HELEN Wood is 25, but has missed out on dozens of experiences due to a ten-year struggle with myalgic encephalopathy, or ME.
Also known as chronic fatigue syndrome, the condition is a controversial one, with sceptics questioning whether it exists at all.
Helen has a Vitamin D deficiency, is constantly tired and was unable to achieve any qualifications in her teenage years.
She spends much of her time in bed, and is left too ill to work.
Helen said that many people do not understand the complex symptoms ME can bring, and sufferers are often accused of being lazy.
She’s been campaigning for years to spread awareness and cultivate understanding in Bristol, hoping to banish some of the stigma attached to the disease.
This year is no different. ME awareness week is being held across the country this week, and Helen was once again at Cribbs Causeway on Saturday, hoping to speak to as many people as possible about her condition.
She said: “I have a blue badge and I still get funny looks from people when we are parked in the disabled spaces. I wish people wouldn’t judge without knowing the full facts first.
“Just because I don’t look ill doesn’t mean I’m not, I still wish I was like everyone else of my own age. ME is a hard illness to live with.
“I marked ME awareness week last year with public fundraising, and I think people’s awareness has got better in the last year or so, but there is still a long was to go.”
In the last year, Helen has also been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, which means she has had to take more care of herself than ever.
It also means she is determined to raise as much money as she can for the ME Association.
She said: “I would like this year to the best year yet, when we raise as much money as we can.
“The last 12 months have been very hard for me and if we can raise more money than we did last year then all this awareness and fundraising will have of been worth it.
“I know I am going to be knackered by the end of all this but I’m determined to do my bit and I’m not going to just sit around and do nothing.”
ME can be very unpredictable and sufferers do not know how they will feel from one day to the next. Simple tasks can exhaust them, and it is also common to experience problems similar to irritable bowel syndrome.
Neil Riley, chairman of the ME Association, said: “People suffering from ME are treated as though we just lack the will to do something. When young, this devastating illness is the biggest cause of long-term absence from school. It robs us of our youth. When older, we lose our jobs, friends, and often our carers. That’s what our illness does.
“With the public’s awareness and understanding, we can change the damaging perceptions of this illness and help to improve the lives of those who face it.”
Helen will be fundraising and spreading awareness at The Mall at Cribbs Causeway on Saturday, May 16, and at Tesco in Bradley Stoke on Friday, June 5.