Saturday 30 January 2021

Read Paul Garner

 If you want to understand ME (and I won't blame you if you don't want to), you should read Paul Garner's piece in the BMJ, and then you should read the comments after it.

Paul Garner, an experienced and respected professor at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, specialising in infectious diseases, has written about his recovery from long Covid. He also states that he met the criteria for ME/CFS. He used positive thinking, most likely in the form of the Lightning Process, though he is unspecific about that. He then claims to have "looked down the barrel of the ME/CFS gun and disarmed it", a sentence he is quite proud of, as he uses it in his tweet signposting the article.

Not surprisingly, he has been met with consistent contradiction from ME sufferers and specialists who know what they're talking about. What was noticeable to me is the measured nature of the responses. There is anger, not surprisingly, and there is some robust language, not surprisingly, considering that he has just told millions of people that their illness is all in the mind. He is met with polite, albeit vigorous, rebuttal from people with ME, from their carers and from medical professionals who work in the field. I am deeply impressed with everybody who replied to him, because it feels so degrading to have to say, yet again, ME is real. It is not just in the mind, it is not something you get over by having a positive attitude, any more than a broken leg is. Hope can help, but it is not a cure. And when you've hoped for twenty years, and you still don't have a cure, hope feels a bit bankrupt.

Garner's article is a prime piece of gaslighting, perfectly carried out. He phrases his article very cleverly, never quite saying "if I did it, you can do it too", but that is the thread woven into everything he says. Perhaps in the enthusiasm of his newly recovered life he doesn't realise what he has done. I hope so. But I am surprised that a professor of such experience should not have investigated and understood the medical science behind ME, and equally surprised that such an eminent academic should so misunderstand the difference between anecdote and data. And I am surprised that the BMJ should give its powerful platform to such a medically and scientifically illiterate piece of writing.

To Paul Garner: You may have disarmed the gun for yourself, Paul, and I am glad for you that it happened. But you just made the gun blow up in everybody else's face.

To everybody else: if you read his article, and then the comments on it, you may have a much better understanding of the awful, physical, bodycrushing, mindsearing, emotionwrenching reality of ME.