NEARLY two decades after the ‘hidden illness’ took over her life making the most simple tasks physically daunting and inexplicably exhausting, ME sufferer Clair Puschnik is resolved to shed light on her often misunderstood condition.
Determined not to allow it to get the best of her, the mother-of-two is keen to share her experience and educate the public about the illness, which affects 250,000 people nationwide, during ME Awareness Month, which launches today.
Clair, from Grange Park, was diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis at the age of 19, after failing to recover from a bout of flu which left her bedridden for a week.
But, unaware that her chronic fatigue was a long-term condition, she went on with her life, assuming the disease had simply disappeared, and putting periods of extreme tiredness and constant migraines down to her busy professional and personal life.
It was not until five years ago that the 36-year-old found her daily struggles were all caused by the incurable condition.
“When I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue at 19 I was not aware that I would have it for life so when I felt better I assumed it had gone,” said Clair, a part-time registered childminder. “I didn’t find out until about four or five years ago, when I started doing my degree in education studies.
“My health really suffered but I put it down to the stresses of life.
“I had no idea what I was going through was relapses of ME.
“I started getting double vision and was referred to a specialist at the hospital by my GP and he told me ‘Do you realise this is part of your ME?’”
Common symptoms of ME include muscle pain, persistent exhaustion, poor concentration and memory problems, headaches, un-refreshing sleep and digestive problems, such as nausea or Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
While some patients make good progress quite quickly, others can be ill for a number of years. A significant minority are severely affected and bedbound or housebound for months, years or even decades.
“I have had this for over 16 years now and refuse to let it beat me,” Clair said. “However, there are times when it just does crash me senseless and it’s usually at a time when I do not expect it.
“The main symptom that really gets me down is the fatigue. “It is there all the time, but when it hits hard, it’s literally like my body has given up from head to toe and forces me to sleep.
“But I don’t look ill. I call ME the hidden illness.” She said many people think ME sufferers are hypochondriacs because you can’t see the illness.
But Clair said: “I put up a good front because that’s my way of coping, but it’s there.”
l For support visit www.action forme.org.uk or call 0845 1232380.