Callum Merrett - one half of Bath's horn-drenched indie rockers Bad Sounds with brother Ewan - tells Best Fit about the challenges of keeping his band together while coping with M.E.
I remember finishing primary school and feeling like I had my shit down.
I was 11, I had a cool backpack, I’d kissed a girl or 2 at school discos, I absolutely sucked at football but that’s cool cos I really wanted to play basketball anyway (Space Jam… it had an impact on me). However, despite my teachers warning us all that things were going to be very different when we got to secondary school I wasn’t really that worried.
Things were very different when I got to secondary school. We went from knowing everybody to knowing almost nobody, the coolest to the dorkiest, the oldest to the youngest, the strongest to the weakest. That stuff happens to pretty much every kid, but that last point became quite a literal thing for me.
I was becoming a bit useless, I was constantly getting ill, and doing anything more than lying down was wayyyy too much effort. I’d get home from school and vomit from exhaustion. In my first school photo at secondary school I look like the ghost of a dead kid. So, my anxious mum took me to the doctor who, after ruling out a whole bunch of things diagnosed me with M.E.
Me: M.E.? What’s that?
Dr: It means you get tired a lot. Quite a lot tbh.
Me: Cool. I’ll just rest up and have a nap every now and again.
Dr: That doesn’t help. In fact, some people think that too much rest makes it worse.
Me: Oh. What flavour medicine do I get?
Dr: There is no medicine. Maybe try a change of lifestyle and avoiding stress?
Me: I’m 11.
Dr: Yeah and also, nobody really knows what causes it. And, a lot of people don’t believe it’s a thing anyway so will probs just think you are lazy.
So that was it really. I played more guitar and less sports. I had good days and bad days but after that I pretty much forgot about it and became a grumpy teenager obsessed with Kurt Cobain.
I’m lucky. I only have a mild form of Myalgic encephalomyelitis (M.E.) / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) / Systemic exertion intolerance disease (SEID)… whatever you want to call it. So for me it’s like any bad news you get; dwell on it and base everything you do around it, then it just becomes debilitating and depressing.
You can’t forget about it completely, and it’s definitely gonna get in your way, but if you do your best to put it to the back of your mind and distract yourself, you kinda just learn to deal with it. I’d kind of describe it as feeling hungover almost all the time, but without the drinking. However, a lot of people are diagnosed with MUCH worse conditions, and although my mild form of M.E. does fuck up my day every now and again, a lot of people are literally bed bound with this illness, and the fact that it’s such a misunderstood condition means that these people find it difficult to even make ends meet. How do you prove to your employer that you can’t come to work because you have ME? There are no tests. We don’t even really know what causes it.
So, I genuinely consider myself quite lucky and I sincerely sympathise with anyone who is suffering from a severe case of M.E. I hope they find a way to treat or at least formally prove its effects asap.
I’ve wanted to be a musician for as long as I can remember, and now I’m actually getting to do it for a living. I love it and I should love it too, because I’m exceptionally lucky to be in this position. I mean we’re still essentially starting out in this industry but it’s not lost on me how many people dream of doing what we do for a living and never manage to make it into the industry. It’s not a normal job though. Being extra-emotionally invested in what you do, coupled with jumping around a stage most nights, and keeping super irregular hours is probably not what my doctor would advise as an ideal lifestyle but I ain’t giving it up.
So, when we’re on tour it can be a bit tricky. I sometimes have to go super sloth all day, which I’m happy to do if it means that for the 30-60 minutes of the day we’re performing I can give it the ultimate big spuds on stage. Then I can go and collapse in a Travelodge. I don’t really have it that bad tbh, and I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by understanding people who get it, I’m sure they don’t love hanging out with a moody corpse-Callum every now and again. I just want to make people more aware of the illness, because not everyone is as fortunate as myself, and they’re dealing with a much tougher form of ME with little or no support from friends or the government.
I would urge anyone who is interested in understanding wtf I’ve been banging on about to watch this doc