“I’m living with chronic fatigue but I’m coping”
SOCIAL worker Catherine Bleach is living with an invisible condition that not many can recognise. The 53-year-old from Brighton was diagnosed four years ago with a life-changing condition, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), better known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. As this is ME Awareness Week, Catherine hopes to inspire other patients to confront the condition bravely.
Catherine was working full-time in adult social care until she fell ill. Initially she thought she had flu but when she could not get better, her GP delivered the bad news. She said: “I remember I told the doctor that I refused to accept his diagnosis. “When I fell ill at the office I was just so exhausted. Everything I did was like lifting a tonne of bricks.”
Catherine accepted her fate and is aware that every physical activity she wants to do needs to be planned precisely as it could take a serious toll on her health. Despite the setbacks, Catherine still found inner strength to continue her passion in social work.She said: “I love being a social worker, but with ME there are limits to what I can do. “I accepted I can’t work full-time but my love for social work has kept me going because I enjoy helping others. Now I work as a specialist mentor and the hours are very flexible. When I feel exhausted I can take a break. Some people don’t really understand what ME is, and there’s no language to describe how we really feel. When I say ‘I’m exhausted’, other people can also say it but without knowing what tiredness actually means for ME patients. I get tired very easily and it’s a bone-crushing sort of exhaustion. I need to make careful decisions in what I do every day, and I need to plan my week’s activities very intricately.
“Even getting out of bed can be a big task for me. My advice is to find as much support as you can get. I’m quite lucky as my husband helps me a lot. I am a member of the Sussex & Kent ME Society and it’s helped me become more determined to live the best life I can.”