FIve years on, she deals with debilitating symptoms which have got gradually worse – but doctors have never been able to tell her what was wrong.
She also developed severe anxiety after having a flare up of symptoms while travelling home from an event with a colleague. After that, she went four months without leaving her house because she was worried about being away.
But since her partner Ben bought their Australian Shepherd dog Rocky as a 31st birthday present in October 2018, she has started to come to terms with her anxiety and she says he has transformed her life. The 32-year-old, from Leeds, says: ‘Even going to pick him up was really difficult for me as it was an hour and half drive and that was a big deal.
‘But from the minute he came home, I had this reason to push myself because he needed a walk. As a puppy, he only needed a short walk and then we could build it up together.
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‘He needed me and I realised I needed to learn to deal with my anxiety.’Before 2015, Natalie was healthy but woke up one morning vomiting.
Thinking she’d just caught a bug, she wanted for it to pass, but the sickness continued, and despite seeing doctors, no one could explain what was happening.
Over time, the symptoms got worse and she now deals with blurred vision, a loss of feeling in her arms and legs, shaking and muscle spasms, an inability to swallow and sickness and diarrhoea.
She explains: ‘I am constantly in pain but sometimes the symptoms flare up. Sometimes it’s manageable but other days I can’t move from bed.’
She still doesn’t have a diagnosis and without that, it makes it difficult to manage any of the symptoms.
But things got worse for Natalie in 2017 when she was on the motorway, driving home from a client meeting with a colleague when she started to feel ill and had to spend hours camped out in a service station toilet.
She says: ‘It was very embarrassing but I couldn’t control it. My colleague’s wife was messaging him saying “you need to come home, you promised to put the kids to bed” and I felt so guilty because I was there holding him up.
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‘Since that point, I developed really bad anxiety about leaving the house and there was one point I didn’t go out at all for four months. I became so worried about having a flare up away from home.’But when, Rocky came into her life and helped her change things.
She says: ‘Ben named him and I don’t think I would have gone with Rocky but it’s funny because he is my rock.‘I feel like he was meant to be ours because Australian Shepherd’s are quite hard to get and we phoned a breeder expecting to have to wait a year. She told us she had a dog that a family had reserved but never picked up. It had been a month so we could take him.
‘He just fitted with us from the minute we saw him and has helped so much.‘We’re at the point now where we can drive down to the Peak District and have a walk and then drive back, which is amazing because a few years ago, I couldn’t even go to the supermarket. ‘I feel like, with Rocky’s help, I have started to take control back in terms of my anxiety.’
Her physical symptoms are still present, and Ben is always there to help care for Rocky when she is struggling, but the dog knows if she isn’t well.
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She adds: ‘He’s always there for me. We got him this teddy bear and if I’m ever poorly, he’ll bring it over and give it to me and just stay by my side.
‘I have to just manage my condition the best I can. I am still having tests and they are trying to find some answers.
‘They did find I have 19 different food allergies and I have been cutting those out but my symptoms continue. I just hope that at some point they will find a diagnosis.
‘It is hard not being able to say what it is because not knowing is one of the worst thing. Saying “I just don’t feel well again” when I am cancelling plans makes it sound like I am making it up. I feel like if I had a name, people might understand a bit better.’
To thank Rocky for his help, Natalie has entered him in the Petplan Pet Awards 2020, in the Companion of the Year category. The finalists will be revealed on 8 September on the PetPlan website.
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