I had hopes of being an Olympian - now I’m bed-bound with an illness some people think doesn’t exist.
ME, two simple letters that can rip apart everything you worked for and everything you ever dreamt of.
Myalgic encephalomyelitis is a soul destroying disease that leaves so many bedridden without anyone knowing.
I’ve had ME for two years now after coming down with glandular fever in Easter 2016. At the time I was 19, a student athlete - in my second year of university - with hopes of rowing internationally. I was fit, active, I ate well, I exercised. I was happy and positive and yet one day I woke feeling as if I was dying. It was like my whole body ached, in a way I’d never felt before - I felt drained of everything I had. I knew instantly something was wrong.
After calling 111 it was thought I had meningitis and an ambulance took me to A&E where various tests showed I had nothing wrong and was sent home with a suspected viral infection. However, that evening my tonsils went bright white and swelled so much I couldn’t breathe or swallow. Again I called 111 and was sent to an out of hours doctor where I was told I had tonsillitis.
A course of antibiotics cleared up my throat but I never felt the same again. Training was hard, I was always in pain and out of breath. After a week my tonsils flared up again. This time I was told in was glandular fever and to rest.
Months and months went past and I never got better.
Eventually it was thought I had chronic fatigue syndrome (ME). Since then I’ve spiralled downhill, getting more poorly everyday. From what I know, ME is an inflammation in my brain and nervous system which has left me in excruciating chronic pain, poor cognitive function, a weakened immune system and chronically fatigued.
Day to day every inch of my body is in pain, I struggle to read and concentrate, I’m sick, I’m too tired to move, bright lights hurt my eyes, loud noises hurt my head. I spend upwards of 20 hours in bed a day in order not to “crash”. In my crashes, I scream in pain, unable to talk, or move. My whole body shakes, my eyes roll. It’s like my whole body is screaming at me to stop.
Some days, when I feel a little better for an hour or two, I’ll see a friend. I look well. Nothing looks wrong with me. They don’t see me lying in bed screaming in pain. No one understands what truly goes on behind closed doors. People will ask me if I feel a bit tired. Or stare at me if I stand up after using a wheelchair. I’m questioned if it’s my mental health. If I’m lazy.
Have you ever laid in bed and felt so ill that you truly thought you were going to die?
ME is a hugely misunderstood and unheard of illness.
For years it was misdiagnosed and not believed. I’ve struggled with various doctors not understanding the condition and suggesting treatment, which in fact, made me worse. The first ‘specialist’ I saw suggested it was my personality.
He said, I should make more effort to wake up at 9am get showered, dressed and then go on a long walk. This was my ‘treatment plan’. However, the more I pushed myself to get out of bed, the more ill I got.
Imagine how you would feel if haven’t slept in three days, you caught the flu, had the worst hangover of your life - and you had to run a marathon feeling like this. This is how I feel everyday.
Having ME can leave me feeling invisible, unheard and misunderstood. It has lead to me developing various other conditions, such as depression, anxiety, eczema, migraines and tonsillitis. Because my immune system has been weakened I also regularly get viral infections on top of this.
My mind often wonders what I wish I could do if I wasn’t ill. I am stuck in the prison that is ME. When you are stripped of your hobbies, talents, energy and work then who do you become?
ME has made me become stronger mentally. I now find joy in the little things - a cuddle with my puppy, the blue sky, the sound of birds singing, the warm sun on my face.
I extremely grateful for all my family, relatives and the close friends who understand. I know it is hard for them to see me crumble into a shell of my former self. I live in the hope that one day doctors will find a treatment, one day there will be funding for more research, and one day I will be better.
The ME Association is at the forefront of improving access to care, treatment and research and removing the disease’s stigma.
MEA medical adviser Charles Shepherd said: “Several quality of life research studies have shown that the level of disability in ME can be just as great than many other serious medical conditions, including cancer and multiple sclerosis.
“While some some people with ME do improve over the course of time, it is only a small minority that return to full normal health.
“Despite being recognised by the World Health Organisation as a neurological disease, and a report from the Chief Medical Officer of Health calling for more research and a network of hospital based clinics, many doctors still don’t know how to diagnose and manage ME/CFS and lack or research means that we still don’t have any effective forms of treatment.
“This is a completely unacceptable situation for a disease that is twice as common as multiple sclerosis and where a new report has estimated that is costing the UK economy around £3.5 billion in lost taxes, healthcare and benefit costs.”
For more information on ME, or to donate towards research, visit the ME Association website: www.meassociation.org.uk