A pernicious disease is spreading through society.  The effects can be devastating, yet the symptoms often so subtle as to render the sufferer unconsciously crippled.  The number of people gradually realising that they too are inflicted is growing at a rate of pandemic proportions.  The cause has taken experts by surprise: Reality itself is threatened with extinction, with severe consequences for humans.

“For years of my life I felt like I knew what was going on, but these days I can’t be sure of anything,” told Gary Muddle from Glasgow.  “Everything is so contradictory.  One person says one thing, another says the opposite, and it’s all backed-up by the same studies and figures; how are we supposed to know what the hell is going on.  If I hear one more frigging statistic I’m going to explode.”

It’s the same across the nation.  “How can people keep a straight face?” raged Guy Rights of London.  “How can some people who promote feminism agree with segregation at certain meetings?  How can some people who supposedly support free speech want to ban certain people from speaking?  I know life’s not black and white but it feels like we’re living in 50 Shades of Grey – just without the fun bits.”

Joe and Guy are in the early stages of confusion and irritation, the classic initial symptoms, but there are already those displaying more advanced stages of the disease.  A dinner lady from Sheffield, who wished to remain anonymous, began feeling unwell around the time she discovered her favourite reality TV show was not real.  “I watched it religiously, I was a proper fan.  Then I learnt it wasn’t real – it’s something called ‘structured reality’.  I’m not an educated person but even I can see that’s a contradiction in terms.”

The lady also reported feeling so confused that she once voted for UKIP.  “After I came out of the ballot box I realised what I‘d done, but at the time it seemed like there was no alternative.  I can’t even be sure of myself anymore.  Do you know who I am?”

Honor Truth from Cornwall is so perplexed about what to eat she has lost 7 stones and been admitted to hospital.  “I’m too bewildered to eat,” she whispers feebly from her bed.  “I started developing a phobia of food last year.  Everything I ate turned out not to be real: my lasagna was horse meat instead of beef, ice-cream synthetic and 50% air, there was no chicken in my chicken nuggets or chocolate in my chocolate-flavoured shake.”

Honor’s medical team briefed me against mentioning GM food and whether it’s safe or not to her during our conversation.  “I know I might die, I just can’t bear to eat anything pretend anymore and it’s so hard to tell what’s real and what’s not.  Even organic food is being faked.”  Doctors are hoping Honor will be strong enough to start growing her own food in the hospital garden as a cure.

Professor Frank Talk is leading the team that first identified a possible link between the decline of Reality and mental health.  “You don’t have to search hard for evidence of causes of this malaise.  It seems to have infected most areas of society, from government and international business to the food we eat and our entertainment.  Many cases I have seen describe how politics increasingly antagonises their symptoms.  It was bad enough when politicians were disparaging about MPs from other political parties but now they attack MPs in their own parties even more vehemently.  Some politicians try to rewrite history by deleting things they have written and published on the Internet in the past; parties say they are doing one thing when their policies actually have totally the opposite effect to the stated intention.  Backtracking and denials abound.”

In response to mounting public concern, the government is setting up a task force to look into the erosion of Reality in society and the consequences for public health.  At a press conference, the Minister for Health urged everyone to keep calm and carry on.  “Let’s be absolutely clear, no government has ever been more concerned about its citizens or done more to protect them.  We’ll not be rushing to any hasty conclusions but conducting a swift investigation.  The last government failed even to detect an issue, but when we do I would like to reassure everyone that we shall do everything in our power to ascertain the causes and administer treatment.  We are already stockpiling antidepressants as a precaution, to ensure anyone who manages to get an appointment and see their GP is treated.”

Two journalists were actually stricken during the press conference, having to be reminded where they were and what the point was.  It’s not all bad news though; shares in pharmaceutical companies shot up with the announcement, with one leading CEO seeking to reassure the public with this statement: “The extinction of reality is simply the next major mental health challenge for mankind.  Our industry has been helping patients overcome Reality for many years.  We already assist hundreds of millions of people around the world beat the misery of Reality on a daily basis, and we’ll be here to help customers through any transition to a total loss of Reality, and beyond.”

An anthropologist of dubious credentials had a more positive view: “People have altered their own realities for millennia, expanding their minds with hallucinogens and now with virtual worlds, even simply using their imaginations.  It can be seen as a natural evolutionary step for humans to start taking this to the next level.  Progress is inevitable and you can’t make an omelette without cracking eggs.”

So what does the future hold?  Can Reality be brought back from the brink of extinction?  Are we simply in a period of transition to a new post-truth Reality?  Does anyone ever actually know what is really going on?  In the meantime, the advice from the medical establishment is to drink plenty of water, enjoy regular exercise and take a hefty dose of reality.