Allison was living a life people dream of – great job, lovely home, and a social life to be envied.
But after contracting viral meningitis, and dealing with the long-term repercussions of her diagnosis, her life changed forever.
“I had lived on my own for six years and was a single, strong, independent woman with a zest for life and a fabulous career.
“A couple of years previous I had bought my dream home - a cottage in a small village of Great Totham in Essex. I travelled into London to work. I was very career driven and managed a team of wonderful people in the city.
“My job demanded long hours and it was stressful, but I enjoyed the buzz of London and worked hard and played hard. When I wasn't working I was out with friends or travelling abroad for holidays in the sun.
“I'd always wanted children and a family but my career came first.
“In the weeks leading up to being admitted into hospital I'd had numerous colds, throat infections and cold sores. I felt run down and exhausted but put it down to my job. I had been to see my GP but was told I didn't need medication and to rest.
“Resting was hard and I wasn't one to take time off work especially given that I had a number of projects on the go.
When the weekend came I felt well enough to go to my friend’s house for Sunday roast. I had a bad headache but thought perhaps I was dehydrated so drank lots of water. By the evening I made my excuses and drove home. I went downhill quickly and started to be sick.
“I slept on and off through the night but couldn't shake the headache. By morning I was starting to feel a little panicked - mobile phone reception in my village was poor and living on my own felt a little secluded.
“Within a few hours I couldn't stop being sick and it felt like my head was going to explode. I made my way downstairs to use my landline to call my mum. As a retired nurse I wanted her advice.
“I didn't make it down the stairs, I collapsed. I felt weak and disorientated. Once I got to the landline I told my mum how I felt and she told me to ring 111. I was too sick so mum called them for me and their advice was get to A&E.
“The car journey was horrendous, I had sunglasses on and hoodie to block out headlights from other cars.
“I was seen and assessed pretty quickly at A&E. I was sent to ENT ward where I had a camera put down my throat and the consultant said he expected meningitis.
“My mum said she was surprised I didn't panic but I recall thinking, 'It’s not meningitis, I don't have a rash.' I actually thought they'd got it wrong.
“I was sent to another ward and placed in a private room as they didn't know if I had bacterial or viral meningitis.
“I remember closing my eyes and feeling relief that I had nurses looking after me. My mum was told they'd carry out tests and was sent home. I was put on intravenous antibiotics and pain relief.
Scared and vulnerable
“During the night I thought I was going to die. I felt scared and vulnerable.
“It sounds dramatic but I felt sad that if I was to die that I hadn't fulfilled my dream to marry and have children.
“My life was good, I was financially stable but everything I had felt materialistic in that moment. I'd travelled around the world and had a good life but had no-one to share it with. That hit home.
“Over the next few days I had a brain scan, countless blood tests and finally a lumbar puncture. I was told it was viral meningitis.
“After six nights in hospital I was finally discharged home. I was weak and struggled to walk. I felt like I'd been hit by a bus!
Just the beginning
That was just the beginning of my illness. The next few months were the testing times. I was referred to a neurologist but the wait was six weeks.
“I decided to put my savings to good use and pay to be seen privately, I was desperate to get back to work but knew I was still very poorly.
“The discharge consultant in hospital told me I'd be back on my feet within a few weeks and to rest. How wrong they were.
“I now hear so many stories where viral meningitis patients are told this and it doesn't seem to be most people’s experience. Most people like me are wiped out for months or even years, as was the case with me.
“I was so tired and just wanted to sleep for hours on end. I didn't have the energy to cook meals. Cooking was one of my favourite things to do so not being able to made me feel low.
“I struggled to get up the stairs, the fatigue was immense. I couldn't drive and relied on family to drop off shopping and meals.
“Three weeks after I left hospital I attempted to return to work with devastating consequences. I tripped up the escalator on the way into the office and cut my knee then I met with my director and fell to pieces.
“I thought I was having a heart attack, it was a panic attack. Many panic attacks followed, I'd lost my confidence and wasn't the same capable person I once was.
“I struggled to string sentences together and my brain felt fuzzy. I was sent home.
“I tried numerous times to return to work over the next few months but each time I fell asleep on the train, dropped coffee on my lap in meetings or did something out of character.
‘What happened to Allison?’
“I couldn’t remember my words and had brain fog. I remember vividly my director looking at me with such pity and asking, ‘What had happened to Allison?'
“I wasn't the same and a year later I accepted redundancy and left my career.
“I knew I couldn't hold down my job anymore and my management knew that too.
“Over the two-year period post meningitis I had to rebuild my life.
“I had countless counselling sessions for anxiety and depression and the fatigue was immense. I was diagnosed with post viral ME (chronic fatigue).
“I spent thousands of pounds on various consultants, natural treatments and nutritionalists, anything the try and feel better. It really was a case of rest and recover. I still have bad days but few and far between.
“In 2018 I finally returned to work but now run my own business. I have a little clothing and gift boutique. It's a far cry from my city career but it gives me the work/life balance I need to keep on top of the fatigue (it's still there 7yrs on).
“I earn a tiny fraction of my city salary but I'm happy.
“Ten months ago I met the love of my life and for the first time in a long time I feel like 'me’ again. I've taken up running, I can't go far but it keeps my mental health under control as well as keeping me fit. I don't push myself like I used to.
Not just a virus
“No-one explains how this illness can affect you and your loved ones. It really isn't just a virus. More needs to be done to support people after leaving hospital.
“Meningitis changed me but despite the pain and struggles that came with it, I'm actually grateful for the tough lessons it taught me.
“Slow down, breathe and enjoy life. Your health is your wealth and that is always something to be grateful for.