A healthy and active teenager, Mary Henry’s passions in life were playing football for Hartlepool United, hiking and travelling.
But her world was turned upside down after she woke up one morning with an unexplained physical twitch and later went on to experience verbal tics – even beginning to speak in Irish and French accents.
The 19-year-old was diagnosed with Functional Neurological Disorder (FND) – a problem with the functioning of the nervous system.
It affects how the brain and body send and receive signals and that can lead to a host of physical, sensory and cognitive problems.
Mary has gone from being a proudly independent 19-year-old to relying on her family and friends as a result of severe symptoms including being unable to walk, talk and chronic fatigue.
She said: “It’s incredibly frustrating. You wonder why you can’t do things like you used to.
“It’s a horrible thing to live with, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
“The strange thing is nothing seems to have triggered it. It just seems to happen to some people. I’ve noticed it has happened to other athletes and young women.”
It was not long after her 19th birthday in October when she woke up having a tic in her neck, but she initially put it down to nerves.
However just days later while working at Morrisons the twitching became more frequent and she admits to being scared when she also started with verbal tics too, including whistling and swearing.
Her GP did not know the reasoning behind the football fanatic’s mystery symptoms and the next day she was taken to A&E.
The Whitley Bay teen would later receive the diagnosis of FND that would drastically change her life.
“I was so confused and also quite scared,” she said. “I had no choice in what was happening.
“I couldn’t stop it but I also couldn’t communicate with anyone.
“I had no idea what was going on and I did not know what FND was.
“So far, no one knows or fully understands the causes of FND.
“Anyone who has spent anytime with me recently will have been subject to my expletives and accents.
“I’ve got a good Irish accent now which I can’t usually do. It is actually quite funny. When I first went to A&E the doctor I saw was Irish and it’s since then I can do it.
“Some words such as ‘Scooby Doo’ I say now in a French accent too. It’s just bizarre.”
Over the coming months Mary would develop severe symptoms of FND including leg paralysis, intermittent loss of speech, chronic fatigue, and muscle weakness.
Devastatingly, she was forced to buy a wheelchair after suddenly losing the use of her legs.
She said: “I remember being sat watching TV and when I went to stand up I just fell straight back down. Within the next 24 hours I lost the use of the muscles in my legs.
“For periods of 10, 20 or 30 minutes I am not able to move my tongue so I can’t talk to anyone which is very frustrating.
“I also suffer from brain fog, get itchy skin and I have issues with my hands so I can’t pick things up.”
Before her diagnosis, Mary was playing centre back for Hartlepool United Women’s first team and coaching at North Shields Juniors AFC.
So it was an almighty blow to be unable to walk and she is now having to learn how to do basic things again such as cracking an egg.
She said: “It’s been very difficult. I was meant to be moving to Australia after my A-levels but Covid hit then for this to happen.
“I’ve had to swallow my pride a little bit. I’ve needed help getting food and going to the toilet for example.
“I live with my parents and two younger brothers and they’ve all been incredibly supportive. They’ve helped me with everything – from doctors appointments to listening to me rant.
“It must be so difficult for them and I think that gets overlooked at times. They were all in such shock when all this first started – as was I.”
With no NHS specialist FND site in the North East and large waiting lists for centres across the country, the former Kings Priory School pupil has sought private treatment in order to have the best possible chance of recovery.
But with her now only working part-time, she has launched a GoFundMe campaign to help her pay for her treatment.
And she has been left overwhelmed by the support from the public who have pledged more than £4,000 to the cause.
She said: “My treatment involves physiotherapy, which I have already started, and support from a neuropsychologist.
“It is very important with FND to start treatment as soon as possible in order to get the best chance of a full recovery.
“I am likely to need months of treatment from both my physiotherapist at £55 per session and around £130 for neuropsychology.
“The response has been crazy. I can’t thank people enough for donating.
“The difference it will make to my life will be astounding.
“I’m hoping I can gradually control my physical symptoms. I’ve accepted that I will have to deal with them for the rest of my life.
“I can now walk again which is fantastic. It was so difficult not being able to do something so simple for two months.
“I’d love to be back playing football and coaching again but I’m taking little steps at a time.”
Mary is also wanting to raise awareness of FND, which is relatively unknown but is in fact the second most common reason for a neurological outpatient visit after a headache/migraine.
“I want to break to stigma surrounding FND and support those people who do have it,” she said.
“I’d always encourage people in a similar position to me to allow yourself to to be angry or upset, but then try and get on with it.
“When you get symptoms, try not to panic because it’s the worse thing you can do. Also allow people around you to help you.
“The last few months have been really tough and it has changed my life completely.
“I am now determined to make as best a recovery as possible to get my life back on track.”
To donate, go to https://uk.gofundme.com/f/marys-fnd-treatment