Michael White
Michael White

When former Vancouver Magazine editor Michael White began his fundraising campaign last Sunday—$4,000 for travel and accommodations to visit the Spasmodic Torticollis Recovery Clinic in Santa Fe, New Mexico—he expected it to take at least a month. Twenty-four hours later, he’d raised more than he asked for, and the donations just kept coming.

Now, at the time of writing (four days since he began fundraising on gofundme.com), White is just shy of the $6,000 mark. He says the extra money will go a long way toward helping him find treatment and cope with the rare, incurable condition of spasmodic torticollis.

Spasmodic torticollis, also known as cervical dystonia, is a disorder affecting muscles in the neck. For White, its onset was scarily sudden and progressed at a ferocious rate, and within weeks of his first symptoms it felt like his head was constantly being pulled backward, the tension becoming stronger every day. Now, White’s neck is in a constant state of spasm, making simple tasks such as walking to the grocery store nearly impossible—let alone his journalistic endeavours, which he’s been forced to abandon.

While there’s no such thing as a good time to lose control of your neck, the onset of White’s condition was particularly inconvenient given the state of his career. At 45, White made the difficult decision to leave Vancouver Magazine in pursuit of freelancing, as well as to edit the debut issue of a brand new magazine. Two weeks later, he had his first neck spasm, and this exciting new phase of his career gradually fell apart.

“The spasms that I experience in my neck not only make it difficult to maintain balance when I’m walking, but they’re also exhausting,” he says. “I certainly wasn’t able to go out and do interviews and run around meeting with prospective advertisers, and I didn’t have the clarity of mind to write good content.”

As White and many others can attest to, journalism is not a well-paid profession, let alone one with many safety nets. Soon after he became unable to work, White and his partner found themselves in a precarious financial situation—making this week’s outpouring of online generosity all the more meaningful.

But more surprising to White than the sheer speed of donations was who they came from, including people he hadn’t seen since high school and colleagues he didn’t even think were particularly fond of him. “That these people apparently think well enough of me to donate that quickly and that generously—it’s a very good feeling in the midst of a whole lot of terrible feelings,” he says.

Though journalism is often a competitive profession, White’s situation proves that it can be communal as well. Thanks in large part to fellow writers and reporters he had never thought of as friends–those who donated and those who simply spread the word–White will be able to receive treatment in Santa Fe. Hopefully, as he learns to live with his debilitating condition, White will someday be a journalist again.

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About the author

Jonah Brunet is copy and display editor for the Spring 2016 issue of the Ryerson Review of Journalism.

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