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O'Brien Judged for Hidden Disability

Five years ago, Veronica O'Brien of Keyport, New Jersey, was feeling dizzy and nauseous, and had coordination problems when driving or walking. She reads this column in the Atlantic Highlands (NJ) Herald.

In a telephone interview, 38-year-old O'Brien said, "When walking, I was having to hold on to the walls at the office or home to steady myself. I had a good job working at a grocery (chain) corporate office doing administrative work, working with buyers, and doing data entry and filing. I really enjoyed working there."

A physician thought she could have multiple sclerosis or Lyme's disease, but didn't know. He eventually diagnosed her with vertigo. In November 2011, O'Brien fell ill again, and ended up spending a week in the hospital with intense pain. After months of tests, another physician determined she had peripheral neuropathy and polyneuropathy, which, in short, meant nerve damage. In O'Brien's case, the cause hasn't been determined.

She said, "My life now is very different from what it was. I am making progress, but it's slow. I can't work right now because my symptoms vary day to day. Some days I wake up and have awful dizzy spells and have trouble walking, while other days I am reasonably clear-headed but my balance is bad. Depending on the distance, I walk with a cane or walker. I used to be very independent, but now have to rely heavily on my husband and family for transportation. I've started back slowly trying to drive again, but only on days when I am clear-headed."

She said one frustration has been people thinking she is faking her illness. O'Brien has seen the "judgment" in people's faces, she said, even though at one point she was fighting for her life.

"I'm in pain every day," she said. "I have polyneuropathy all through my arms and legs and it's affected my sleeping. Sometimes I sleep no more than four hours a night. It is very frustrating. I go through days having a variety of emotions. I've always been outgoing and independent, and now it's very hard having to sit at home or trying to do physical therapy. But I've managed to reach out to people and keep myself going, mainly with the help of my family, friends, and husband. I am making progress through physical therapy." She urged people recently diagnosed to never give up fighting.

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