At 16, I had everything to look forward to. I had expected to get three As at A-level and go on
to read history and then law at Oxford University. Then, inexplicably, I was struck down by
an ‘invisible’ illness that left me little better than a zombie.
My muscles couldn’t keep me upright for long, my memory didn’t work, my body couldn’t
heal itself, my limbs felt leaden and sore, and my brain’kept blanking out.
During the short periods when my brain did switch on, I was confused and scared because I
was aware that only a few months previously I had been out celebrating great GCSE results
with friends. And I did not know what had happened to me.
My doctor, who eventually diagnosed me with ME (chronic fatigue syndrome) didn’t seem to
offer any help and I was considered to be a hypochondriac and undeserving of sympathy,
support or care.
In the early Nineties, when I became ill, ME was known as Yuppie Flu and seen as being all
in the head. That’s a harsh way to treat a previously confident child.
I am lucky my mother was able to spend all her time helping me get up, day after day, month
after month, or I would have been bed bound. I shudder to think where I would now be.
I did eventually go to university, and gained a first-class degree and then an MA with
distinction and now I work as a writer.
But each success was tempered by the fact that every time I pushed my brain or body hard
enough to achieve something, my ME would make me crash again, with each crash taking
longer to crawl back from.
I’m now 33, having struggled through life with the illness, and often it se’ems as if public and
medical perceptions have not moved on. Over the years I have searched for treatments until,
in 2009, I discovered one that has transformed my life – a type of osteopathy called the
The Perrin Technique involves a series of stiff massages and can take
more than two years to take effect. I was treated once a week for the first 12
weeks, followed by every two weeks for 12 weeks and so on.
It suggests a plausible cause for ME: that a virus causes a fault in the lymphatic system, the
network of glands and vessels that should remove waste toxins produced by every tissue in
The feeling of ME is similar to the pain you get after a long, hard walk. The lactic acid makes
your muscles hurt and shake, and your body is at the point of collapse. Add to this the
sensation of a severe hangover. Being poisoned by a long-term build up of toxins seems a
very likely explanation.
The Perrin Technique involves a series of stiff massages and can take more than two years
to take effect.
I was treated once a week for the first 12 weeks, followed by every two weeks for 12 weeks
and so on.
The therapist kneads the areas where the lymph nodes are – around the back, under the
arms and in the chest. It was agonising to begin with although my husband, who attended
my first session, said the therapist had been only lightly touching me.
The process causes lymphatic build-up to be drawn out of the muscles and into the defective
drainage system where the pressure forces the waste to be discharged.
Caution: The treatments are not medically proven but once Alex starts to feel pain, she goes for another
Gradually, treatments become more spaced out as the practitioner tries to get the system
working on its own again. I am used to it now and during my monthly sessions I’m able to
withstand quite vigorous massage.
I was eight months into my treatment before I started to feel better. Since month 15 the gap
between my sessions is now two months, and the improvements are more constant.
Most of the time my muscles and joints are pain-free, my concentration is not bad, and I
have so much more energy. Recently I have even felt well enough to stay with friends for
The technique is not medically proven, but I know that if my symptoms start to return, a
single session gets rid of them.
This is not a short or an easy treatment and it’s not a cure. However, after just the first year,
I looked back and realised it had transformed my life.
I wish one of the many GPs I begged for help had bothered to do research and told me
about it. They could have saved me from a living hell.