A British woman’s headache was caused by a rare autoimmune disease, neuromyelitis optica.

When the woman woke up with a headache and blurred vision, she attributed it to a big night she had had the night before.

But as more symptoms surfaced, it soon became clear that Annabelle Moult had something else to do with it. Sun reports.

“I was out with my friends on a Friday night in September 2007, having fun and living life,” said the 39-year-old.

“The next day I had a headache, and this continued until Sunday. My vision began to blur too.

“Then the tingling started in my legs. I went to bed and woke up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet, but my legs gave way and I screamed. [husband] Danny, help,” said Annabelle from England.

Her husband caught up with her to the car and took her to the hospital, where the doctors did a lot of tests.

Three days later, Annabelle became blind and was paralyzed from the waist down.

“I quickly rolled down and could not move my legs; I was paralyzed. Then I lost my sight,” she said.

“The brain scan showed a tumor and the doctor told me that I would never see again. But they couldn’t explain it. I’m stoned”.

Annabelle took two years to make a diagnosis. She had neuromyelitis optica, a rare disease in which the immune system damages the spinal cord and eye nerves.

“I went from a hockey-playing, gym-loving, independent 25-year-old who didn’t have to rely on anyone to seriously visually impaired and paralyzed, unable to leave the house alone. My whole world has changed.”

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At Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital, Annabelle was given steroids to reduce brain swelling.

She also immersed herself in physical therapy and began learning how to use a wheelchair.

She was discharged in February 2008 and she and Danny moved into a converted room in her parents’ garage.

Before leaving the hospital, her vision began to gradually improve, going from black to gray and then to a blurry outline.

Due to steroids and inactivity, her weight almost doubled from 63 kg to 114 kg, and she told Danny that she would understand if he wanted to leave her.

“I told him that if he does not want to stay with me, I will not hold a grudge against him. But he smiled at me and said, “I’m staying.”

“I went back to part-time work,” she said.

“I didn’t want my wheelchair to turn into a dull, lonely prison.

“Instead, Danny and I went on a planned vacation to Jamaica.

“Danny had to carry me to the pool every five minutes, but he never complained.”

Life to the max

Back at home, Annabelle had to learn to do “all the basics” again, like getting dressed, going to the toilet, and washing her face.

She said her family and friends have been incredibly supportive and vowed to help her live life to the fullest by taking her on weekends and vacations.

Over the next year, Annabelle underwent additional tests, including two lumbar punctures, plasmapheresis, in which all white blood cells are taken and replaced with new ones, an MRI, and a blood test almost every day for six months.

She described herself as “cushion-shaped” – but still no diagnosis.

Only in 2009, doctors explained that Annabelle suffered from a rare autoimmune disease – neuromyelitis optica.

Its cause is unknown and there is no cure.

By the time Annabelle was diagnosed, she had been in the hospital for 18 months, learning to live as normal a life as possible. She also continued to take steroids.

“The diagnosis didn’t really matter as I was already out of the hospital and had learned to adjust to my new life,” she said.

“But it was almost a relief as it meant that I could get more information, help and support without being an unknown entity.

“The weight was building up from the steroids and I was just trying to cope with this new life of being visually impaired and in a wheelchair.”

Annabelle said the side effects made her feel like she couldn’t move forward until she stopped taking steroids.

She was told in 2011 that she could stop taking them and felt “instantly better”.

“I just had to put my head down and move forward. Of course, there are still darker days and more difficult days,” she said.

“Moving from a wheelchair might be more difficult, or I might fall because I’m not concentrating on what I’m supposed to be.”

Finding fitness from a wheelchair

Eager to return to fitness and feel as healthy as possible, Annabelle began meditating, as well as cooking, listening to audiobooks and journaling, which she found helped her mental health.

Before her illness, she was very active in playing hockey, riding horses and regularly visiting the gym, so returning to fitness was the main thing for her.

Since then, she has found adaptive workout videos and online classes to help ease her journey.

Through qigong, yoga, lap running, HIIT, and body strengthening, she went from “fat to wheelchair” and lost 50 kg after stopping her medication.

“There were several obstacles along the way; It was difficult at first to get into a routine and motivation because of my weight gain, but once I turned it into a healthy habit and daily routine, it became easier for me, ”she said.

“At first I tried to train several times a week, and now I train daily.

“My weight loss has been a constant thing. I still haven’t hit my target weight as it’s much harder to lose weight in a chair. But this is a daily practice.

“Finding exercise and holistic alternatives has helped my recovery tremendously,” she said.

“It has made me much more attached to my body. But it also gave me a stronger mindset.

“I no longer take anything for pain relief and manage it by using alternative therapies instead of medication.

“I was willing to try anything and everything to help and it was just a case of trial and error to figure out what worked best for me.

“I still feel pain from the bra line down every day, and sometimes it spreads all over my body,” she said.

“There is numbness and it’s like pins and needles and a constant stabbing pain. Some days may be worse than others.”

Annabelle was also adamant that her condition would not prevent her from living and traveling, visiting places from Hong Kong and Sydney to South Africa and Japan.

“I was determined to keep traveling and didn’t let my new condition stop me. It was different than suddenly having to rely on other people for everything,” she said.

“For example, being able to get in and out of an airplane, sit in a seat on an airplane, and then sit in one position for eight hours.

“And some hotels say they’re available, but that’s not always the case.

“In Jamaica, I had to be lifted into the shower every day and there was no help in the pool, so I had to be lifted up and pulled out.”

“But I was determined and I just learned to adapt to my changes and now we have traveled all over the world.”

Committed to helping others, Annabelle is an ambassador for NMO UK, a charity that supports people with Myelitis optica, and has helped mentor others in similar situations.

In January 2020, she quit her job and began mentoring, helping others cope with life changes and empowering them to change their lives.

She also shares her journey online on Instagram belleswheels_bewell and Facebook Belles Wheels.

“It’s a terrible disease and despite being completely unknown, so many people around the world are suffering,” Annabelle said.

“I want people to believe in themselves and understand that while there are dark days, learn from them and grow to become the best version of themselves.

“The key is to have a positive mindset and a strong mindset to keep moving. I won’t let my wheelchair stop me, so neither should you.”

This article originally appeared in Sun and reproduced with permission

Originally published as “I thought I had a headache from a hangover – it was much worse”