So while I get that small window, I take a bath and tend to personal hygiene; Brush my teeth as hard as I can, because I don’t know if I will have the energy to do those things tomorrow. If today is any indication, then probably not. Monty sleeps, raising his head every now and then at a noise I make, then goes back to dog dream world.

I know this all sounds pretty grim, and it is. This is the ugly part of being sick. The part that people who know me socially don’t ever see. The part that sometimes, like yesterday, become too heavy for me to bear. Not just physically, but mentally. All of the sudden, it weighs too much. I feel stuck. It’s all piled onto my chest to where even my breathing feels labored. I call my mom and she walks me through it. I let the dark thoughts come and leave. They are just thoughts, fleeting and insignificant. I say “I will not lay down and die today.” And then I write it in my notebook. And then I lay down. But I don’t die. (Spoiler alert!)

I survive. Suddenly, I don’t want to write poetry about being sick. I don’t want to find the wisdom in the pain. I don’t want to ask what the lesson is and find how I am a better person because this situation forced me to dig deeper into consciousness. Which is true, it did. But some nights like tonight, I’m just ready for it be over. In my bedridden state the last few days, I’ve been researching the very bizarre and twisted history of this illness, and it’s surprising to say the least. Tragic and appalling to say the most.

I want to know why the National Institute of Health has continuously allotted such low sums towards the research of CFS.  For 2012 it has allocated $6 million, ranking it 220 out of 232 diseases. You can find it at the bottom of the list underneath Psoriasis ($10 million) and Hay Fever ($7 million). To give some context, similar illnesses like MS were given $121 million and Lupus, $105 million, but have less prevalence and a similar level of disability. As a result, countless studies and research efforts in the way of CFS have been put on hold or simply terminated citing funding issues.

It takes money honey.

I want to know why the Center for Disease Control has repeatedly ignored, overlooked, and downplayed this illness for a quarter-century–An illness that the head of the CFS branch himself said left patients as functionally impaired as someone with AIDS or Breast Cancer. The agency not only minimized it’s detriment by calling the thing “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” (they might as well have called it Lazy Ass Tired Folk Disease) it’s now been documented that the CDC routinely diverted money intended for CFS research to other projects. This is all documented in the book Osler’s Web and this article by David Tuller from November of 2011. A 1999 report from The Department of Health and Human Services found that between 1995 and 1998, at least $8 million was charged to the CFS tab but rerouted to other projects and another $4 million could not be accounted for.

I want to know why the most promising research of CFS is being funded and executed by private institutions and donors, like the Whittemore Peterson Institute or at academic institutions like Columbia and the University of Miami…no where near the CDC, the NIH, or its constituents.

This isn’t just about me or just about other sick people with this illness.  Contested illnesses like this cost the US billions of dollars annually in lost productivity and depletes healthcare resources. Less than 1/5 of patients with CFS work full-time, and more than half receive disability benefits. The estimated cost of lost productivity from CFS annually is $18 billion. Just over two years ago I worked full time, spent my money, paid my taxes and I was happy to do it. Now I am unable to work and unable to receive or afford health insurance. My doctor has suggested I apply for disability. I am 28. I do not want to continue taking 25 pills a day.  I do not want to live off disability. I would actually like to go to work and be a contributing asset to the country. But I know that in order for these things to happen, the dialogue has to change. There are actually people and doctors out there who don’t believe in this illness, as though it were fucking Big Foot.

I know that getting mad and pointing fingers won’t really help me out tonight. I have accepted my life with this illness. I will be OK whether things change or not. I have found ways to be happy given my circumstances and some days are harder than others. I guess you’re catching me on a hard day. I have a family who supports me and was lucky to find a doctor that is a leading researcher of this illness, although her clinic at this point is barely staying afloat. But not everyone has what I do. I have received so many emails from people whose doctors and/or families have dismissed them, not believed them, or just written them off as depressed. This has to change.

I don’t know what the next step is, I just felt the need to get this stuff out in my little corner of the internet. Maybe the right set of eyes will befall on this one day and some real change can take place. Maybe nothing will happen, in which case, nothing was really lost. I’ll be in bed either way. The thing is, I am not a little kid writing to Santa Clause–This is change that is actually possible. I think there are far more important matters in the world than CFS/ME research and I look forward to the day when this is no longer my cause. I know this country can do better, and I have not ever lost hope that with the right people and minds at work, this is something we can fix, even if it’s after I’m gone.

Health, Happiness, Change.