The Free Prisoner

Hope and cynicism
23/01/2010, 8:56 pm
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There are a number of people who I can say for sure saved my life; or at least rescued it from a dark pit.

One of them is Wade Bradshaw who was working at L’Abri Fellowship when I first met him.

Wade Bradshaw

Wade Bradshaw

He gave a talk called “Beneath the Land of the Beetles: Going Beyond Cynicism”* which explored the opening sequence of the David Lynch film Blue Velvet which is beautifully described in this link. I had the privilege of sharing a private rendition of this talk with 12 talented artists and designers.

At one point when talking about how cynicism had infected his 6-year-old daughter, he became so emotional that his voice crackled, then broke, and he ended up sobbing while trying to finish. In our small, cold, barely furnished room, the atmosphere prickled with a thick, hot intensity that rendered us all speechless.

If I ever had one of those near-death ‘life scenes super-fast playback’ experiences that anecdotal legend assures us does happen, I am sure this moment would be one that would flash before my eyes. It has become the tint that I see everything through since.


That’s the preface to the point of this post, which is to explore cynicism and how it relates to my recovery. I have been spending hours researching M.E. in the hope of getting better. There is so much information about this disease, and so much of it as complex as the wiring of a Space Shuttle, that learning about what ails me, feels like studying for a degree.

However, there is one underlying theme which is paperclip-simple. It is clear that there are two sides locked in a bitter battle over M.E. patients. (I am tempted to call them Axis and Allies, but that very much belittles the Second World War, and is to be avoided.)

One side comprises a handful of psychiatrists, the insurance industry and the world’s richest governments. The other team comprises a handful of virologists, biologists, GPs, charities and hundreds of thousands of M.E. sufferers, some of them so sick that they are unable even to get out of bed.

The struggle has ongoing since 1988 when a prominent British psychiatrist put forth his theory that M.E. is a somatoform disorder with no physical basis – that is, “the sufferer isn’t sick, they just think they are”, a disorder which he saw as a new form of Neurasthenia, to which he applied the modern term Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Thus began 32 years of misery for patients with a very serious condition, because biological research was denied funding from that point onwards.

After upwards of 30 hours of internet research so far, it is evident to me that people with M.E. are entirely cynical about the motives of the other side, and vice versa.


Last year, hope entered the frame in a serious way. It came in the form of the Whittemore Peterson Institute, a charity funded by the parents of a young lady who has severe M.E. symptoms. The WPI undertook a ground-breaking study which was published in Science, showing that 67%+ of patients diagnosed with serious M.E. (or CFIDS as it is known by the biological lobby in the US) had a retrovirus called XMRV.

Some patients are extraordinarily excited by this discovery. Others are hanging on silently, just in case it turns out that this new hope for an effective treatment is crushed like all others before it.


Hope is powerful. So powerful that it can help you survive war, incarceration, brutality and torture. Studies of survivors of concentration camps and similar trauma** show that they have in common a powerful resilience characterised by a sense of purpose.

I can only conclude that there lies, deep in my heart, a seam of true nourishment which will be there despite any unpredictable circumstances or wildly careering current events. To reach it, I have to steel myself, and dig through the beetles:

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing will be well.”
Julian of Norwich

Julian of Norwich wrote this when she was suffering from an unnamed life-threatening illness, during the time of the Bubonic Plague in Europe. That certainly brings things into sharp focus for me.

The ending to the story? She recovered, and went on to become one of the most revered and remembered religious figures of the time, despite the handicap that was conferred on you in those times by being a woman.

* Beware, this link is a PDF. Here is Google’s HTML version of it if you’d prefer that.
** Again, beware the PDF. Google’s HTML version here.

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