FAMILY HEALTH : I won't let M.E. curse ruin my life; FAMILY HEALTH HOW EMILY, 18, IS FIGHTING BACK.
But then the lively schoolgirl who used to be top of the class was stricken with a painful and exhausting condition that wrecked her young life.
It was five years before Emily was finally diagnosed as suffering from ME - chronic fatigue syndrome.
Another three years on, she is slowly coming to terms with her condition - which forced her to quit school early, ruined her social life and left her too ill to leave the house.
Emily, 18, from Dulwich, South East London, refuses to let it beat her.
"It is no good moping," she says. "I suffer terribly, but I do enjoy life. I have learnt to manage the illness. I listen to my body and don't overdo it."
Her ordeal began when her health failed to improve after a severe bout of glandular fever and pancreatitis.
The illnesses had left her weak and easily tired. Then she began to suffer agonising headaches, muscle and joint pain and loss of concentration. Soon, it was badly affecting her school work.
But her devastating symptoms were dismissed as lack of confidence or hypochondria. The doctor told her concerned mum Jane there was nothing wrong with her.
It wasn't until Emily was 15 that her GP sent her to a psychiatrist and she was finally diagnosed as having ME.
"It was such a relief to know what was wrong with me," she says. "Although physically I was still suffering a great deal, that diagnosis improved my mental state dramatically.
"I had been very depressed because I just could not understand what was happening to me. The GP had told me so often that there was nothing wrong with me that I began to believe him.
"But I felt terrible all the time - like I had really bad flu. I was really struggling with my schoolwork.
"I could not do PE, and my friends had to carry my schoolbag. I was in continual pain - I could not shake it off. By the time I was diagnosed I felt so ill I couldn't even walk to school. Sometimes I could not even get out of bed."
Emily's lifeline was the Association Of Youth With ME (AYME) o- a charity that provides friendship, information and support to sufferers up to the age of 25.
Although she has been unable to leave the house for nearly two years, she has learnt to cope.
"Contacting AYME was the best thing I ever did. Suddenly I wasn't alone. I did not feel isolated any more," she says. "There were other young people suffering the same things.
"I am still in a lot of pain and find it very difficult to concentrate. I have to continually fight to think. I suffer weakness, dizziness, nausea and appalling circulation.
"I am very sensitive to light and sound. The vacuum cleaner and lawnmower make me very ill. And I have to wear dark glasses all the time.
"I have no social life and I have lost many of my old friends. But I have made lots of new ones through AYME.
"My parents can't leave me, so holidays are out. I have to depend on my mum for everything. But they are fantastic, and I now have a very supportive GP.
"I am very strict with myself and make sure I do certain activities and have long rest periods throughout the day.
"The worst thing is to try to do too much. I know my limits.
"I try to be realistic and realise that, whatever happens, I might not get better. But I have improved slightly over the past few months.
"I have been told that if you get ME when you are young it is more severe, but you are more likely to recover.
"I just hope that is true."
AYME: Box 605, Milton Keynes, MK6 3BH. Tel/fax: 01908 691 635.
Action For ME: PO Box 1302, Wells, Somerset, BA5 2WE. Tel: 01749 670799.
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|Publication:||The Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||May 7, 1999|
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