Lisburn and Castlereagh City Councillor, Alderman William Leathem has spoken out about how his life has been impacted by Fibromyalgia - a long-term medical condition that causes pain all over the body.
The DUP man, who suffers from Fibromyalgia and ME, was guest speaker at the December meeting of the Lisburn Fibromyalgia Support Group.
The former Mayor of Lisburn has used his position as an elected representative and his involvement with the group Hope for ME and Fibro Northern Ireland to speak out about Fibromyalgia and ME support services.
Earlier this year he secured unanimous support from the council when he tabled a Notice of Motion calling for a specialist consultant for Fibromyalgia and ME for the 7,000 ME sufferers and 17,000 Fibromyalgia sufferers in Northern Ireland.
At the Lisburn Fibromyalgia Support Group meeting, he talked with group members and outlined how he has coped living with the debilitating condition. He praised his wife, Kathleen, whom he described as his rock, for her encouragement, support, help and patience because, as he told the group, the condition has affected his life in many ways and family support has been crucial for him.
Talking about how he was diagnosed with the condition 17 years ago, Alderman Leathem said: “Quite simply I felt like normal life had been taken away from me and it was like I hit a brick wall. I could not get out of bed and my symptoms included terrible muscle pain, tiredness, dizziness, weakness, cold hands and feet, all the time, feeling sick constantly and a total lack of any sleep pattern.
“I also experienced headaches, light sensitivity and worryingly memory loss, which was very frightening for me.
“It was some five years before my condition was diagnosed and during this time I was in and out of hospital and spent periods confined to the house.”
Having paid for various treatments over the years, including deep tissue massage, kinesiology, hydro-baths and reflexology, and availed of health treatments through the NHS, Alderman Leathem believes specialist medical provision is needed for those living with Fibromyalgia.
His pain relief dosage is one-third of what it was three years ago, but it has been a long struggle to get to this point. He has praised the excellent GP care he has received, but believes specialist support is urgently required for those suffering from this highly complex illness.
“Another aspect is how you actually feel on an emotional level,” he continued. “I know from speaking with other sufferers that this is common of the condition. It is easy to get depressed and anxious when your Fibromyalgia is really bad and you are living with awful pain, no sleep, sickness and the many other symptoms of Fibromyalgia.
“But self-determination and keeping on putting one foot in front of the other is important. This and my family has helped me in my darkest days. I am very busy in my constituency and play a full role on the council, which I really enjoy. I represent the electorate and I take this responsibility very seriously.
“I was Mayor back in 2012, although I know I should have slowed down at that time, as when the term was over I was completely shattered and had to take several weeks off. I was raising money for my then Mayoral Charity, Stepping Stones, and was busy with engagements virtually every night of the week. I have learned that sometimes you have to step back a little and listen to what your body is telling you.
“I am extremely grateful for the support I have received from my fellow elected members and from council officers and I would like to say a huge thank you to all. I would also like to thank the Lisburn Fibromyalgia Support Group for inviting me to speak at its meeting. I met so many people that identified with me, and me with them.”
He added: “As 2018 approaches I will continue to lobby for specialist services for Fibromyalgia and will continue to provide updates on this work.”