Briar Wyatt has big dreams but just getting out of bed in the morning is a struggle.
The 17-year-old had just started her final year at Alfriston College this year when she was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome.
Also known as myalgic encephalopathy, the syndrome is a complex disorder that usually follows a viral illness and has a range of symptoms including constant fatigue which can't be slept off.
But Briar's determined not to let it stop her achieving her dream of becoming a psychologist. She's in the running for a $10,000 AMP People's Choice Scholarship for university study.
She is currently in the top 10 out of 15,000 applicants. The scholarship is decided by an online public vote.
Briar had glandular fever last August and that's believed to have triggered the syndrome.
She suffers from bad headaches, muscle pains, extreme exhaustion and mixing up her speech - known as brain fog.
"When I first started going back to school I'd go for the whole week. But then I had to spend the next week in bed. My mum would call me in the middle of the day and I wouldn't even hear it."
The debilitating disorder caused her to miss one and a half school terms.
Now, the former dux of Manurewa Central Primary School and Greenmeadows Intermediate can only attend classes three days a week and spends her spare time catching up on schoolwork and teaching herself from textbooks.
Because little is known about chronic fatigue syndrome, there is little support for sufferers, she said.
"Doctors pretty much told me I was imagining things and that it was all in my head.
"It doesn't show up in your blood tests so they said I was fine. I was getting told it's not real and that I just needed to sleep it off."
She was eventually referred to specialist Dr Rosamund Vallings who confirmed she had chronic fatigue syndrome.
The high achiever says she felt isolated and depressed and has had to completely change her lifestyle.
"I used to go out with my friends a lot, now I'm struggling to stay in school."
But her condition has not stopped her from aspiring to become a psychologist specialising in helping people like herself with "invisible" diseases.
"Psychology as it currently stands does not seem to acknowledge my particular situation.
"I want to be able to help sufferers of these diseases because the main problem is you can't manage it yourself, you need support."
The Associated New Zealand ME Society says around 20,000 Kiwis suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome.
Go to ampvoting.orcas.co.nz to vote in the AMP People's Choice Scholarship. Voting ends on September 30 with the winner will be announced on October 3.
- Manukau Courier
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