When I was little, I thought wind was created by trees. I watched the branches bend and break sometimes, as I felt the currents move over and past me, blowing my hair around like I was a passenger in a convertible. A very strong force, what those trees could do. It wasn’t so long before I learned that wind existed in the desert. Whoopse. Naturally I then learned about currents and the true science of wind. Trees were indicators that it was windy, but were themselves were not creators of the wind. Duh.
So, how does this tie into the thinking around a disease I have? And secondly, why am I always writing about this damn disease?! So boring, Mary. But hey, this is my notebook after all. But mostly because there remains a lot of thinking to be done around this subject. The public’s view in this case matters, particularly the medical establishments. *Inconsequential anecdote, it’s very windy out here! It’s also really hot and I’d rather write indoors, but Monty made me come outside. In this case, the wind helps.
So, imagine for a moment that wind is a disease. It’s not so hard to do—sometimes you can feel it wholly, you can watch the effects of its existence in past and present form, you can even predict it to an extent, but is of course itself, invisible. That’s the start.
A powerful and controlling school of thought pervades many minds surrounding this disease; it confuses the behavior of trees as the cause of wind. Or it says that the reaction of trees to this wind is maintaining the wind itself. In other words, doctors—mostly psychiatrists, a lot of them British—are thinking the way I did when I was four. OK six. You get the idea.
This dominant school of thought looks at the symptoms of this wind, some of which can be quantified through tests, some of which are subjective (self-reported) in the absence of diagnostic material and a lack of conventional biomarkers, and a lot of it hiding in plain sight somewhere, yet to be found. We’re getting closer, but that’s beside the point.
Instead of seeing tree branches swaying violently as an effect of wind moving through them, this school of thought sees the behavior of trees as having something to do with the cause or sustaining of it. A common case of conflating cause and effect. Hence, their idea is to cut off the branches. Or in other cases, to just chop the tree down. So they do it. They take a chainsaw and remove the branches, one by one, and then stand outside next to the stripped down, naked tree, or in more unfortunate cases, the mere stump that remains. Outside, what happens? A blustery wind snakes up through the air, kicking up the leaves around their feet then letting them settle, blows their hair around the way a roller coaster does. Sometimes it makes a haunting, high-pitched howl. Still unseen, there’s no disagreement that the wind is making a nearly aggressive presence. In spite of all that chopping! Other times it arrives as a gentle breeze. In any case, they witness the wind despite their efforts. And for the little value it’s worth, the tree stumps says “Just an FYI, I um, I can still feel the wind.” The tree stump is generally ignored and a bird then craps on it.
But they try other versions. They tell the tree stump to quiet his thoughts, imagine no wind is blowing. Or accept the wind, and live life as he always did as a tree…with branches…and leaves, despite not having those things anymore. He’s been reduced to a tumbleeed and being asked to live as a 30-year-old flourishing Live Oak. In spite of feeling like a tumbleweed, he attempts to live outside in the wind. He’s told to go slow, be cautious. But it doesn’t go well.
The wind blows on, the psychiatrists scratch their heads. They go back to the drawing board. Cutting off the branches, chopping down the tree, and still these powerful gusts of wind! It’s hard for them to wrap their heads around, and they’re not the only ones. This is a complex wind with a lot of strange behavior and variables. Particularly, standing in the middle of the desert where a wild wind blows, so forceful it’s difficult just to walk, none of it seems to add up.
Frustrating as a disproven hypothesis can be, it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s still an answer. A real scientist knows you go back to the drawing board despite you’re hypothesis being “wrong” or “right”, or more accurately, true or not true. You don’t throw it out, but by ruling out one idea, you make more room for the true one to emerge, right? It’s all useful information. Knowing what works and what doesn’t. For instance, Well my humble colleagues, it would appear the behavior of wind is not based on the behavior of trees. Let’s look into one of a thousand other ideas we have. It would seem that’s how progressive science would go.
Back at the drawing board, they can’t give up the ghost. They’re stuck on the idea that trees either make the wind or maintain it somehow. They’re convinced that stripping the trees, changing the trees thoughts, encouraging the tree to do things he’s hardly capable of, even if just slowly at first, will eventually make the wind stop. In the meantime, forrest are demolished, the wind blows on.
Hopefully, one day, this school of thought will be carried away like a fine dust caught up in a large gust of wind and patients with MECFS won’t be subjected to it again. Like in Aladdin when he drop kicks the magic lamp containing the evil genie into some other universe. It’s not that what they’ve found can’t help the people with this disease. Every finding is useful in it’s own way. But something like psychotherapy being touted as a treatment for this disease is as effective as cutting down forests in expectation of the wind to stop. It won’t. The studies that say they have are chock-full of issues, and the patients speak for themselves, if we’ll listen. Typically ruling out one theory means pursuit of another. It also means letting go, if you’re really seeking answers and aren’t attached to outcome.
This BPS model has dominated the whole scene: the narrative helped shape the media coverage (and vice versa) that CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and GET (Graduated Exercise Therapy) were helpful treatments for those with MECFS. It informed policies and advocated for “treatments” that don’t work, for a disease causing immeasurable harm to millions of people. And yet, they can’t let it go, convinced somehow, if we trim the branches like this or hack off the top like that, eventually this will work! If we continue to pursue this idea some perfect way, eliminating the tree will eradicate this wind. It won’t. They have worked this idea to death.
Specialists of this specific wind will tell you, will show you, that’s not going to work, because the wind is due to underlying geological processes. The people, the TREES, having their lives destroyed will tell you the same thing, but their voices won’t be heard as loud or clearly. Doubt has muffled their voices for decades. As such, there has been a lot of loss.
Like Peter Paul and Mary Sang:
The aaaanswer my friend,
Is blowin’ in the wind,
So pleeeease stop
Very slowly, this historically dominant narrative is finally starting to change, despite opposition, which has doubled down on their bet that CBT and GET are actual treatments and helpful for sufferers. They will disagree with what I’ve written here, but that is nothing new. The BPS model, (biopsychosocial model) has reigned long past what it’s warranted, but in an historical absence of biomedical research and answers, it’s been easy for that to happen. We know better now, we know so much more, thus it’s far time we let that model go concerning MECFS. And for the sake of sufferers everywhere, we definitely don’t tout it as a treatment, when we know that this “treatment” can and has made patients worse. For many the damage has been irreparable.
We are getting closer and closer to real answers, thanks in particular to organizations like the Open Medicine Foundation and the handful of specialists who’ve dived deep into the heart of this disease. But this organization runs off the charity of the public. I’ve said it time and again, but real scientists and doctors working as hard as they are, shouldn’t have to protest on the weekend so they can get their work done throughout the week. This is the whole reason for institutes like the NIH, which the public already pays for.
The paradigm is shifting and I’m grateful for that. But charity alone is not going to pay for what is needed in the way of biomedical science. When you continue to pursue a model that’s collapsing in on itself, that’s half of how you’re harming sick people—by taking away already scarce resources that could be allocated toward research that has an actual chance of providing answers, and putting them toward a method that’s already yielded results. Those results aren’t the answer here, but there is one. There many be many. Answers lead to treatments, and hopefully, eventually, one day a cure. We need resources to go there.
I believe that will happen. I can only hope in the meantime that we hear and validate patient voices, recognize more humbly what hasn’t worked, and that we use past research to lead us in a new direction of what will.
Health, Happiness, Save the Trees
**Please add your voice to the petition if you haven’t, especially if you’re an MECFS patient. Your story is important. We’re very close to 49,000 signatures …Good stuff yall, good stuff. THANK YOU.