BECCA Harrington might look like any other teenager, sitting curled up on the sofa at her St Annes home, chatting away.
But she is not your average teen.
The 16-year-old’s life has drastically changed over the last four years.
Her illness started about four years ago after a series of colds and flu-like bugs, which meant she was missing a lot of school. One of the viruses was glandular fever, and it is thought this was the main trigger of her ME – myalgic encephalomyelitis.
Among other problems, the condition leaves sufferers chronically tired, weak and unable to do even normal, every-day activities.
Becca did manage to get back to school in 2010 for a couple of hours a day, but then that became too much.
She said: “I couldn’t go into school and couldn’t finish my studies. I did have a home tutor though, through ACERS, and managed to get three-and-a-half GCSEs from a couple of hours per week. I was just always ill and really weak.
“People think I don’t look ill, especially as I still like to do my make-up. But at the moment I am struggling to walk, and have to use a Zimmer frame or a wheelchair whenever out.
“It does sometimes have remission where I’m not as bad.
“But even if I am having a good spell for me, it’s not good by other people’s standards.
“There is very much a lack of awareness and it can be hard to be taken seriously.
“People think ME is just being a bit tired, but there are lots of different and varied symptoms and everybody is affected differently. Some people are affected cognitively. I get brain fog and it does affect my memory at times.
“It can be hard to concentrate and I also don’t sleep well. Sometimes when it’s really bad, I can’t stand to be touched, as it hurts.”
Becca had to be rushed into hospital in September 2010, struggling to maintain her weight. She had to be tube fed and the muscle wastage left her unable to walk.
More recently, she had to spend time in hospital again, initially doctors thought she had appendicitis, but it turned out to be a kidney infection. The ME makes Becca more prone to infections as it attacks white blood cells – leaving the immune system low.
While the teen has ‘severe’ ME, she is aware there are others who are worse off.
She has made friends with other ME sufferers – which she says has been of great help to her – through a website called Ayme.
Becca said: “The most severe cases have to be tube-fed and spend a lot of time in hospital. Some people can’t stand light or noise. Sadly, some people die.
“Meeting and speaking to people on Ayme has really helped me. It’s good to know you’re not alone but also to talk to other people who you know understand, who know what it’s like.
“I’ve met some of my best friends through Ayme. And one of my school friends has been there all the way through. Hannah Hyde, she didn’t know anything about ME, but always supports me, including when it’s really bad. She understands and will sit and read to me sometimes.”
Becca, who is now seeing specialists in Liverpool, has managed to find hobbies and activities she can do to keep herself occupied.
She makes jewellery and likes arts and crafts, and has started photography.
She said: “I do get anxiety about going out and some depression. And I have some OCD tendencies. But I do try to stay positive.
“It has changed my life completely, and that of my family. But I am determined to keep trying and eventually I will get there.”