Until age of 59, I had always been very fit and well. I looked after myself, ate a balanced diet, took moderate exercise, looked after my mental health. Then it all started to go pear-shaped.
My then GP was "hopeless" and constantly suggested I take antibiotics because it was a UTI (which it wasn't). I learnt that the NHS urine lab tests are notoriously unreliable and suspect thousands of women are taking repeated prescriptions of antibiotics, when they haven't got a UTI.
My symptoms were bowel and bladder related. I was told it was because I had low vaginal oestrogen, so I started using vaginal oestriol cream. My vagina looks much better but the symptoms persist.
A menopause clinic suggested I start HRT, at £100 a month. As I had breezed through the menopause nine years earlier and didn't have systemic symptoms, why would I use systemic HRT?
I have also lived with chemical sensitivities for the last 20 years, so I avoid all medication where possible.
No one really knew what it was. The bladder and blood tests were all normal.
I am resigned to the fact that I have to live with these daily symptoms that are life changing. These include bladder irritation and urgency if I eat certain foods, nerve pain in the bowel and vaginal area when my bowel is full and immediately after emptying. It feels like a sudden wave of electric shocks, which can take my breath away.
Over the last four years I have kept food diaries, monitored toilet habits and I understand the triggers and avoid the things that are likely to make me feel uncomfortable.
I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that this is my new life. Acceptance with adjustment is the key. Much easier said than done.
I had a long career in the NHS and now I am retired, I have made my life as fulfilling and rewarding as I can.
This experience has been a real eye opener for me, and is both challenging at an individual level and also has affected my relationships. I know that my personality has changed. I am more short tempered and irritable.
I appreciate now how chronic illness impacts every aspect of your life.
Bladder Health UK is a wonderful charity for guiding me on all aspects of bladder health and I have a wonderful women's health physiotherapist who I see as needed.
For anyone living with chronic illness, I would say, try and take as much responsibility for your health as possible. Listen to your body, keep notes and diaries of symptoms to try and make sense of the triggers, so you can take steps to make changes.
Look after your physical and mental health and as many people have already said, illness does not have to define you.