Words from a Hidden World

Untitled designWelcome to my blog.  The main purpose of this site is to bring together my existing work, but I also hope to add new writing from time to time.  I have never blogged before and am looking forward to the freedom of writing as I wish, with full editorial control.  (The downside is that any mistakes are on me!)

On the occasions when I wrote in the national media, I was able to reach an audience I could never hope to through a blog such as this.  At the same time I was very aware of having to fit my writing into a mould that had been created by other people.  One could push at the edges but never completely break that mould.  Factors such as editorial policy, legal constraints and word count all heavily influenced what could – and, perhaps more significantly, what couldn’t – be said.  Here I am free of many of those limitations, but face a different challenge.  How to reach people who are not already well aware of everything I have to say?  In general, ME advocacy is beset by this problem: we put huge effort into raising our voices, but very often the only ones listening are others in the same situation. 

Here I face a different challenge.  How to reach people who are not already well aware of everything I have to say?

Nonetheless, at this point in time I feel more enthusiastic about publishing here than I do about writing again in the media.  Although on the whole it was a worthwhile experience, and I am proud of the articles I wrote, attempting to convey the reality of ME in such a way can only ever be partially successful. 

The media is a powerful tool for raising awareness, but can also reinforce the very prejudices that have contributed to our suffering.  Indeed one can argue that it was instrumental in creating those prejudices in the first place.  The derogatory name routinely used in the press in the 80s and 90s (it needs no further airing here) is but one example of how ME sufferers have been misrepresented at best, and mocked and belittled at worst.  This serious, potentially fatal illness has been routinely portrayed as tiredness, or an excuse to escape life.  Such a backdrop has allowed the appalling medical neglect of the illness to go almost entirely unchallenged. 

IMG_5018
Alive but barely living: the severity of ME is rarely acknowledged in the mainstream media

In recent years there has been an overall improvement in the tone of media coverage, with a noticeable increase in stories about the severely affected and a greater acknowledgement that ME is a serious condition.  But output remains very mixed.  The association with fatigue is still strong, when in reality this is a symptom unrecognisable to those in the agonising depths of severe ME.  It is rare for the profound and often terrifying symptoms to receive any mention at all.  The impression is repeatedly given that little is known about the illness from a biomedical perspective, when research has been consistently demonstrating abnormalities for decades.  Articles on ME are usually accompanied by stock images of someone yawning, or of glamorous office workers draped wearily over desks.  It is impossible to imagine a report on any other serious illness being illustrated in the same way.  

The media is a powerful tool for raising awareness, but can also reinforce the very prejudices that have contributed to our suffering

Worst of all has been the glaring lack of investigation in the media into catastrophes such as the PACE trial, or the number of families wrongly subjected to child protection proceedings.  Carol Monaghan MP this year told Parliament that PACE is “one of the biggest medical scandals of the 21st century”.  Yet serious investigation of its flaws has been almost exclusively confined to dedicated patient researchers, and to the work of independent journalist David Tuller, who has had to crowdfund to support his research.  The UK media has served as an unquestioning mouthpiece for the trial’s authors, with no attempt made to look beyond their impossible claims.  Meanwhile the silence around child protection proceedings means that almost no one outside of the ME world knows of families having to fight to prevent their seriously ill children being removed from their care.  

IMG_4910
The terrifying symptoms of severe ME, such as extreme light sensitivity and dependence on oxygen, are almost never mentioned in news reports

It is ironic, then, that we should turn to the media – our nemesis in so many ways – as a tool for educating the general public about ME.  All the above notwithstanding, I do still feel that there can be value in doing so.  (Though care must always be taken to ensure – as far as possible – that the end result is not more damaging than silence.)  Some in the ME world feel that there is no longer anything to be gained in the telling of personal stories.  These can indeed be overdone, but I believe there is still great power in a well-told account that engages public interest.  However, such stories alone will not change the bleak reality of living with ME.  We need proper journalistic investigation into the way our major institutions have failed those with ME – and indeed the active harm done in hundreds of thousands of cases.  It seems unlikely that this will happen in the foreseeable future.  Unless and until that breakthrough occurs, anything that ME sufferers can themselves achieve through the media will inevitably be limited. 

So today I take this new direction with my writing and add my voice to all those speaking out online.  I hope that many will relate to what I have to say, particularly now that I can express myself with greater freedom than previously.  I also hope that my words will reach beyond ME circles and into the wider world.  Our lives have been hidden for too long.


10 thoughts on “Words from a Hidden World

  1. I just wanted to meet your new blog with some return words of welcome. Thank you for your wonderful site and powerful, eloquent writing. A link to it was posted in our ME support group page in New Zealand. Instant international reach! I have bookmarked it and am grateful for your voice.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi Naomi!

    I too would like to echo the words of Iris and welcome you to the blogging world!

    I have only just resurrected my blog called, Don’t Dismiss M.E. Although I do not have your talent, I do enjoy writing especially as I can do it from my bed! But I have also thought how through blogging do we reach people outside the ME community. But I have reached one, and she has just sent me photos of her trip to LA for thanksgiving as she knew I couldn’t get out much. I thought that was most kind of her to remember me. And I have found that reading blogs outside of ME and commenting on them can often lead to dialogue about my illness.

    One person at a time is something I believe in, and who knows, that one person may be able to help our cause in a way we’d never dreamed of!

    I think your blog, your story will reach many people. I for one will be tuning in!

    Much love,

    Fiona.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Hello Naomi.
    I lived with ME for 7 years as a child / teenager (I think we may have been in the same ‘circles’ in the 90s?) and then recovered. That was 20 years ago. I became ill again this January. I’ve had to give up my job and put my career on hold and we’ve sold our house.
    I started blogging properly in the spring, to help friends and family grasp how ME was impacting me. What has shocked me most is how the ‘landscape’ has not changed much in 20 years. I was shocked to hear that GET had been a recommended treatment for so long and all that stigma came rolling back.
    I’ve found that blogging has been cathartic for me, and yes, much more freedom here than in publications.
    Thanks for the awareness you’re bringing to severe ME.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi there. Very sorry to hear you’ve relapsed.

      I agree that it’s shocking how little things have changed. If I were a child or teenager falling ill today, I have no confidence I’d be any better off than I was nearly 30 years ago. That’s quite staggering. Indeed, in some areas – such as child protection proceedings – I believe the situation is worse than when we were young.

      Having said that, one positive change is that parents and young people can now access accurate information much more easily. That’s why it’s important that we speak out about our experiences.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Reblogged this on Don't dismiss M.E. and commented:
    Apologies for not posting myself for a couple of weeks, but I would like to introduce to you the writings of Naomi Whittingham whom has suffered herself with severe ME.
    Naomi is a very talented writer and has the ability to explain from personal experience the devastation that severe ME can cause.
    Much love,
    Fiona. X

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s