http://www.walesonline.co.uk/showbi...-office-star-s-battle-with-me-91466-30206478/ The Office stars battle with ME 28 January 2012 As a successful actress Rachel Isaac can be proud of having an impressive body of work behind her. But it all stopped when she developed a debilitating illness. Three years on, The Office star tells Kirstie McCrum why shes now taking pride in just being able to get through the day When Rachel Isaac looks back on her career, shes happy to share her stories. And its a thrill to hear them from touring in America as a drama student to rubbing shoulders backstage with Dustin Hoffman to appearing in the UKs most successful comedy programme of the past 20 years, The Office. But when it comes to the more recent past, Rachels tales become smaller, sadder and much less enviable. The 36-year-old is currently recovering from a three-year battle with ME, or chronic fatigue syndrome, and she pulls no punches when she talks about the horror of fighting a debilitating illness that she feared would totally consume her. An enthusiastic, chatty brunette, Rachel is the first to admit that her illness was a surprise. Born and raised in Maesteg by dad William, an engineer, and mum Jayne, a journalist, she was always a bright student. Her parents, she recalls, always supported her and younger sister Morwenna to do whatever they wanted with their lives. It was a slightly quirky household, so nobody batted an eyelid. I could have said I wanted to be a rocket engineer and they would have said that was great, as long as I was happy, she says. Although she was an active member of the Mid Glamorgan Youth Theatre and National Youth Theatre when she was young, she hadnt thought of a career in drama until she was in her mid teens at Ysgol Gyfun Llanhari. Despite that interest, after her A-Levels Rachel spent two years doing office work in Cardiff, finally heading north to train to be an actor in 1997 at the Manchester Metropolitan School of Acting, following in the footsteps of successful alumni like Julie Walters and Steve Coogan. She also did a term at the University of California, where she toured with a production called Happy Birthday Brecht to celebrate the German playwrights centenary. In her final year, Rachel was picked up by an agent at a showcase which brought film roles her way firstly 1999s Very Annie Mary with Ioan Gruffudd and Rachel Griffiths and then an arthouse film called The Lowdown where she met Sherlock actor Martin Freeman, who she went on to work with again in The Office. She also appeared alongside Faye Ripley and Neath actor Paul Rhys in ITV romance drama I Saw You, which she says was a real boon to her burgeoning career. To me that was an amazing job to get, a full romantic comedy series on ITV and with such great actors. That was popular and just after I finished working on that I got offered the job on the second series of The Office. It was playing Trudy on the Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant series that really helped to cement Rachel in the minds of the viewing public. With the only Welsh accent in the Slough-set comedy, Trudy was known for her suggestive comments and close relations with her colleagues. As soon as I read the scripts, I thought, These are mindblowingly excellent. They were very funny, they were such beautifully finished pieces of writing. They had already had recognition from the first series, but after the second series it went through the roof. By the time The Office was airing, she was already on another job in America, one that set her dramatic heart aflame appearing on tour and then on Broadway in Greek tragedy Medea. That was fantastic. It was an amazing play, an amazing translation, a world famous director in Deborah Warner and Olivier-award-winning actor Fiona Shaw played Medea. It was a long but rewarding eight months. Every night we had to do this tragedy, so that kept us grounded and every night was a challenge because Deborah is a strict director, she adds. Rachels head was turned by the raft of famous stars who came to watch the show from legends of the silver screen to the stars of Sex And The City. It was silly and fun and glamorous. We met ridiculous people Robert Redford and Paul Newman, Lauren Bacall. I got friendly with Dustin Hoffman one evening when he came to see the show. And they were all so down to earth, she remembers. Coming back to Britain in 2004, she took on her first theatre job in Wales in a Gary Owen play called Ghost City for a company called Sgript Cymru. Following that came S4C series Caerdydd and more stage work in Carries War onstage at Sadlers Wells. But although the work was coming in thick and fast, Rachel had no idea that she was about to embark on her last acting job in 2007. The last play I did before I got unwell was for Clwyd Theatr Cymru called Two Princes directed by Philip Breen. That was a great experience, but unfortunately that was my last proper job. After that, things started to go a bit pear-shaped. Later that year, Rachels father became ill, and in 2008 she came back from London to look after him in Maesteg. As her parents were divorced, she was the main carer, and a diagnosis of Alzheimers meant that she had to prepare for what was ahead. Unfortunately her father had been misdiagnosed, and when they discovered he actually had a brain tumour it was too late for treatment. It wasnt until after he passed away in August 2008 that Rachel realised she was dealing with more than just his illness. I was already presenting symptoms while I was looking after him, but I didnt know. I was hyperactive, sleeping for two hours a night, running round like a maniac and operating on my survival instincts, she says. Although Rachel was then suffering from what she now knows to be ME, at the time she was undiagnosed. With ME, theres no test. A diagnosis will take a long time because the symptoms could be lots of other things, so they have to test you for all of those other things and only when theyre convinced its none of the other things, in the end they might conclude that you have ME, she explains. After a year of tests, while her health was still deteriorating, doctors concluded that she was suffering from ME. Although the diagnosis didnt give her a clean bill of health, it did give her direction, and she spent the next year pursuing avenues of treatment. I didnt really know what the treatment was. Whatever I read about ME it was just telling you to live with it. I was trying all sorts of alternatives. I went to see healers, tried neuro-linguistic programming, hypnosis practitioners, kinesiologist practitioners, nutritionists. Whatever somebody suggested I tried it, but the symptoms were getting worse and it continued until I was really bad. I would have three or four days on the trot where I couldnt move my body at all, so I was on my sofa from eight until eight. I may have been able to get up of a morning, but the only thing I would be able to do was lie back down again. Everybody who knew me was so shocked I was so energetic and full of beans before. Finding herself caught in a downward spiral, she was ready to turn anywhere that she could get help. I hit rock bottom about August 2010 and I got to the point where I thought, If this is what my life is going to be, I dont want it. I didnt think of taking my own life, but I thought that if in two years time it hasnt improved or gone away, I didnt want this life. Ive had a brilliant life, Ive been energetic and had good fun and been and done whatever I wanted but then I couldnt even walk to the loo. An internet search for hope sent Rachel to Mumbles-based practitioner R. Amir Norris. A former ME sufferer, on his website Fatigue Answers he claimed to have established techniques to help treat ME, successfully treating clients for a decade. After a talk with Amir, Rachel enrolled on a course. He works with you for three days he spends the first day explaining what ME is. Its a brain malfunction. Theres a part of the brain called the reptilian brain which is millions of years old. It looks after your survival, so its the brain that makes you breathe, puts you into fight or flight or freeze mode all the things you need to do to keep yourself alive. With people with ME, whats happening is that their brain is mistakenly thinking theyre in a dangerous situation. It has set up a network of synapses that supports the idea that theres constant danger round the corner and pumps you full of adrenaline, when actually all youre doing is making a cup of tea. When the adrenal glands cant keep up with the demands of the brain they cut out, so you get adrenal exhaustion and then youre left with a standby sleeping amount of adrenaline, she adds. Following the course, Rachel used Amirs techniques and was stunned by the results. Amir teaches people how to break down the network thats been set up in the brain and when that network is broken, the automatic survival response stops happening. He helps you to recognise the indicators of when adrenaline is being released physical indicators like pain. Once you spot them, you have to do this exercise, and you have to be religious about it. I was doing it about 150 times a day, so for about six weeks I barely left the house, because the indicators would come every two or three minutes. After the first three months, Rachel felt like a different person, and with Amirs techniques she got better and better over the next year. I noticed huge improvements 60% less pain in the body, 50% better sleep, feeling less frightened. ME made me very miserable and on edge, I didnt enjoy anything I did for those three years, however lovely the things were. But after six to eight months, there were vast improvements. Most people, when theyve done a programme like this, more or less return to normal health. Rachel is currently receiving ongoing treatment from psychologists, but she is convinced that without Amirs training, she would never have got to the stage where shes thinking positively about a future in acting. Its a huge improvement. Ive started to do a tiny bit more work. Ive developed fitness and stamina to be able to work again. Say now somebody offered me four weeks filming on Doctor Who or whatever, I would say yes to that now. I probably wouldnt do much else with my time, I would just go to bed early and learn lines and go to work every day. I feel strong enough to start working, but I do hope to gain more stamina in order to be able do a big play like Medea again. Its moving forward all the time. Ive started to do radio plays, things like that. Splitting her time between Maesteg and London, where her boyfriend lives, Rachel says that she feels like a different person, and hopes that other sufferers can get the help that has turned things around for her. Ive been with my boyfriend James ODonnell for two years. Hes a classically trained actor who is now starting to direct theatre, but he has only ever known me ill. Hes been so supportive considering what hes had to put up with. People with ME dont seem to be able to find help because theyre told that there is no help. The assumption is that you have it forever, or for a very long time, and I did find an answer. I want to make people feel that there may also be an answer for them. Within 12 months, I will hopefully be 100%.