Frail Lizz Meets Special Boyfriend as He Helps Her on Train

It was so traumatic that she discharged herself, went back to her parents' Hitchin home, and lay down in her darkened bedroom, unable to talk, walk or comprehend what was going on. Finally she was sent by ambulance to the Royal Free Hospital where she lapsed into the life-threatening coma.

In desperation the doctors tried electric shock treatment and, for reasons no one understands, it worked. Lizz woke up and began to recover.

"I started talking and sitting up and asking what had been happening," said Lizz, who is now 28. "I didn't know Tony Blair had been elected." The hospital had taken a video of Lizz when she was very ill. When they showed it to her, she broke down.

"I cried my eyes out. I could not believe I was like that. My arms were just nothing," she said. One good thing had come out of Lizz's appalling crisis - she now knew what was wrong with her.

She was suffering from an incurable illness, myalgic encephalomyelitis, better known as ME. She is now much better although she is still very weak. She could not cope with a job and talking to me exhausted her.

But she has met a boyfriend who understands her illness and supports her, she has been able to leave her parents' home and manages to drive. A carer comes in every day to prepare her meals, shop and clean. Her boyfriend Craig Stowers, 24, who works at RAF Henlow, met Lizz on her first trip to London in years, as her mother struggled to get her wheelchair on the train at Hitchin station.

Craig stopped to help, talked to Lizz on the journey, asked for a date and they have been together ever since.

The pattern of Lizz's ME is not typical - it was unusually severe. Colette, chairman of the ME Association North Herts group and also a sufferer, said: "People do not die of ME."

In Lizz's case complications set in, partly because of her severe weight loss. However the onset of Lizz's illness and the difficulty in getting a diagnosis are quite common. She became run down after catching chicken pox while taking a textile degree in 1993, pushed herself to go on studying and enjoying her social life, and then collapsed just before the end of her course a year later. For two years she struggled to complete the degree and then, upset at the end of a relationship with a boyfriend, found herself more ill than ever.

Anna Worthington is also 28 and suffers from ME. Her illness started in a similar way, forcing her to leave her teaching job in London and come back to live with her parents in Hitchin. Although she was never as ill as Lizz and got a speedy diagnosis, ME has turned her life upside down.

When Anna was first ill, her mum Sue had to drive back from her teaching job in Luton at lunchtimes to make sure she had a drink and something to eat. Anna, bed ridden and in pain, was too weak to wash herself, get dressed or even make a cup of tea.

Now, several years later, she is much better and has taken a post graduate course to teach adults and children with dyslexia - something she can do part time.

Friends have been very good although sometimes they find it hard to understand why Anna can do something one day and not another - they do not see her exhaustion after making an effort to meet them.

"It's hard trying to get across to people what ME means," she said. "They think you are either ill or well, they don't understand this in between state."

She is financially dependent on her parents and finds the complementary medical treatments she tries helpful but expensive.

Like Lizz and Colette she refuses to let her illness depress her. "There are still things you can enjoy," she said. "It makes you focus on what is important." It has also strengthened her bond with her parents. "We have always been a close family but this has made us closer." Sue added: "You learn hidden depths within yourself to cope and move on and keep cheerful."