In the mid-1980s, reports of a strange new malady began to circulate in the media. It was jokingly called “yuppie flu,” but it was no joke to the victims. Previously healthy, energetic people, mostly young women, found themselves afflicted with a bewildering array of symptoms, the worst of which was a crushing, relentless exhaustion. People who once pursued demanding careers couldn’t go to work or take care of ordinary household chores. In many cases they couldn’t get to the bathroom without collapsing en route. Their cognitive abilities were impaired, their joints ached, they developed neurological problems and disabling allergies.
In some people the illness came on gradually. Others could pinpoint the exact day that their lives fell apart, as if a thunderbolt had struck and left them for dead. A few of the victims made slow recoveries, although relapses were frequent and unpredictable. Many remained completely disabled; their lives seemed effectively over. What was wrong with these devastatingly ill patients? No one could give an answer.
I followed these reports with great interest, for I had fallen prey to this bizarre syndrome more than a decade earlier. My case was the sudden-onset type. From that day on, normal life was no more than a memory for me. Although I initially had periods of remission, they were no more than temporary excursions into the land of the well. Sooner or later the crash came, and I found myself back in the world I really inhabited, the shadowy realm of the sick. I learned not to hope for too much during my bouts of health, for such hope made the inevitable relapse all the more painful.
I saw many doctors. Some were impatient, some were hostile. One laughed at me. None believed me.
Eventually the thing I most dreaded came about. I experienced one final, terrifying crash, one that kept me bedridden for years. Recovery seemed the remotest sort of fantasy.
If I’d been able to draw a self-portrait at that time, the picture would have shown me imprisoned in a box – a box of pain and loneliness from which I peered out longingly at the world that I had lost. For “loss” is the best description of this illness, loss is what gives the condition its particular horror. It attacks young, vibrant people, often those who are just beginning to realize their ambitions and dreams, and strips them of every facet of their identity. Marriages are torn apart, careers evaporate, friends drift away, the body becomes an implacable enemy. “Of all the things I’ve lost,” one victim mourns, “I miss my mind the most.” Worst of all, the medical world just shrugs and turns away. The sufferers cannot “prove” that they are ill.
As time passed, I learned that I was not alone in my box. There were others, and their numbers were increasing. By the 1980s their cries for help forced the medical world to give the phenomenon some kind of label. My first diagnosis was “neurasthenic,” a polite Victorian word for “hypochondriac.” Then (with a prompt from the media) came “yuppie flu,” and finally “chronic fatigue syndrome” – both terms of thinly veiled contempt. Perhaps it was this contempt that fired my determination to survive. I wasn’t going to let “them” – the derisive media, the dismissive doctors – win this battle. There was too much at stake.
Almost from the beginning I felt certain that my illness was caused by a damaged immune capacity. It couldn’t be contagious, for no one ever caught it from me. It struck mostly women, and did so in a random fashion, not the usual behavior of a pathogen. But why would the immune system suddenly collapse? And why was this happening to so many young, once-healthy people? The answer is not to be found in the examining rooms and laboratories of conventional medicine.
Modern, technically advanced medicine has done a great deal of good. But medicine is not a science. Rather, it resembles a belief system, a kind of church, with doctors as its priests. Like any such institution, it is conservative and resists change. It does not enjoy having its basic creeds challenged and is likely to brand the challengers as heretics.
Yet changes in beliefs do, and must, occur. Old theories become untenable and are cast away to make room for the new. The problem is that the new tenets, in turn, become dogma as firmly entrenched as the old. The cycle then begins all over again. As Goethe said, “The world only goes forward because of those who oppose it.”
In the nineteenth century Pasteur opposed the orthodox medicine of his day when he showed that certain diseases were communicable and were transmitted via pathogenic microbes. It was difficult for his contemporaries to believe that these tiny invisible organisms could wreak such havoc on the human body. When eventually they accepted the obvious, a totally new theory of medicine was put into place. In their enthusiasm, doctors went to the extreme and created the dogma that all diseases were caused by microbes. To a certain degree, this is the medical paradigm that we live with today.
But Pasteur himself had his challenger. Another Frenchman, Bechamp, insisted that the ultimate determiner of illness was not the microbe but the body’s ability to resist it. He did not, of course, speak of the immune system as such. But his message was clear: the terrain, not the invader, was what mattered. Disease was the result – not the initial cause – of a damaged terrain.
Pasteur seemed to be the winner of this historic battle, and Bechamp passed into obscurity. But today their dispute is more relevant than ever. The bodily terrain of twenty-first century people is being damaged, and Pasteur’s microbes are not to blame. Our immune systems are under siege; conventional medicine can only deal with the problem by denying it. The sufferers stagger along from doctor to doctor, seeking answers. They encounter the guardians of the old dogma, the descendants of Pasteur, who can give them none.
In the midst of this dilemma, new insights are being born, challenging the hegemony of the old germ theory. More and more evidence shows that immune dysfunction is being caused by exposure to toxic substances in our environment. Ironically, these very substances were supposed to make our lives healthier, happier, and easier. Our internal terrain is collapsing under their impact.
Not until I came across the work of such pioneering doctors as C. Orian Truss, William G. Crook, and Carol Jessop did I realize the role of toxic substances in this devastating illness. When the full story of immune dysfunction illness is known, there will doubtless be a range of contributing factors, such as poverty and malnutrition in third-world countries. But in industrialized societies, the overriding cause, the trigger that fires the bullet, will be the inescapable, ever-increasing toxic assaults of everyday life.
A sad joke is told by the victims of this illness: The good news is, it won’t kill you. The bad news is, it won’t kill you. But the truth is that if it continues long enough, it can in fact be fatal. I was more dead than alive and weighed less than 80 pounds, hardly able to move my body, when I came under the care of the doctor who understood my illness and saved my life when the task seemed all but impossible. Under the guidance of Dr. Marinkovich I was able to take the first tentative steps out of my box, re-entering at last the world that I had lost.
There I encountered many people with symptoms similar to mine. I met an accountant who became weak and ill every time she worked in her office. A gardener who could no longer handle the sprays and fertilizers that were the tools of his trade without collapsing. A flight attendant whose exhaustion was so disabling that she could only work the shortest domestic flights and those only when she was having a “good” day. I read about a young man, full of promise, who endured five years of the illness and then, in despair, hung himself from a tree behind his grandmother’s house.
And yet, in the face of all this very real suffering, influential members of the medical profession still insist that our illness is only imaginary – the product of some sort of mass delusion. But it is they, and not we, who are denying reality.
you have unexplained medical problems such as debilitating fatigue and pain
you can't think clearly because of brain fog
your doctor implies that it's all in your head
you want help and inspiration to find the cause and a solution
you care about someone who has these problems
you want to learn about health
you simply want to read a good story
I wrote this book for those who are ill, and ill-served by the medical establishment. I hope my story will make a difference.