In her early 20s, Julie Betterton began to suffer painful and unexplained stabbing pains across her body.
The medical secretary was an otherwise healthy young woman with her whole life ahead of her.
But the problem became so bad even making phone calls at work was unbearable. She was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue and eventually had to leave her job.
Now, almost 20 years later, Julie, 43, is setting up a charity for vulnerable people and animals which is also giving her the strength to eventually go back to work.
Julie, from Hayling Island, says: ‘The symptoms are widespread muscular pain and chronic fatigue, but there are lots of other things that go with it.
‘There can be days when I struggle to get out of bed. Most people will look at me and think there is nothing wrong with me.
‘But some days I’m so weak I can’t do anything. It’s just really, really painful.’
She adds: ‘It feels like somebody is stabbing you. It’s all over my body.
‘I probably started feeling ill in my early 20s. It took quite a long time to get a diagnosis.
‘I found it very difficult to get people to understand what was wrong because I look perfectly normal.
‘There was no trigger, I didn’t have an accident or anything.
‘It got to the point where I couldn’t go to work any more.
‘I wasn’t reliable because I was always in pain, even sitting at the computer typing.
‘Because I spent a lot of time on the telephone it made the pain in my arms and hands flare up. They would go numb.
‘If I know I’m going to do something the next day I don’t do anything the day before, I have to have complete rest.
‘Every day tasks make me very tired. I feel constantly like I haven’t been to bed the night before.
‘It is a strain but I’ve finally accepted that it’s just a way of life for me. There are people far worse off than me.’
Julie believes doctors are at a loss as to how to help her because they do not understand enough about the conditions.
She self-manages the pain with up to eight strong painkillers a day.
And she thinks the condition may be hereditary because her late grandmother had it and so too do her mother, sister and cousin.
She adds: ‘It’s very difficult when even doctors don’t know a lot about it.
‘Swimming is something that is recommended, but I can’t swim.
‘Hydrotherapy would help but everything comes down to money and it’s very expensive.
‘It has left me feeling down. You do get times when you feel very depressed and it affects your whole way of life.
‘It has been a very difficult time for me. It’s taken me a long time to start getting back on track again, but I am. ‘
Julie has always had a passion for animals and has grown up with them.
She currently has Sasha the border collie and three cats – Sox, Buttons and Taio-Hamish.
They have provided comfort in the dark days when she is too ill to even get out of bed.
And with the help of members of her church, City Life, in Baffins, Portsmouth, she can now see a light at the end of the tunnel and has the strength to help others – local people who can’t afford pet food and also the street dogs of Sarajevo.
Julie says: ‘It all started with Facebook which is where I got to know about Save Suffering Strays – Sarajevo.
‘Every so often, when I’m strong enough, I use the computer.
‘I still can’t use it for any length of time. It hurts my arms and hands.
‘I found out about a lady called Milena Malesevic who set it up is a lone rescuer.
‘She is now 64 and for 20 years she has dedicated her life to saving dogs.
‘It really tugged at my heartstrings. They are not animal lovers over there. They kill dogs in the street. I have watched videos of dogs being strangled with metal nooses.
‘In this country dogs are part of the family.
‘It has been very hard work for me but I have organised a fundraising day for the charity in June.’
Julie is also in the process of setting up a pet food bank for the Havant area.
‘On Facebook I saw somebody had set one up in Scotland,’ Julie says.
‘People think everyone in Hayling is rich but there is a food bank for people, and some of those people have pets.
‘With the way things are at the moment people are still losing their jobs. A lot of people say if you can’t afford your animals, get rid of them.
‘But that is the worst thing you can do in a situation like that.
‘Sometimes pets are the only things that can make you feel better.
‘If I hadn’t had my animals I don’t know what I would have done. They help with depression and anxiety.
‘It is something I’m so passionate about. I hope to eventually get back to paid work and this is helping me get there at my own pace.’
Julie Betterton has organised a fundraising event for Saving Stray Dogs Sarajevo.
It takes place on June 13 at Northney Village Hall, Hayling Island.
Throughout the day there will be a chance to speak to people who have adopted dogs from Sarajevo that have been rescued by the charity’s founder, Milena Malesvic.
There will be a wide range of raffle prizes including the chance to have a songwriting session with rising British gospel singing star Philippa Hannah.
The money raised on the day will go towards rescuing street dogs.
But Julie also wants to raise enough money to visit Sarajevo herself later in the year to help Milena.
She is hoping to be able to be part of a documentary team to chronicle the day-to-day struggles of Milena in keeping street dogs safe from being brutally killed.
Julie’s other project is a charity set up to help people in poverty to feed their pets.
The pet food bank will cover Havant and work in exactly the same way as a normal food bank.
Julie needs help fundraising to pay for the rent of a building or storage unit to store all the food and which is safe for people to visit to pick up the food.
If you have a shop or a business and are prepared to act as a drop-off or pick-up point for pet food, please get in touch with Julie.
Alternatively, please donate by going to haylingpetfoodbank.co.uk.