LIZ FARRELL has plenty in common with Lady Gaga.
But it’s not that she struts around her native County Wexford in a dress made of raw meat.
No, the part-time opera singer suffers from the same chronic joint pain condition fibromyalgia that has caused the controversial chart-topper to cancel her recent tour.
“My passion is singing opera, but two years ago I could no longer sing or perform,” says Liz, who’s 41.
“I couldn’t even drive and had to take long-term sick leave from work.
“I could barely get out of bed and the doctors eventually diagnosed fibromyalgia.
“It began quite suddenly when I started getting really bad joint pain everywhere, about 10 months after my husband became very ill.
“He has a degenerative condition of the spine and needs a lot of care.
“We had to pay €10,000 to have an operation to rebuild his neck privately, as there was a risk he might be paralysed had we waited for the public health system.
“I was working full-time and was stressed trying to find the money as well as sick with worry about my husband.
“They say extreme anxiety can trigger the fibromyalgia and I was definitely in the high-risk bracket.
“Over the space of a few months, all my joints had swollen up and it got to the stage where I could not get out of bed or walk.
“Eventually, I ended up in hospital because I was in permanent agony.
“They did hundreds of tests, but couldn’t find anything wrong and said I simply had unexplained joint swelling.
“They told me to take paracetamol which I did on a daily basis until I started to feel really ill and a subsequent blood test found I had liver damage from the amount I was taking.
“I eventually got an appointment with a rheumatologist.
“I had blood tests and also a pressure point test, which is where they press on certain points on your body and if there is pain, then it’s one way they can diagnose fibromyalgia.
“I had pain in 12 of the 16 points and was immediately diagnosed with the condition.
“Finally knowing what was wrong with me came as a relief, but then the real challenge began,” adds Liz.
“By this stage I was no longer singing and I’d had to give up my job as I was in too much pain to leave the house.
“But it was the medications I was given that were to really change my life.
“At first, they gave me a drug called Cymbalta, but I had an allergic reaction to it and my tongue swelled up.
“It’s an antidepressant, as fibromyalgia is thought to be triggered by incorrect psychological pain signals, and Cymbalta redirects them.
“Instead, they gave me Lyrica, which is an anti-anxiety relaxant often used for treating epileptic spasms.
“I was having terrible muscle spasms and so they also gave me Tramadol, an opiate-based painkiller.
“When I took both together, I felt completely spaced out.
“I lost my memory and I felt like I was living on another planet.
“I was like a zombie and I was falling asleep the whole time.
“Due to the drugs, I also put on a lot of weight.
“My father said: ‘Right, we need to sort this, you can’t go on taking all these drugs.’
“Together, we started researching more natural forms of anti-inflammatory treatments and painkillers that were available.
“I spent hours scouring the internet until I happened across an interview with a lady who had really painful arthritis.
“She’d found a product called Celafen, a cream you rub on the areas of pain.
“I thought a cream wouldn’t be any good at all for my level of pain, but I became convinced it might be worth a try.
“I thought even if it eased the pain a bit at least I could try and cut down slightly on the painkillers.
“Within a few hours of putting the cream on my knees and my neck, the pain started to ease and the swelling abated slightly.
“By the end of the first week, I was able to start reducing my daily intake of painkillers.
“After six months, I was able to completely come off Tramadol and I felt like a new person,” reveals Liz.
“The pain in my joints was manageable, but the most amazing thing was that I felt completely normal again, like my old self.
“I was able to start work again. I work in a bank and I have to do a lot of walking around and I’m able to do it.
“I’ve also started choir singing again, and sang in two operas recently.
“It has been like coming to the end of a prison sentence having this freedom again.
“I go to a pain clinic to receive therapy to help me deal with my pain, and there I tell everyone about Celafen.
“There are several other women there with fibromyalgia as well as people with chronic arthritis.
“I’ve already lost two stone because I’m active again and can walk the dogs every day.”
Celafen’s a natural formulation and costs £9.95 for a month’s supply. For more information visit www.skinshop.co.uk