WRITING used to be one of Rachel West's great passions, but now she can't focus long enough to attend the groups she once enjoyed so much.

The 52-year-old used to go to the gym regularly, but now exercise makes her ache and zaps her energy.

Rachel enjoyed walking her dogs through the woods come rain or shine, but now she can only manage 20 minutes around the streets near her home on a good life.

Life changed when she was diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome.

The disabling, neurological condition can affect anyone at any time.

Rachel, from Hockley, said many sufferers feel lonely and isolated as friends, family and even health professionals struggle to accept the true impact of the illness.

She hopes sharing her story as part of ME Awareness Month will send out a simple message that the condition shouldn't be ignored.

Rachel said: “I cannot get out much so a lot of my social life has disappeared.

“I go to a book club once a month and have a good friend who is understanding and we meet up when I am up to it.

“I do not see extended family as they live some way away. It is isolating and frustrating; existing not living.”

People with the condition experience severe, persistent fatigue and chronic pain associated with what is known as post exertional malaise- the body’s inability to recover after using even small amounts of energy.

Any physical or mental activity can trigger a flare-up in symptoms.

Rachel added: “At my worst I ache and have headaches and sleep all day. I thought I was getting dementia because my memory was so bad and I could not focus on anything, even for a few minutes.

“Insomnia is my most distressing symptom.”

Rachel copes with the symptoms of myalgic encephalomyelitis, known as ME, by balancing what energy she has with regular rest periods.

This approach, known as pacing, is reported by many people with the condition as helpful in managing their symptoms.

However, it is not a cure.

British charity Action for ME wants to put an end to the ignorance, injustice and neglect experienced by people with the condition.

For more imformatiom, visit actionforme.org.uk or call 0117 927 9551.