The Parts of ME: Introduction & History: How Did We Get Here?

It takes a long time for me to integrate new information.

And as anyone in the ME community knows, we’ve had a ton of that since February. Instead of blindly powering through, waiting has given me a month to gather facts, opinions, and input from our advocacy leaders, my trusted friends, and even the IOM committee members. The best way for me to write and for you to read (that is, if you want) is to break it into parts.

Please note that each post will be able to stand on its own: Don’t fret about having to remember plot-lines from week to week; this is not a story. This is definitely. not. a story.

All right. Fasten your seat-belts, gather your friends, because here we go. It’s time to make some sense out of all this.

The Parts of M.E. (Upcoming posts)
  1. Introduction & History: How did we get here?
  2. What if it were you?
  3. Does “Post Exertional Malaise (PEM)” exist in other diseases?
  4. The IOM Committee Speaks Out
  5. The Problem with M.E.-only Advocacy, and How SEID May Help
  6. Does encephalomyelitis really exist in Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME)?
  7. The ICC or CCC as an M.E. definition: Are we promoting bad science?
  8. Why do we advocate?
Note: Some of these might be combined or further segregated as I go along.

Let’s begin by clearing something up: How did we get here? The confusion between M.E. and similar states has always been a point of controversy. Today’s over-inclusion involves M.E. vs Any other disease with chronic fatigue; before CFS, the over-inclusion was of M.E. vs. Any other disease with chronic post-viral fatigue. These illnesses have also always been thought by many to be purely psychological in origin…along with 95% of all other ailments, because that’s just what people did back then. (Hysterical wandering uterus, anyone?)

But why hasn’t M.E. moved forward with all the others, especially after decades of documented outbreaks and with so much research proving it’s an acquired disease of non-mental origin?

The major denial of M.E. in both the US and UK has stemmed from people with too much power failing to examine a single patient.

McEvedy and Beard–both psychiatrists*–wrote their deplorable 1970 re-analysis of the 1955 Royal Free epidemic without doing a physical examination on a single patient, basing their feedback on data which they decided could just as easily have been hysteria…not out of some moral obligation to scrutinize data, but because McEvedy was a psychiatry student who needed an easy paper to write for his PhD. Professor Hooper writes of this:

“McEvedy stated that he did not examine any patients and undertook only the most cursory examination of medical records. This was a source of great distress to Melvin Ramsay who carried out the first meticulous study of the Royal Free outbreak. The outcome of McEvedy’s work has been described by one of the ME/CFS charities as “the psychiatric fallacy”.” (1)

Dr. Hyde writes of his personal visit with McEvedy in 1988:

“Why had he written up the Free Hospital epidemics as hysteria without any careful exploration of the basis of his thesis? I asked.

His reply was devastating.

He said, ‘It was an easy PhD, why not’.” (2)

While over in the US, it is well-known that the CDC did the exact same thing:

In response to several 1980s M.E. outbreaks, CDC investigators looked only at patient charts–NOT actual patients–and returned to their offices to make jokes about our presumed “hysteria.” It wasn’t until the doctors attempting to manage these outbreaks took over $200,000 of their own money to pay for MRIs, that they found their patients had brain lesions indistinguishable from those found in people with AIDS; because these findings were not seen in ALL patients, they were not taken seriously, despite being consistent with myalgic encephalomyelitis. In 1988, the CDC christened the continuing outbreaks as a new illness–chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)–effectively because three M.E. experts left the committee early due to a lack of patient information and the remaining committee’s preoccupation with Epstein-Barr Syndrome. (2)

From the criteria that developed to study CFS (which was only intended “to provide a rational basis for evaluating patients who have chronic fatigue of undetermined cause“), we have helped cultivate an old mess that still exists today: Thousands of people diagnosed with everything under the sun, whose illness is being called myalgic encephalomyelitis. This includes thousands who don’t meet even a single criterion for what was actually M.E. before the invention of CFS or the watered down post-CFS model of ME that exists in many countries today.

ME CFS SEID criteria-only

As you can see, this is the reason some diagnosed with CFS do have M.E., and the reason much research does still apply to M.E. even if the titles “CFS” or “ME/CFS” are used. The trick lies in checking the methodology: If patients were selected using the ICC or CCC (especially in addition to another criteria), there’s an excellent chance the results could apply to classic ME. If they were selected to meet certain additional M.E.-like criteria, such as a post-viral onset, even better. But if patients only had to meet one CFS criteria (or something equally nonsensical, such as the UK’s “NICE guidelines for CFS/ME”), proceed with caution, because this may mean the only thing the participants had in common was “a fatiguing illness.”

“Even if the truth is buried for centuries, it will eventually come out and thrive.” (Burmese Proverb)

To be continued…

a rainbow at night

(P.S. – I thought I should finally publish a Facebook page so I can be engaged with the wonderful groups and people there, and also share things that are both too long for my twitter and too short for blog posts. Watch it for updates of new posts, things relevant to ‪‎Myalgic Encephalomyelitis‬ and related diseases, ‪Lyme Disease‬ and related content, ‪Buddhism‬ and ‪spirituality‬ (theists and non-theists welcome), ‪Mindfulness‬ and other meditations, ‪‎coping‬, ‪advocacy, and more. You CAN post to the page, but things will be moderated–checked by me for inappropriate content before they go public–to keep it a safe place: Differing opinions are NOT seen as confrontational, just don’t talk down to others. :) Thank you for your “Like”!)

7 thoughts on “The Parts of ME: Introduction & History: How Did We Get Here?

  1. I thought that this was particularly well put. I am looking forward to part 2 because I don’t know the answer to that question. I thought that you did a very good job of explaining the complications surrounding M.E. and CFS, and the implications that this has on research. It’s not as straight forward as it seems! Jenny


    1. So many people don’t, and that’s not their fault. If people want to advocate and educate, they need accurate information with which to do it, and if all I can do right now if share what I’ve learned so others can understand and make more use of it, I’ll try my best. :) Thanks for commenting, Jenny–I try very hard to make things as easy on our brains as possible while still giving enough information!


      Liked by 1 person

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