One woman's battle with chronic fatigue

GEORGIA Eastley never had a chance to finish high school, celebrate her 18th birthday or go to university.

While her friends leapt the milestones to adulthood, the Deloraine teenager was trapped in a dark room wearing sunglasses and earplugs, her senses so frayed she couldn't even handle deodorant in the house.

Ms Eastley, now 20, has myalgic encephalomyelitis, otherwise known as chronic fatigue syndrome.

Initially dismissed as a "yuppie flu", ME is now recognised as a serious and debilitating illness which can cause profound fatigue, muscle and joint pain, headaches, disrupted sleep and immune system problems.

The cause is unknown.

Ms Eastley said the illness first presented during a basketball game when she was 16, and the "attack" left her unable to breathe or move her limbs.

She said doctors initially dismissed it as asthma, but in the months that followed attacks became more frequent and severe.

"I had to give up netball and I had to give up basketball, but then the attacks started happening in class, and my arms would lock up and I couldn't breathe, no matter how hard I tried," Ms Eastley said.

"I would have to miss a few days of school afterwards, in bed, feeling really sore and lethargic with headaches and nausea."

Ms Eastley said she tried various doctors as the disease progressed, but they all said nothing could be done.

"At first they didn't believe me, there were lots of different reasons why I was sick - I was missing my sister, who had just moved out of home, or it was just in my head, I was just being a stubborn teenager, or I didn't like school," Ms Eastley said.

"After six months I had a diagnosis, but they still told me there was nothing they could do. It broke my heart every time."

Ms Eastley said her symptoms continued to worsen, and she was forced to drop out of school at the end of grade 10.

"That was really hard for me, because I was so driven. It was my dream to go to university and become a speech pathologist," she said.

"I was completely bedridden, apart from doctor appointments, and every day I would have a migraine or bad headache, and would have to lie there with sunglasses on in a dark room.

"I also had a lot of stomach troubles and I went 16 months having barely eaten a thing because my gut was so damaged."

Ms Eastley said she couldn't stop thinking how life was continuing without her.

"I didn't see anything outside my four walls and missed all the big events like grade 11 and grade 12, 18th birthdays and my own 18th birthday," Ms Eastley said.

"Knowing my friends were out there doing school balls, graduating and moving from teenagers to adults - when I couldn't even make Christmas - was really hard."

Ms Eastley said things finally began to improve about a year ago when she found a team of doctors committed to helping her.

She now visits a specialist in Melbourne, a Chinese medicine practitioner in Devonport, an osteopath in Launceston and a general practitioner at Sheffield.

"I still have my bad days. But I'm able to leave the house, and I've just started working half an hour a week, which is a big step," Ms Eastley said.

She said she hadn't given up her dream of university and a career.

"I think I want to be a speech pathologist more now than I did before, because I see I can help people that way, now I have that empathy - I understand what it's like to feel despair, like there's no help," she said.

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