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Western Mail: Office Star's Battle with ME

Discussion in 'General ME/CFS News' started by Firestormm, Feb 2, 2012.

  1. Firestormm


    Cornwall England

    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%.
  2. Vitalic

    Vitalic Senior Member

    Another bullshit miracle cure, another clueless idiot of a "patient" making us look like depressive anxiety ridden lunatics.
  3. alex3619

    alex3619 Senior Member

    Logan, Queensland, Australia
    Train a thousand people, pick ten who recover, spin it as a cure. Without a controlled trial, none of these techniques have established validity. The adrenal argument is very simplistic too. Where are the studies? In those studies, who are defined as having ME and not just chronic fatigue? Bye, Alex
  4. Holmsey

    Holmsey Senior Member

    Scotland, UK
    Either it works or it's fraud, why aren't the authorities interested in these people, doctors like Myhill are under a constant barrage from the medical council for supplying vitamins and yet there's a whole host of people taking money from an unsuspecting public by suggesting they've got a cure for something that the best minds on the palnet don't understand. Why is there no processess or controls which have to be satisfied before these people can start taking money.

    In fairness I haven't come accross this particular crank but it sounds very Guptaish and months of trying that just worsened my headache. More recently I set up an appointment with a Perrin technique practitioner, surprise surprise no promisses despite the larger than life claims of the founder, but if I were to keep it going for six months to a year she beleived I'd MAYBE see an IMPROVEMENT, yeh, no s**t, where do I sign.

    Over an hour of compulsory questioning with no explanation or impact on the treatment which comprised of simple stroking of the skin above the implied path of my lymph channels. A year of that at 60 an hour, and they call bankers criminals, at least bankers abuse eveyone and not just the chronically ill!

    When one of these guys stands up and says, it's x 's an hour but you don't have to pay me until your fully recovered then I'll sign up again but for now I'm done with cranks and shouting for Norway...COME ON THE NORDS.
  5. Vitalic

    Vitalic Senior Member

    Alternative medicine isn't subject to the same process or controls as regular medicine, that's why it's such big business, well that and the amount of gullible fools around.
  6. aquariusgirl

    aquariusgirl Senior Member

    holmsey....the lymph is screwed up in PWCs.. it's not moving.. its bunged up... massage may help with that. & Perrin seems to think he found a specific bottleneck..but it's an adjunct therapy.

    I love having lymph massage and craniosacral therapy done on my head, neck but its $$$$. I rolled my eyes when my sister in law mentioned craniosacral 10 years ago.. Thought she was a gullible fool.. haha...Dont have much time for all the guptas or mickels least not when so much is physiologically wrong.
  7. SilverbladeTE

    SilverbladeTE Senior Member

    Somewhere near Glasgow, Scotland
    "Ignore the degenerate lazy money grubbers stealing your tax money!
    See, this is all just tiredeness form people who really work, they get better!
    Ignore the rampant EXPONENTIAL growth in autism, ME, Cancer...
    be good little proles, eat your bullshit and stay in the dark, like good little mushrooms, do nto question your gods and masters!"

    It's psyops. Spin the plebs a tale and they'll go to sleep.
    "If you tell a lie big enough and often enough, most people will believe it!" - Roughly paraphrased from Jospeh Goebbels, nazi propaganda minister

  8. Sparrow

    Sparrow Senior Member

    I'm happy that she's feeling better now, for whatever reasons, and whatever it was she recovered from.

    ...But how on Earth would that treatment even supposedly help me since I don't get adrenaline rushes or feel jittery or anxious?

  9. Jenny

    Jenny Senior Member

    But Raymond Perrin has done at least two controlled trials - one was the basis of his PhD, the other is here:

    His theory is set out in some detail in his book.

    He's spending a lot of time at the moment trying to persuade the NHS to offer his treatment.

    There are several on the Board who have found lymphatic drainage massage helpful.
  10. alex3619

    alex3619 Senior Member

    Logan, Queensland, Australia
    Muscle fatigue in chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis

    Muscle fatigue in chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME)
    and its response to a manual therapeutic approach: A pilot study

    Raymond N. Perrin , Jim David Richards, V. Pentreath, David F. Percy

    "Subjects: 9 patients suffering from CFS/ME, 9 age and gender-matched CFS/ME sufferers who were
    allowed to choose any treatment other than manual therapy and 9 age and gender-matched healthy
    volunteers were assessed at 0 and 12 months."

    (Link in previous post.)

    Tnis study appears to use the Fukuda criteria, though it is small. I have not read the entire study, I am too busy with other things. I read somewhere recently that massage can reduce the levels of inflammatory cytokines. If so this could decrease symptoms, but that is about it. However, regularly and continuing treatment could lower cytokines long-term. If these cytokines have a causal effect, then this might well decrease the severity of the disease. I am less than convinced that this is about lymphatic drainage. However, since I mainly use a hammer (biochemistry) and this sounds like a screwdriver problem I could be wrong. ;)

    This does need a better trial with many more patients however. On the other hand, I understand that the budget for such studies is often tiny, its not like this is being backed by a huge drug company.

    Bye, Alex
  11. Jenny

    Jenny Senior Member

    Yes, it's a small study, but I'm just drawing attention to this as evidence that he tries to evaluate his treatment. He does discuss alternative explanations in the paper.

    Some of the theory behind the benefits of lymphatic drainage is set out here:

    I don't have enough background knowledge to judge whether it makes scientific sense, but I try to be open minded.

    It seems to me to be a treatment worthy of consideration, and respondents in a ME Association survey rated it quite highly. And going back to Holmsey's comment - I'd much rather a practitioner say their treatment might benefit me than say it will. At least that indicates some honesty.

    Raymond works hard for us - he attends ME conferences and his wife is or was a sufferer. He is trying to get funding for more research.

  12. SilverbladeTE

    SilverbladeTE Senior Member

    Somewhere near Glasgow, Scotland
    Also as I've often said, reduction of stress. helps
    massage, spending quality time with a carer, helps
    For me and any others, warmth also helps, stimulation = warmth

    the lymph issue is interesting though! :)

    but always note how desperate they are to show these "social professionals" get cured, are healed, so they are not excluded, so they can get work again in industries where a womans date of birth is sufficent go make her unemployable, etc...sigh
    ie, this disease IS a stigma. If you have this, you are a "lesser person".

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