From the Ilford Recorder, 15 May 2010
TWO letters changed Margaret Sansom’s life beyond recognition, forcing her to leave her job, quit her hobbies and totally change her way of life. Those two letters were M and E.
The 60-year-old married mum-of-two is frank in describing how being hit by ME or chronic fatigue syndrome, was like being struck by a train as she talks about her condition during national ME Awareness Week, which ends on Saturday.
“I had to stop socialising completely,” says Mrs Sansom, of Clinton Crescent, Hainault. “I just couldn’t follow conversations.”
“The whole thing was like being hit by a freight train.”
It took a year for Mrs Sansom to be diagnosed with what doctors described as “classic” ME.
She was forced to take early retirement from her job as a special needs co-ordinator at Redbridge Primary School – then called Redbridge Junior School – four years ago, after discovering what it was that was making her life so pain-ridden and difficult.
She says: “The diagnosis process was extremely difficult. They had to go through a process of elimination.
“I had severe pain, which affected my walking, as well as extreme fatigue. I had a lot of time off because of that.
“My GP still didn’t know what was wrong with me. I paid to see a rheumatologist and he did tests to see if there were any underlying muscle diseases.
“He told me to see a specialist at Harold Wood Hospital and that’s how I was finally diagnosed.”
In the months and years which followed diagnosis in early 2006, Mrs Sansom’s life turned upside down.
She was granted early retirement and had to grapple with being unable to go out and socialise with friends, as well as having to stop pursuing her passion of going to the theatre because of the muscle pains sitting would bring.
She could no longer walk her dogs on long rambles.
But over time she has learned to adapt and build her life around the condition.
She says: “I always say there are three signs your body gives you. Number one is ‘I think you better stop now’. Number two is ‘You’re going to be sorry if you don’t stop now’, and number three is ‘Told you so’. You can’t ignore the signs.”
She has regular massages and hydrotherapy and is given medication to combat the fatigue, but says things are now more “predictable”.
While she has not been abroad since the diagnosis, she does go on trips, including travelling to the coast, although she makes sure she builds enough time into her timetable to recover from the journey.
She also has a retired greyhound, Bella, she takes on short walks of up to 20 minutes, and has benefited from following a recovery programme available online at www.guptaprogramme.com.
“I believe if I had been diagnosed earlier, the condition wouldn’t have been as severe because I kept pushing myself when I didn’t know what was wrong,” says Mrs Sansom.
“People think ME is just about tiredness, but it’s so much more.
“It affects your memory and reading, and watching TV becomes difficult.”
ME or myalgic encephalomyelitis/encephalopathy is also known as chronic fatigue syndrome and can sometimes be diagnosed as post-viral fatigue syndrome.
It affects around 250,000 people in the UK.
The exact cause of ME is unknown, but people diagnosed with it often have abnormalities in their immune and nervous systems.