ME is often dismissed – but sufferers like Emily Collingridge are dying
How many young people have to die before ‘chronic fatigue syndrome’ merits properly funded biomedical research?
Scott Jordan Harris
On Sunday 18 March, Emily Collingridge, a beautiful 30-year-old activist and author, died after she was apparently no longer able to struggle against the chronic illness that had afflicted her since she was six. Major news organisations have all but ignored her death – the death of a noteworthy campaigner while suffering from the very condition she tried to persuade the world actually existed – just as they continually ignore so many important stories about the illness she had.
That illness is a neurological condition called myalgic encephalomyelitis or ME. There are many who think it is not real and many others, even within the medical profession, who think it is a psychological condition best treated with enforced exercise, which only worsens its effects. Even those doctors and lay people who acknowledge the illness often refer to it by the ridiculous name “chronic fatigue syndrome”, which is almost as damaging to ME sufferers as the symptoms we suffer.
Fatigue is what a person feels after a hard work day or an intense session at the gym. It is a gentle tiredness that makes the back ache slightly and the eyelids a little heavy. It is cured by a nap or a reviving espresso. Collingridge was beyond bedridden. She was crippled by incessant agony and dependent on morphine. She was fed through a tube and her body couldn’t cope with noise, light or movement. She was doubly incontinent and experienced periods of both blindness and paralysis.
Around a year ago, she wrote, “I have come very close to dying on more than one occasion. If you met me you may well think I was about to die now.” She is now dead. To call the illness that savaged her “chronic fatigue syndrome” is like calling stomach cancer “chronic upset tummy”.