A woman was told her constant exhaustion was due to "exam stress" and "depression" - but she really had a chronic illness.
When Elizabeth Hope was 18 she diagnosed with a chronic condition after being told by doctors that her symptoms were being caused by depression and the stress of her A-level exams. Elizabeth, now 27, has overcome her debilitating disability and has since gone on to become an inspirational wheelchair dancer and instructor who has won multiple awards.
Originally from Gloucestershire, Elizabeth said her symptoms included severe headaches and falling asleep at 5pm everyday as she studied for her A-levels. She had hoped to attend university and eventually become a teacher. She said doctors initially blamed her symptoms on stress, anxiety and depression - but was later diagnosed with Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) - also known as chronic fatigue syndrome.
ME is a long-term health condition which can make physical or mental tasks extremely tiring. Elizabeth was left barely able to walk and found even the simplest of tasks exhausting. She began using a wheelchair and gave up on her dreams of going to university.
She said she was "struggling with loneliness" and was "really unsure" when her mum suggested she attend a wheelchair dance class in Birmingham. However, the class changed her life for the better.
Almost a decade on, Elizabeth has learned how to manage her energy levels and "fell in love with dance". She has since gone on to perform in her wheelchair at the opening ceremony of the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and two cheerleading world championships.
Speaking to PA Real Life, she said: "I’m a teacher but not in the way I imagined. I think for people with disabilities, it’s not like you can do whatever you want, because it’s not true, but you can do things in a different way.
"But I love dancing and being able to share my passion with other people is just, yes, it’s really cool". She began experiencing her symptoms in 2014 and a doctor suggested she could be suffering from depression and anxiety.
She added: "Everyone assumed that it was depression or stress because of my age and the fact that I was doing my A-levels. I would get home from school and just fall asleep at around 5pm.
"My mum would wake me for dinner and then I’d maybe do like an hour’s homework, which is absolutely not enough when you’re studying for your A-levels, and then fall asleep again. To start off with my parents thought ‘oh she just doesn’t want to go to school’.
"But I started not being able to do the things that I enjoyed, so then we realised that something was very wrong". She visited another doctor who found that Elizabeth was suffering from myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME).
According to the NHS, people who are diagnosed with ME can experience severe pain and fatigue as well as other physical and mental symptoms they experience everyday. Elizabeth eventually began using a wheelchair as she struggled to leave the house.
She added: "Being able to use a wheelchair was amazing for me because I could go to two or three shops or go to the park and stuff like that". Eventually, her mother Karen found groups for people with disabilities online and found a dance group in Birmingham called Freewheelin.
Although initially sceptical, Elizabeth attended and said she fell in love with dance. She said: "We take normal dance moves and translate them into our own bodies and wheelchairs."
Soon enough, Elizabeth began competing and joined two other dance groups. She went on to win the UK ParaDance National Championships with the group and came second in the solo contest after performing Kylie Minogue’s 2018 song Dancing.
She now works with the national disability charity Sense as an assistant dance artist to teach dance to people with disabilities from non-verbal school groups to elderly people in care homes. Elizabeth added: "It’s just about managing my energy and pain. So for example, I rest a lot and only work one day a week. It’s just about pacing your activity more than anything else."