Two years ago, Andrea Carlaw noticed something strange.
If she stood up for more than a minute or two, she would feel extremely light-headed. Almost as though she was going to fall over.
Then only 24 years old, Andrea began experiencing stabbing pains in her chest and it hurt to breathe. Next, it was tingling in her hands, her face, and her calves. Eventually, she couldn’t see properly.
Speaking to Mamamia, Andrea says her pain appeared “out of the blue”. From that day onward, her pain has always been at least a two out of 10, but will spontaneously progress to an eight or nine.
Over the last two years, Andrea has visited seven GPs and multiple specialists.
At first, her family GP assumed it was bad posture. But as the pain worsened, it became evident that the cause was far more complex.
On three occasions, the pain has become so unbearable she has had to call an ambulance. Andrea says that after the third time she decided it was “the last time that I will ever, if I can avoid it, call emergency.”
Andrea Carlaw was just 24 when she began to experience chronic pain. Image supplied.
The paramedic who arrived seemed impatient and rather unconvinced that Andrea was physically unwell. He ran a series of tests at her home, informing her that everything was normal and "it doesn't look like there's anything wrong with you." He felt that her symptoms aligned with anxiety and did not require medical assistance.
She says the feeling of not being believed was "...so awful. I cried for the entire afternoon. And then I really, really struggled to go to a new GP or talk to anyone. At the same point you think, am I making it up? I don't want to be wasting people's time. You doubt yourself."
Despite her best efforts, Andrea still does not have a diagnosis. Her doctors feel they have exhausted all the possible avenues, and she was recently told, "You're better off just to stop looking and just to accept this is you."
Andrea still does not have a diagnosis. Image supplied.
Andrea says that the chronic pain has taken a huge toll on her wellbeing, as the hope of it going away is becoming "increasingly slim". She adds that "because there's no diagnosis, there's no cure. No one fully understands it."
When I asked about the state of her mental health, Andrea responded;
"The pain I can sort of deal with now. It's there and I hate it and it makes me really angry but that's sort of it. It's the fact that...I didn't do anything wrong. And I'm 26 and I don't want to have kids anytime soon because I can't keep myself functioning, so why would I then bring another person into that? I've been single for three years now, I don't get to go out and meet those people. I don't want to bring other people into my little miserable bubble."
Chronic pain explained by the GP Access and The Hunter Integrated Pain Service. Post continues below.