Over the last three days, Salford Now has been exploring the issue of mental illness through our series of Is the World Going Mental?
In our penultimate piece, we explore what it is like living with disabilities and aiming for a normal life.
Having a life threatening illness is a traumatic time for anyone to go through. Around 6% of the population will be affected by a rare disease at some point in their lives, equating to around 3.5 million people in the UK and 30 million across Europe.
Caitriona Gough, aged 26, has 18 of them.
“I discovered when I was just 12 years’ old something was wrong when I was sick for a few months moving to Ireland. No one would believe I was sick until it progressed to the point I was labelled terminally ill. I was only the fifth child in Ireland to be diagnosed.”
Although unknown at the time, Caitriona, known as Cat by her friends, had the illness known as Lupus.
It was recently discovered that Lupus sufferers in the UK waited on average 6.4 years between developing symptoms and reaching a diagnostic.
Professor Ian Bruce, Consultant Rheumatologist at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust said:” Many of the signs and symptoms of lupus, are common in the general population. Lupus however, typically effects several parts of the body. Symptoms include joint pain and stiffness, recurring mouth ulcers, fatigue, and hair loss. If someone suspects, they may have lupus they should consult their GP”.
During Cat’s childhood, she described a troubled time dealing with her condition, as well as being bullied at school.
“I went from being a happy child in the UK to being uprooted, bullied, an no one believing I was sick” she says, “it was a very troubling time”.
“I remember planning my funeral like it was a colouring book. I had seen many other children come and go from the ward, I had no idea what I was missing out on as a kid because I spent so much time in the ward. Hospital was all I knew.”
“It’s difficult knowing the illness runs your life, not you.”
Out of the 18 health conditions Cat suffers with on a daily basis, she says system lupus erythematosis is “the big one”. This condition has left Cat unable to talk, and even had to learn how to walk again.
Cat explains her condition is an autoimmune disease and has nearly taken her life on numerous occasions. She explains” In short, my body attacks itself. The white cells which attack infections can suddenly see any part of the body as an infection and attack. This can be kidney, lungs heart, joints muscles. Anything. I had the worst case scenario and medication just wasn’t working. I was trialed on everything available until finally chemotherapy started to work for me”.
Cat’s other diseases include: Raynaud’s phenomenon, Asthma, Sjorgens Syndrome, Antiphospholipid Syndrome, Sinus Ventricular Tachycardia, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Osteoporosis, Fibromyalgia, Hyper mobility, Hemolytic Anemia, Psoriasis, and Kidney Nephritis.
During her time at school, when not spending large amounts of time in hospital, Cat says she suffered from severe bullying. Being the only English kid in a small Irish town can be difficult for any child, but Cat says she found it particularly difficult.
“I looked very strange at that time, I had no hair because of the chemo, and a very puffy face because of the steroids” she describes.
This had a negative impact on her mental health as she felt she was “disgusting”, resulting in Cat being home schooled.
Cat eventually moved back to England, and has suffered with depression since she was 12. She also says she has made attempts on her life due to circumstances.
As she began to enter adulthood, Cat says she found it difficult when starting a dating life. “I hide everything now, I’ve been told that my conditions don’t matter and people have just left me”. I had a relationship for over three years but with all my hospital admissions it just ended”.
It was reported in July 2019, 13.5% of people attending NHS A&E spent more than four hours waiting, from arrival to discharge, the worst July on record.
Around 2.2 million attendees were recorded in the same month, reaching the highest on record.
This is something that has become something of a second nature to Cat over the years, as she explains most of her time is time in this environment.
“in terms of physical health conditions, the NHS can be excellent. In terms of follow up for chronic disorders they are so over run and under funded you are waiting much longer than your doctor advised before even getting an appointment.”
“A&E is getting much worse. Last time I was there I waited nine hours for pain relief and to see a doctor.”
“Mental health, to say a let down would be putting it lightly. Myself and friends have been completely let down by the system and pushed under the carpet. I have been to A&E on numerous occasions and sent home because there was no beds. I’ve had friends after attempts on their lives simply discharged the same day.”
As can be expected with such a fragile combination of health conditions, Doctors advised Cat for a relaxed lifestyle, and to “take it easy”. Despite this warning, she worked in night club since the age of 18.
“I don’t know why I started it, I guess I just wanted some excitement” she explains. “I started off handing out flyers, then behind the bar, up to supervisor and eventually up to manager”.
Cat worked in the night club for several years, until the stress began to take its toll on her mental health. “My anxiety and depression became so high I just cracked, I broke”.
Cat felt like she couldn’t take it anymore and checked into a mental health ward on Christmas day, after she made an attempt on her life. Eight months later, she is still on a waiting list. “it’s taken two suicide attempts, dozens of phone calls, and I only went to my first counselling last week”.
If any of the issues above have affected you, help is available.