Healthy Living: Coming to terms with debilitating condition

Bethan Rutter
Bethan Rutter
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Tiredness is a normal, everyday feeling. But for some sufferers of ME, simply moving or concentrating can prove a challenge.

Bethan Rutter, from Walkley in Sheffield, has the condition, and remembers when she ‘just didn’t feel right’.

Sufferers of ME can find it hard to concentrate on day-to-day tasks, as well as experiencing muscular aches, pains and tiredness.

Sufferers of ME can find it hard to concentrate on day-to-day tasks, as well as experiencing muscular aches, pains and tiredness.

Over time the illness, which can prove difficult to treat, has increasingly limited her once busy life.

“I was extremely tired, and it wasn’t normal tiredness when you feel better after a good night’s sleep,” she said.

“I couldn’t concentrate, and my fitness levels plummeted because I wasn’t getting any exercise.”

That was five years ago, although Bethan believes she may have had ME - Myalgic Encephalomyelitis - as a student, putting the effects down to her lifestyle at the time.

The condition is also goes under the name of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but the symptoms are the same.

“I struggle to socialise, especially on a work day,” said Bethan, aged 32.

“Sometimes I struggle to even make myself dinner when I’m going through a very bad patch.

“I can feel low about the limitations on my previously very active life.”

Bethan is speaking out during ME Awareness Month, which runs throughout May.

The campaign highlights an illness which affects 250,000 men, women and children in the UK.

Common symptoms include muscle pain, persistent exhaustion, poor concentration and memory problems.

Patients can also report headache and digestive problems.

Sufferers are affected in different ways and to different degrees.

The exact cause of ME is unknown and there is currently no cure available.

Possible factors in triggering ME include genetic factors, viral infections, stress, depression and traumatic events, such as bereavement.

Bethan, a dietician who works with kidney patients at the Northern General Hospital in Fir Vale, was referred by her GP to Sheffield’s specialist ME/CFS service, based at the Fairlawns Centre on Middlewood Road.

“I can’t stress enough how much they helped,” she added.

“I have learned to appreciate what I can do and not focus on what I can’t do.

“I know my physical limitations which helps me to maintain a more constant energy level.”

Some people are given exercise therapy, while others receive help in ‘pacing’ their life better and balancing how they use their energy, she says.

Bethan receives Cognitive Behavioural Therapy,which involves talking about a particular problem with the aim of changing how a person thinks and behaves.

The Fairlawns centre offers group or individual therapy sessions.

“It helps me come to terms with it rather than fighting it,” she said of the treatment.

But she has had to cut down her working hours and adds: “ME can be a very debilitating illness, made more difficult by the attitude that others take towards you.

“Not everyone who looks well actually is well.

“Poor understanding from some friends has affected how I feel towards them.”

Bethan said the condition has also had an effect on her partner’s life, as well as her performance in the workplace.

“He no longer has a lively, fun person at home and he has to make allowances for how I feel physically.

“My mum worries about me and my employer has had to make changes in my working pattern to allow me to go part-time.

“My colleagues may need to take on extra work when I’m unwell, can’t work at full capacity or take time off sick.”

The charity Action for ME is leading research as well as offering advice and information.

n Visit www.actionforme.org.uk for more details about the organisation’s work.