BEHIND Lauren Bunney’s stunning smile is a hidden pain.
To many people, she might not look ill.
But the 25-year-old, from Marton, has spent the last few years suffering excruciating muscle pain, severe exhaustion, sickness and at one point her weight plummeted to a shocking 6st 2lbs.
At one point last year, she felt so desperately ill and seemingly unable to get a diagnosis after seeing 15 doctors, she said she felt like she wanted to die.
And while her condition will never be cured and can relapse, so she is still unwell, she is now doing a lot better than 12 months ago.
The former promotions worker was eventually diagnosed with ME by a neurologist, which had been sparked by an unknown infection.
Lauren said: “I had been to the doctors 28 times and seen 15 specialists, I had paid for appointments privately because I just didn’t seem to be getting anywhere.
“I kept getting various different symptoms and no one really seemed to look at them all as a whole.
“I kept being sick, I kept blacking out, I had lost so much weight people thought I was anorexic, I had tingling in the my hands and feet, I would be drenched in sweat – so much I would have to change my clothes, some days I physically couldn’t get out of bed or even speak.
“At one point, because I also had bleeding, they thought it might be cervical cancer.
“But then the neurologist listened to all the symptoms, put it together and finally told me what it was.
“It’s difficult with ME because a lot of people just think it’s that you’re tired.
“I also have a problem with my liver, it works at about 40 per cent and I have asthma, so the doctors said that probably made me vulnerable to the infection and the ME.
“Sometimes I have to use a wheelchair when I go out because I can’t walk long distances. I really don’t like to and feel embarrassed, especially at my age but I have accepted now I sometimes need to.
“I know people might look at me and think there’s nothing wrong because with ME you can’t really see the person is ill.
“I am better than I was, but have to accept it does limit me.
“It is hard as I was so active and busy before.”
Lauren, who had to give up work when she became ill, recently got engaged to partner Jamie Swindells, 26.
She says his support, along with that of her family, helped her get through a tough time.
“He’s brilliant about it, really supportive. My mum, my dad and gran have been amazing and my little sister Nieve, who’s eight.
“If I couldn’t get out of bed, she would come and put a DVD on for me and bring me water.
“I’ve got two best friends who have been amazing support too.
“My dog Ralph has been a great companion and it helped me having him there when I was stuck around the house.
“And going to a local support group helped me too – it made me feel ‘normal’.
“Everyone else had the same things as me and I wasn’t on my own, it stopped me feeling isolated.”
Lauren is determined not to let her condition beat her and has lots of plans for fund-raising events for the Action for ME charity.
She also hopes to set up a support group for local people with ME and she is working on a special book, an action pack of activities for younger ME sufferers stuck indoors and restricted by their condition, to do to keep them occupied.
She said: “I hope my story might give people some hope and maybe help them feel a bit less alone.”