'My illness has shown journalism can be a force for good'

Credit: ITV Channel Television

Journalism’s a funny old trade. It’s sometimes difficult to get a sense of what difference, if any at all, your reporting is having.

Indeed, in my experience, a lengthy and difficult investigation that uncovers a scandal or wrongdoing can illicit less feedback than a quirky ‘and finally’ story that took a matter of hours to film.

But that’s not to say those big stories don’t matter.

On that basis, I had no expectation of what would happen following my appearance on ITV News a fortnight ago to share my own piece of news. I’ve been off full-time work for more than a year now after falling ill with ME/CFS.

It’s a little-understood condition characterised by pain, fatigue, brain fog, and a disproportionate response to any form of exertion. In short, overdoing it can leave me bed, or house-bound. The difficult bit is learning a new way of living to stay the right side of my new reduced limits.

It’s a work-in-progress… but I’m getting better.

Gary made a video diary to document his story and share what life is like living with ME. Credit: ITV Channel Television

Since sharing my story I have been utterly overwhelmed with messages from people I know and people I don’t, from all around the world. I stopped counting the messages when they reached one thousand, and I’m still slowly working my way through them in an effort to reply to them individually.

Among them, people grateful that I’m trying to shine a light on Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, to give it its proper name, stories of people living in the most terrible situations without the medical support they clearly need, a tonne of suggestions of things that may help me (from mindfulness to wild and wonderful diets), and even charities getting in touch to see if we can work together to build on this awareness.

I’ve also guest presented and edited an hour of national radio on BBC Radio 5 Live where I got to speak to others in similar situations to me, a medical expert, and Jennifer Brea - whose Oscar-nominated documentary Unrest charts her own ME story.

At a time when the influence of news is in the spotlight, having the tables turned on me from journalist to ‘person in the news’, I am proud to say my profession remains a force for good.

In this case, shining a light on ME and the continued lack of understand of what it actually is and how it can properly be treated is something that’s valued by many, here in the islands and many thousands of miles away.