A Hawke’s Bay performing artist has overcome the odds of a debilitating illness to pursue her dream of being an actor and now wants to share her story with others.
In the summer of 2013 Chelsea Sheehan-Gaiger was a normal 18-year-old who had just finished high school and was about to embark on a three-year degree at the National Academy of Singing and Dramatic Art (Nasda).
It was during this period that the pain started in her left foot before spreading to her entire body, rendering basic movement unbearable.
“I started to lose all the tissue on my feet and felt like I was walking on my bones. I couldn’t climb stairs anymore. I couldn’t dance, I couldn’t stand, I had to quit my job.”
The actor said she was incorrectly diagnosed for months before a doctor told her she was likely to be suffering complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS).
“I read about it and found out it was nicknamed ‘the suicide disease’ and was incurable.
“My doctor said that while I had chronic fatigue and CRPS, it came down to something called central sensitisation.”
She explained the syndrome meant her body was ultra-sensitive to any movement, meaning even the gentlest touch would “set off” her body”
“If you think of an electric guitar that’s turned up as high as it can go, and it’s plugged into an amp that’s turned up as high as it can go. You only have to touch the guitar for a really loud noise to come through the amp.”
Attending Nasda was ruled out, as it required full time dancing, and other music degrees involved heavy reading that she couldn’t keep up with due to fatigue, she said.
“I called Nasda and told them I couldn’t go. I felt like I might as well give up. It was one of the most heart-breaking moment of my life.”
However, one week later she was on a plane to Brisbane after learning of the lightning process; a three-day mind and body training programme that rewires the brain.
She said most of the pain she felt was gone within the first day of training, and she soon called Nasda to let them know she was well enough to attend after all.
“I cried my first ballet class because I was so excited to be standing on my toes and it was great because I hadn’t been able to sing all year.”
After graduating earlier this year, she bought a one-way ticket to Sydney and found an agent who recruits her auditions.
After publishing a blog about her experience, Ms Sheehan-Gaiger said she wanted to share her experience with others who may be in the same position.
“I know if there had been something like my blog when I had chronic fatigue, I would have latched on to that straight away. So just being able to get out there and spread the word about there being hope.
“Just because someone tells you you can’t have what you want doesn’t mean that’s true. I know it sounds cliche because everyone says it but you can have anything that you want.”