A woman has been left too scared to get a job, leave the house or even have sex for 12 years because of cystitis.
Pretty Lauren Sutcliffe, 23, from Sunderland, has suffered with interstitial cystitis (IC) since she was 11 years old and has been plagued by kidney and bladder problems from birth.
The chronic bladder infections have left Lauren in severe pain, with a constant urge to go to the toilet and without a job or social life.
The side effects from medications cause her anxiety, hair loss and even menopause, which means she cannot have children.
Despite finally being correctly diagnosed earlier this year after more than a decade of discomfort, she is yet to find an effective medication for her condition.
The former University of Sunderland student said: "It feels like there are paper cuts and acid inside me and the pain is unbearable.
"During a flare leaving the house isn't even an option.
"I rarely want or initiate sex with my boyfriend because it's so painful, I know I'll suffer afterwards.
"My illness definitely takes its toll on our relationship but luckily he is very understanding.
"I've even found it extremely hard to hold a job down as employers are not often sympathetic with my illness.
"I wonder will I ever find a job that will accommodate my chronic agony and everything that comes with it."
As well as suffering with IC, Lauren also lives with endometriosis and vulvodynia which add to her agony.
"IC makes me feel completely useless so I suffer with severe depression and was diagnosed with major depressive disorder in 2012," said Lauren.
"I've received counselling from a psychologist to help me accept my conditions and to help me live with the chronic pain.
"But that along with the eight medications I take per day hasn't provided much comfort."
Taking its toll
Due to her cancelling plans with friends on a regular basis and being housebound, Lauren and her sister bought a Bichon Frise puppy named Claude last year.
She said: "My illness takes its toll not only on me but on my whole family.
"I strongly believe in the benefits of animals being used as an aid in therapy for people who are depressed or suffer like I do.
"He's my best friend and he instantly makes me feel calmer when I'm struggling."
Bladder and kidney infections are a regular occurrence for the IC sufferer, but this year alone she has had one every month.
As a result of her condition, Lauren's education has also been sacrificed as she was too afraid to make the journey to college in case she desperately needed the toilet.
She said: "There are so many girls who are too embarrassed to speak out about IC but it's so common and awareness needs to be raised.
"There's so many support groups and foundations that are there to give support."
A Cystitis and Overactive Bladder Foundation spokesperson said: "IC is a chronic condition and there is no cure.
"Sufferers can need to urinate up to 40 times in a 24 hour period and the pain is excruciating.
"Many sufferers experience exhaustion, anxiety and depression as a result of the disease – some are even suicidal.
"We provide sufferers with information on the various treatments available to alleviate symptoms and support.
"We also run local groups around the country so that sufferers can meet others with the disease and know that they are not alone."
Lauren is now hoping to raise awareness about interstitial cystitis, which affects around 400,000 people in the UK.
She has found support at the Facebook group IC Sisters, where she talks to women all over the world who share their advice and stories with each other.
"It's nice to know you're not alone and that there are other people going through the same thing. It definitely brings some comfort and helps during a bad day," Lauren said.
September is Interstitial Cystitis Awareness month and support groups are encouraging sufferers to speak out.
Photo credit: Caters News