A WOMAN who was diagnosed with a rare form of arthritis as a teenager said it was like being "struck by lightning".
Kate Liberty, 24, was studying for her A-Levels when she felt "lightning-like" pains in her lower back that shot down to her legs.
Despite initially brushing them off as nothing serious, she decided to see a doctor when they began happening daily.
Blood tests at her GP surgery revealed she had high levels of inflammation.
She was then referred for exploratory scans at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital, South Wales.
Kate was told she had rare condition known as ankylosing spondylitis — a form of arthritis which leads to the spine fusing — when she was just 18-years-old.
Kate told Wales Online: "It was initially quite a shock but I was lucky to be diagnosed within six months of experiencing symptoms.
"I know it can take years for some people to receive their diagnosis.
"I had been going through an extremely tough time at home while studying for my A-Levels and the diagnosis was another added stress.
Most read in Health News
"At first, I felt very alone and my family and friends didn't understand what I was going through."
Kate, from Llantrisant, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Wales, said ankylosing spondylitis is a progressive condition and is likely to see her mobility deteriorate over time.
When she has so-called "pain days" she needs help with everyday tasks like getting dressed.
Kate said: "I get a lot of my pain at night when I'm trying to sleep.
"About three or four hours into my sleep I have to get up or try and sleep sitting up because my back aches a lot when I lie on it for too long.
"I get the shooting pain when I'm going from in a seated position to standing up.
"When I'm having a really bad day I do have to rely on my husband for many things - and I do feel like I lose my independence."
Kate said it took a while to accept that she had the disease, particularly as she had her mind on her upcoming exams.
She also had some family issues at home which she said were "well beyond my control".
Kate said: "Being diagnosed at 18 was also difficult because that's when all my friends started going to all the bars and nightclubs in Cardiff.
"But I just felt really uncomfortable going out because I just knew that I'd be in pain and I wouldn't enjoy it.
"I felt like I lost out on a lot of memories with my friends before they all went off to university."
Over time, Kate says her condition is likely to cause her more pain.
It is likely her bones in her lower back will start of fuse and form new bones which could affect her mobility.
Kate said: "But I'm really lucky that I live in a time where there are lots of new medical treatments available for people like me.
She said that there is also a stigma attached to her invisible illness.
Kate said: "For instance, if I was on a train I'd be embarrassed to ask for a seat from someone.
"People often wonder how I can have arthritis when I'm so young.
"I didn't really get a lot of support from anyone in school, it just came from my really close friends, my mum, my auntie and my then boyfriend who has now become my husband."
After Kate was diagnosed she discovered that her grandfather, who had died when she was only four years old, had also lived with ankylosing spondylitis for much of his life.
In addition to her ankylosing spondylitis, Kate found out that she has Crohn's disease, a common complication from ankylosing spondylitis as both are auto-immune disorders.
Despite her chronic ill health, Kate has decided to take part in the Walk Your AS Off Challenge to help raise money for the National Axial Spondyloarthritis Society (NASS).
She aims to walk 10,000 steps each day in May.
Kate added: "I want to give back to this fantastic charity that has offered me so much advice over the last six years and be able to help fund other people who are perhaps newly-diagnosed and need that support.
"I really want to raise awareness for the disease because I hadn't heard of it before it was diagnosed, and pretty much everyone I've spoken to has never heard of it either."
She also has an Instagram account which has helped her connect with other people with similar conditions.
To donate to her GoFundMe page here
We pay for your stories!
Do you have a story for The Sun news desk?