The NIH Response to the Petition/Package

Since not everyone receives emails from change.org, which is how the updates regarding the petition are delivered, and it’s the beginning of the year, I wanted to make the NIH response available here so everyone had a chance to see it. Get everyone up to date and on the same page. I can’t thank all of you enough for helping make this happen. I’ll post my and some advocates responses to the letter in the next post. So stay tuned.

The response from the NIH was interesting for a few reasons. Just for clarity’s sake, I’ll say it was not an official response–it was a personal letter emailed strictly to Matt. While they never mention the package and only briefly acknowledge the existence of the petition, I know that Collins receieved the whole kit and kaboodle. How? Because a receipt was sent to my email that the package was delivered and signed for by none other than the big MAN himself! Santa Clause! Or Santa Collins…you know what I mean.

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So, now we don’t have to wonder. Anyway, I’ll begin by posting the letter Matt wrote (rubber-banded to mine) that we included inside the box. Following it is the response from the NIH.

Matt’s Letter:

Dear Mr. Collins,

My name is Matt Tyler. Until just a few years ago, I had never heard of anything called Myalgic Encephalomyelitis or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. And that’s kind of what’s so crazy about the disease. It’s hidden from the majority of us. It wasn’t until I ran into an acquaintance from my younger years, someone who had sort of disappeared from my circle of friends when I was in my mid-twenties. I just assumed she had relocated, had become consumed with beginning a family or a career. You know, normal late-twenties life stuff. Turns out she was dealing with ME/CFS. She had faded into the background not because she had other things in the background to do, but because she was forced to recoil into a bed by a mysterious disease that most of us had never heard of.

I’ve grown very close to her recently and in turn have grown very close to the life that suffering from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis brings with it.  She’s not even on the most severe end of the spectrum, but it still baffles me how she’s able to get up every day (most days, some days just have to involve being in bed all day) and deal with the pain and exhaustion that she feels just because she’s awake. Because she made a sandwich and then walked to the couch.  Because she needed to bathe. And she never complains or whines about her circumstance. She has every right to, but instead she fights however she can. She does things like create the included petition. She exerts the very limited supply of energy she has to give a voice and some hope to the millions of people suffering with this debilitating disease. The millions of people who have been robbed of years of their lives.

You once lived a life where you searched for hidden genes responsible for these types of things. I remember reading once that you would put a sticker on your motorcycle helmet every time you discovered a gene responsible for a disease. I’m sure it was a proud moment applying the sticker representing Cystic Fibrosis. I know that’s not the life you live anymore. Now you get to direct and inspire young versions of yourself. Young scientists trying to make a change in the world. That’s why we need your help. Your influence. Your voice.

The reason for this petition is simple: Allocate more funds toward the research of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. That’s what we are asking. That’s what the people behind the more than 50,000 signatures are requesting. But I’m sure you understand more so than most of us that by doing that, you are immediately impacting all those millions of people who have been pushed into shadows. If this increased funding happens, not only will the impact happen long term with better diagnostic tools and possible treatments, but you’ll give the people suffering an injection of hope. Hope that they can return to their jobs. Hope that the life they once had and enjoyed is not forever lost. Someone with as much prominence in the scientific world as you making a decision to increase research funding and speaking out about ME/CFS spreads the word about the disease. It might inspire some grad student somewhere to decide this is going to be something they want to attempt to tackle. Some blossoming scientist might decide they want to put a dent in or even end this terrible disease.

I understand that giving more funds to ME/CFS research likely means another diseases’ funding might be reduced. I don’t envy you having to make those decisions. But I can say this. I would imagine in the world where your career exists, the phrase “return on investment” is not foreign. I run a small family business and it’s something I have to consider almost daily. I’m sure it’s a much more difficult metric to calculate in the domain where you must apply it. But I’ll leave you with this: any additional money put towards ME/CFS research, especially if some sort of formal announcement or press release is attached, will yield an exponentially higher return on investment than most other diseases. Because outside of simply robbing people of their careers, health and happiness, ME/CFS robs people of hope. And a life without hope is no life at all.

You have the chance to not only bring about scientific change to help millions of people in need, but the chance to reinvigorate them with hope.

Thank you for your time,

Matt Tyler

P.S.  If you do decide to do what is being asked for in the petition, I will design, make and hand deliver a sticker representing ME/CFS for your motorcycle helmet in hopes that in the very near future you’ll be able to apply it.

***The NIH Response***

Dear Mr. Tyler:

Tell your friend Mary and the supporters of this petition and the me/cfs community to go find the fattest worms they can find, take a seat on a nearby stomp, and eat them at a slow, slow, pace. OK? Thank you and we’ll check back in with you in roughly 10 years from now, mkay? Happy Holidays gbyyyyyyyye!

KIDDING. I had to. OK, Here is their actual response.

Dear Mr. Tyler:

Thank you for your letter to National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Dr. Francis S. Collins concerning myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).  We appreciate your kind words about his work.  Dr. Collins requested that I respond to you on his behalf.

I am sorry to learn that a friend of yours has ME/CFS.  Your description of her experiences underscores the devastating effects of this disease.  With your letter, you included a petition that asked the NIH to increase funding for ME/CFS research to $100 million.

We at the NIH understand the necessity of improving diagnostics and finding effective therapies for ME/CFS as quickly as possible.  We agree that there is a tremendous need for quality research in ME/CFS.  It may be helpful for you to know that the NIH system is open for any researchers to submit their best ideas for funding excellent science in ME/CFS.  The NIH grant system primarily funds work performed in individual laboratories or clinics by teams of scientists working at academic, medical, and other biomedical research institutions, including industry.  Individual investigators interested in pursuing ME/CFS research can submit detailed proposals through their institutions to answer a broad range of research questions.  Proposals can be submitted three times per year.  Proposed projects undergo a rigorous peer review process at the NIH and are then considered for funding.  Investigators receive critiques of their proposals and have the option to revise them and resubmit.

The Trans-NIH ME/CFS Working Group recognizes the acute need to cultivate more research and investigators to work on ME/CFS.  In pursuit of this goal, NIH plans to bring scientists together with patients and ME/CFS advocacy groups in April 2019 to discuss the opportunities in ME/CFS research.  We also plan a meeting intended to engage early-stage career scientists in ME/CFS.  More information about these meetings is available at https://www.nih.gov/mecfs/events

In addition, the NIH is conducting a study on ME/CFS at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.  This study, led by renowned neuroimmunologist Dr. Avindra Nath, is exploring the clinical and biological characteristics of ME/CFS following a probable infection to improve understanding of the disease’s cause and progression.  Recruitment of healthy volunteers and people with ME/CFS is underway.  The study is currently recruiting patients who have had ME/CFS for 5 years or fewer.  You can read about the study at this website:  https://mecfs.ctss.nih.gov/index.html  The following site provides a contact email address and the telephone number for the NIH’s Office of Patient Recruitment:  https://mecfs.ctss.nih.gov/contact.html

Please be aware that the NIH generally does not stipulate the amount of funds for specific diseases.  There have been times when Congress provided funds to the NIH for specific purposes, but those instances have been rare—HIV, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and more recently, the crisis resulting from opioid overuse disorder.  In special cases there are NIH-driven exceptions, for example, when one or more NIH Institutes set aside funds by issuing a Request for Applications (RFA).  The RFAs for the ME/CFS Collaborative Research Centers (CRCs) and Data Management and Coordinating Center (DMCC) are examples.

As a result of the RFAs, in September 2017, the NIH awarded four grants to support the creation of a ME/CFS research consortium composed of three CRCs and a DMCC.  These centers will help to build a strong foundation for expanding research on ME/CFS.  The CRCs will each conduct independent research but will also collaborate on several projects, forming a network to help advance knowledge on ME/CFS.  The data will be managed by the DMCC and will be shared among researchers within the CRCs and more broadly with the research community.  You can read about the awards at https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-announces-centers-myalgic-encephalomyelitis-chronic-fatigue-syndrome-research  We hope that the new centers and other NIH efforts will attract researchers from other areas to propose research on ME/CFS and increase the number of young investigators entering the field.

The awards are just one result of the NIH’s efforts to advance research on ME/CFS with the goals of identifying its cause and finding biomarkers to study disease progression and monitor response to treatment.  You can read about these plans in the following NIH news article from October 2015:  https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-takes-action-bolster-research-myalgic-encephalomyelitis/chronic-fatigue-syndrome  As part of these actions, the NIH has renewed the focus and efforts of the Trans-NIH ME/CFS Working Group, which is carefully exploring the gaps in our knowledge and identifying the opportunities for research on ME/CFS.  The Working Group will continue to discuss next steps to attract more researchers to this field and expand research on this disease.  You may wish to visit the Trans-NIH ME/CFS Working Group website at www.nih.gov/mecfs

The NIH continues to post research funding opportunities related to ME/CFS in the “Funding” section of that site.  In addition, the information at the “Resources” section of the site may be helpful.  If you would like to receive periodic updates about NIH activities related to ME/CFS via email, please go to that website and click on the link to “Join our listserv” at the bottom of the left sidebar.  The NIH hosts regular telebriefings with the ME/CFS community to provide updates on our activities and answer questions.  Announcements about upcoming telebriefings are emailed via the listserv.

In addition, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, which is the lead Institute for the Trans-NIH ME/CFS Working Group along with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has recently formed a working group of its advisory council to provide scientific guidance on how best to advance ME/CFS research at NIH.  The working group includes basic scientists, clinicians, Federal partners, advocates, and people with ME/CFS.

We hope that the steps the NIH has taken over the past 2 years and the future progress of the Centers will grow into a major scientific effort in ME/CFS research funded by grants submitted to NIH.  We look forward to working with the community to gain further insights into ME/CFS that will lead to the development of effective treatments and improve the quality of life for people coping with this disease.

Sincerely,

Walter J. Koroshetz, M.D.

Chair, Trans-NIH ME/CFS Research Working Group

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“This is great! We got a response from the NIH!”                                                                        “Yeah, this is a big deal!”                                                                                                                                 “This is bullshit.”

Don’t worry, this may not be exactly what I/We might’ve hoped for, but this provides us good information straight from the horses mouth. There is a great deal of value in seeing how the NIH looks at this issue and what they consider “enough” in terms of how they’re approaching the situation around MECFS. Since some of their advice involved going to congress, this letter can help convey the exact issues we’re talking about when we say there’s a lack of urgency and an overall tone-deaf, dismissiveness when it comes to this disease. Either way, I’m very happy and grateful we received this response, and trust me when I say it will be put to good use. Stay tuned.

Health, Happiness, More to Come!

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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

The Catch-Up

A suitcase lies open in my hallway still. Anyone care to guess how long it will stay there? Mine is a week and a half, but who knows. Maybe I’ll get energized this afternoon and lug it to my closet, where I’ll continue wearing clothes out of it as though it were a portable dresser. That’s basically what it’s become. And hey, that’s OK!

Returning home from travel has it’s perks—like climbing into your own bed, returning to a dog a like Monty (who, if I’m being honest, exhibited roughly 5 seconds of excitement and then acted as if I’d never left at all). Walking into your own place of familiarity and taking a deep breath. Ah, so this is what my place smells like. Not bad! Even if you’re sad to have said goodbye to the people visited, a grand relief always seems to accompany coming home. Unexciting, mediocre, quiet, deer-less home. What’s tough about it is the game of catch-up you’re about to play.

As soon as I enter the front door, all the projects that have been mentally stacking up, making their way onto various to-do lists over the years seem to glow brightly, asking to be next. I feel a wave of inspiration- paint the sunroom! Organize my closet! FINISH PART 1 OF THE PETITION PROJECT. (More on that later) Paint the armoire! Return my 10,000 plastic bags to the grocery store. And these are just simple tasks, even if some are bigger, more time-consuming than others. I bought the paint for my armoire, Parisian Grey, two years ago. It’s been perched on top of it as though it were real decoration. And none of these include the creative endeavors I’ve been dreaming of starting or working on or finishing the last few years. They’re just things, most of them. And yet they take years to do. Years! Again, ridiculous.

There is so much I feel I have to do. I have to finish. And ever since entering the world of advocacy, those tasks take an obvious precedence and a new urgency over the rest. But traveling means you not only ‘check out’ of your little world a while, it also means you don’t get to return to it just because you’re back living in it again. You have to recover first. I always feel a small sense of guilt when I travel, because I know it will be a hindrance to finishing the important things. I always fear a loss in momentum, so I go over my plans in my head like a song on loop before falling asleep. Until they melt and I can’t remember what I’m even thinking about anymore. But I’ve written about plans before—they’re about as solid as jello. Anyway, the plans are a basic timeline of the things I’ll do when I get home, but that means about as much as saying “one day.” Still, you know how making a list makes you feel organized, even if you do nothing on the list? I guess it’s like that.

Because where do things lie, actually? For starters, my suitcase lies open with clothes spilling out like the innards of a science class frog. I couldn’t even be bothered to wheel the thing to my closet or bedroom. We arrived home just after midnight- Marc wheeled the suitcase to the hallway and that’s where I laid it down, put on my pajamas, and immediately climbed into bed. From there I spent three days. Poor Monty, a boring few days for him I imagine.

I was out of juice. Is this a poor excuse for leaving a suitcase in the middle of the hallway? Sure, fine, an excuse. I don’t care what you call it, it’s simply the case that when you’re physically weak, in pain, running on empty, your priorities become very compressed. They almost become easier to sort and identify, because your options are reduced. A lot of people seem to be under the impression that more choices are a good thing. But when I stand in front of the toothpaste aisle and there are 40 different tubes to choose from, I sort of just wish there was one or two. If there’s only two to choose from, or if one costs 5 bucks and I’ve only got $3, well then there’s not a whole lot to think about. That kind of thing.

You know what else is on my list? Laundry. Nothing but a regular old chore that I, like my mom, happen to enjoy for some reason. (I also love ironing, if I can sit…) However, the washer and dryer are at my parents house. That means walking the approximate 20 steps there and back and there and back holding a basket of heavy clothes. Darks, whites, delicates. Are you bored yet? Me too. Is laundry a hard task? Of course not! If you have the energy to do it. But when you’re playing catch-up, calculating every move as if it were dollar bills you had according to a daily stipend (or see the spoon theory) then there just isn’t enough money for tasks like this. At least in the beginning. And I was considering painting an armoire! Hah. Hah.

I realize that people with a shallow knowledge of MECFS might roll their eyes at this ‘predicament’ if either of us would even call it that. (I wouldn’t actually, I’d call it the simple and unfortunate state of things) Yeah, laundry is a pain in the ass. So is unpacking. 20 steps to your parents? Get. Over. It. In fact sometimes I think these thoughts myself! But, they don’t really help, so I let them go. The point is, I can see why this thought pervades so many people’s minds, which is to say, I can see how much work still remains on our plate when it comes to this disease. The Post-Exertional-Malaise part of this—the hallmark symptom and also another name doing zero justice—is also the part that no one sees.

I realize I’ve written about this before, and it’s not my intention to be redundant, but it’s not as if this is a publicly, well-understood or moot point. It’s one of the biggest features of MECFS that people have the hardest time making sense out of. That includes people with the condition! Both are understandable. Unless you live with someone who has this, you don’t truly witness the price attached to attempting to live in the real world a while—which if you’re moderately functional, or can play that way at least a little while, you’re always going to try. The soul needs what the soul needs. But the body pays a price.

This doesn’t even mention that you could be one of the hundreds of thousands, or more likely millions of people who return from some normal life event and pay a price in the form of a crash; weak, heavy, dizzy, pain, brain-slow-as-sap—and they do live with people who see it. Does this mean they believe it? No, it does not. In possibly more cases than its’ opposite, the sick person is assumed a malingerer, lazy, aloof, or hysterical. (Ah, if only I had the energy to be hysterical. Wait I’m hilarious, I take that back) I can’t imagine the crushing doubt from people I love, stacked on top of a crash I’m earnestly trying to climb out of. And the fastest way to regain your strength is honest-to-goodness rest. And guess what laziness looks like? You see the problemo there. In this way, I’ve been extraordinarily lucky. It doesn’t mean people ‘out there’ always smell what I’m cooking, but how could I care? I’m hardly out there. The people closest to me are helpful, supportive, encouraging and compassionate. You know, the things you crave when you’re sick. Imagine being eight months pregnant and no one believing you. On top of it they’re suggesting lots of herbs and yoghurt or something. Wouldn’t that be weird? YES IT WOULD.

Anyway, I’m writing about this not because I face it in my own family, but because I’ve become so aware of the staggering amount of people who do. The emails I get and the stories left on the petition page are crushing, heartbreaking and keep me up at night sometimes. I’ve got insomnia anyway so, what gives? This isn’t about me, it’s about doubt, and the incredible amount of damage it has done to people’s lives. Vulnerable people who need help and encouragement, where they’re getting skepticism, judgment, and advice. This is why we have to get it right. And like 40 other reasons, but you feel me.

The nice part about the suitcase in my hallway is that I laundered the clothes before I came home, so they smell like Colorado! With a touch of Southwest Airline Zest. The advocacy has to come before the painting and the laundry and the bath I really would like to give Monty because he’s beginning to smell like a dog. I don’t have the energy for all of it at once, but I can do a little at a time. People have emailed to tell me the petition is a waste of time and won’t do any good. They might be right, but even if they are, it’s a little too easy to shout from the sidelines, isn’t it? Also, is that maybe a waste of time? We can at least say, if you’re not trying, your chance of changing anything at all is zero. And I sincerely don’t believe that. Maybe this project won’t work, but I don’t think it will hurt. So, I’m going to keep trying. If it doesn’t work, I’ll try something else.

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BONUS: We’ve surpassed 48,000 signatures on the petition. Boo Yah!

Unfortunately, it takes a very long time to scratch out all the personal information on over 300 prescription bottles. And since I’m sending the 2500 pages to Mr. Collins in this box with these “packing peanuts”, the process is taking longer than I thought. At least I can scratch out info on a bottle even from bed. I promise I’m working on it, and will deliver on what I said I’d do, which is to attempt a genuine disruption. Emails are a little too easy to delete. Tweets are easy to ignore, if they’re read at all. It doesn’t mean we stop those things, but I’m trying to think outside the box. Hardy har. This, I’m hoping, will take a moment of consideration before it’s thrown in a dumpster or lit on fire. Either one. That’s the hope, and at least when you’re trying, there is some hope to hang onto.

There are so many of us in the M.E. world looking for something to grab onto, particularly through those dark times of despair. I’m hoping to add at least one hand that will reach back when they are searching for a way out. We’re going to get there, so hang on.

Health, Happiness, and Catching Up

P.S. The petition has been gaining signatures and is now over 48,000. My reliable calculator says we have only 1,643 before reaching 50,000. I say we make that happen! If you haven’t yet, please sign and/or share the petition. Every name, story, comment helps. Thank you, all of you.

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.

pansy
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

Breaking News

(Not Really)

Toward the end of this winter, I sat in a bathtub, tears coming down my face, and prayed for change. Things had been stationary and repetitive for too long. All my parts, body and mind, were beginning to go stir-crazy, and I’d given it a solid go. I think in modern times, being confined to the same two rooms for long periods of time without real socialization and not going totally insane is a kind of victory on its own. Things went from stationary to stagnant, and I’m pretty diligent about avoiding that disposition. Undoubtedly, it started to wear on me. I closed my eyes and envisioned the “path” of my life like a black dotted line on a treasure map–obviously th line had been very straight for a while. But I visualized that in the spring the dotted line would take a sharp turn, still progressing, still moving in the right direction or whatever, but that there would be a marked change. It would stir things up, it would springboard the stagnancy of sickness and the same two rooms and same faces at the pharmacy and pop them into the air like popcorn. I wanted an interruption I guess. And I felt tired waiting for one.

The thing about change, I was beginning to realize, is that it has a lot to do with you (me) and less to do with crossing your fingers and waiting around for it. I admit, for a long time in terms of the illness, I did that in a certain capacity. I’ve hoped and prayed for a cure ever since I became sick, but I was never involved or deeply curious in the process of how that could happen. I wasn’t a part of online support groups for ME/CFS. I was never really involved with advocacy, and I didn’t follow the latest research or science. Sometimes people would send me articles from The New York Times or some Magazine that would tell the story of someone sick, usually summarize the history of CFS mostly on the surface, and then reveal the prognosis, which was that there was still no cure and no approved treatments. Once, I was sent a New York Times article called “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome No Longer Seen As ‘Yuppie Flu’” You’d think in some way, a major and respected newspaper validating your disease would be a comfort, but to someone who’s been suffering for years from it, it was more like Yeah, no shit. It’d be like seeing an article titled “Water Found to be Necessary for Survival.” My mom, who follows every study, reads up on trials and new findings, would update me often in an optimistic tone. But I can remember, in the first year after the crash that I’d stopped working and was living in their house, I felt angry and remember telling her I didn’t want to know about any more studies until there was one that found the cure. I was clearly still in the “acceptance” phase of this whole thing, and that was a prissy reaction to say the least, but I just never wanted to get pulled too far into the “community” of the illness. I felt if I entered in too far, which would be easy to do, it’d take me over, consume my identity. And I battle myself a lot in avoiding that transition–I don’t want to turn into the ‘sick girl.’  There are just so many other things I want to do and express, and sometimes the illness feels like it controls too much of my outer life, after already having control of my insides. It’s a strange, duplicitous struggle to face. And some days I feel like the illness wins–not in terms of my body, but my mind. That’s what I try to avoid.

Last week, a news crew was at my house. I say crew, but it was really just two people. An interviewer and a cameraman from Fox8 News New Orleans. It’s funny how it all came to happen, but stars aligned in certain ways, and now news-anchor Rob Masson was interviewing me in our living room. We talked about the petition, about getting sick with this weird, elusive, invisible, strange disease. He was a great interviewer and he understood the illness well. You can tell when someone gets it by the questions they ask. For instance, a person who doesn’t get it asks questions like “Do you think if you did more during the day, you might sleep better at night?” And a more intuitive person might ask “So how do you prepare for an event you know is coming up? And how long do you pay for it physically?” Rob and I had talked already on the phone about the disease, the NIH, the history and the campaign for nearly an hour a week before. Then the day of the interview they ended up staying two and a half hours at our house. (It will probably be a two minute spot) They spoke with me, my mom, and shot footage of Monty, of course. . Normally, the idea of “being on the news” even local news, would stress me out. Mainly because internally I’d think “Why do I have any business being on the news? I’m just a sick person living with my parents?!” But the reassuring and truthful answer was that this really wasn’t about me. I’m an example of one among millions of people living with the disease, and I felt I could speak up for it in that way, provide an example of what it “looks like”–which is nothing. You couldn’t pick a person with ME out of a crowd, but it’d probably be the one lying down using some odd piece of furniture as as a bed. I was/am exceedingly grateful this petition made the news, mostly because I think any press that shows what this disease looks like and is told from the angle of someone who is actually sick, not a psychiatrist speculating about it, is always a good thing.

Anchorman_140Pyxurz
(Not Rob Masson)

But the real angle was the campaign, which is also not about me, but about the NIH, and how their lack of funding and research has left millions of sick people without a place to go. You can count the number of CFS specialists with one and a half hands. The reason I felt optimistic writing this petition is that this is a problem with a very clear solution. It has always had a solution, and in every article, blog, comment debate, news story, I see the same desperately needed solution being pointed out, which is funding. The disease is complex, the research and studies and science is complex, but some of the top virologists and infectious disease specialists in the world are signed on to study this, say they can solve it, they are simply lacking the funds. It just seems so simple in that regard. It’s obvious this can’t be ignored anymore. This is an epidemic, and I know that word is overused a lot, but when millions of people are out of commission, and the country is paying billions a year in lost productivity and medical expenses, I would call that somewhat of a health crisis. So, it’s time. And Mr. Collins and Secretary Burwell can make it happen. I know they can.

I’m still learning how to be an advocate. I don’t know if it’s really my calling. My sister on the other hand should consider this as a career option, she’s really good. :) I’m still trying hard to attain more signatures because I’d like to get as many as possible for the protest on May 25th in DC. The power in this method of “protest” is in numbers, so I’m still thinking “Hey, we can make it to 35. And if we can make it to 35 we can make it to 40!” 40,000 has a nice ring to it, a more sturdy number. Anyway, I trust we’ll get the number we need. And I still have the hesitancy of not letting this fight, win or lose, enter too deep into my identity. In my attempt to share the campaign with every CFS organization, I’ve sort of leaped into the Chronic Illness Community…and everything there makes sense. I see myself in all the stories. I recognize the descriptions. I understand completely what people mean in their emotions and discouragements. But sometimes I have to just dip a toe in..share the petition and then get out. If I spend too much time there, I don’t know, I feel too consumed by it. And those are my brothers and sisters! It’s not that I’m turning my back on them, I just live it and write it enough as it is. I guess I don’t need reminders right now. I’m more hungry for change.

This petition I hope can speak for us all. Maybe I will just always be fighting to remember who I am, to hold on to some remnant of myself that was there before I ever became ill or ever started “fighting for a cure.” In one part of me, a flame has been lit and I feel ready to take on the world and achieve this change. Halfway because I’m bored of it. It’s so obvious what we need to do, and I know it will happen eventually, I’d just like it to happen sooner so we can all get on with other things. The other part of me thinks I can write through the filter of being sick till the cows come home, but there’s so much other subject matter out there. There’s so much else to do. And I want to explore it all. There are so many other stories I want to tell. And I think I will. I’m just a little in between worlds for now. Fighting for this cause and also trying to stay conscious of who I am without all of this. Dive too deep into anything and you can get stuck there. Maybe dive is the wrong word. Attach. I don’t want to become attached to this. I want things to change. And then I want to travel to Japan.

So, that’s what’s happening in my neck of the woods. Physically I feel like absolute crap, which is the most efficient and motivating reminder to keep fighting for this change :)  I don’t know when the news segment will come out, though I can already anticipate my self-consciousness about it. I don’t like seeing myself on camera or hearing my own voice. I am fat from the steroids and hardly even feel like I’m in my own body anymore. And it’s a vulnerable thing–I never imagined I’d be interviewed by someone and talk about being sick, 31 and living with my parents on TV. I mean, this could really ruin things for me on Tinder. But the TRUTH is, none of that matters. It’s not about me or my story or whatever I’ve lost along the way. This is about the campaign and what’s next. It’s about what we’re asking for, which is a very specific thing: $100 million bucks. It’s not that much money, come on! But, if the segment goes online I will try to post it here. So, once again, I will shamelessly post the petition, and if you feel like signing or sharing because you haven’t yet, I recommend you do so I can stop writing about this stuff and my sister can stop pestering every person she knows to sign it. Amelie, I love you. Thank you again everyone for the love and support and signing. I guess that dotted line I envisioned making a sharp turn ended up happening in a very strange way. Life is funny.

https://www.change.org/p/increase-funding-so-we-can-find-a-cure

Health, Happiness, HEY MOM IM ON THE NEWS!