A receptionist who was virtually bedridden by depression and chronic fatigue has found an unusual way to turn her life around – burlesque dancing.
Becky Bennett, from Hitchin in Hertfordshire, was working as a property manager when she collapsed at work last year.
Diagnosed with stress and ME, she barely had the energy to make a cup of tea, and struggled to get out of bed for eight months.
But her downward spiral was halted thanks to her alter ego - burlesque dancer Briar Rouge.
"At my worst, I'd spend days in bed and struggle to get up to make a cup of tea," she said.
"But for the last nine months, I've lived a normal life - all thanks to burlesque dancing."
The 28-year-old's ME is believed to have been caused by depression and stress, following a childhood tragedy and years of bullying.
Orphaned when both her parents died when she was two, she was successfully adopted, but the experience left her with emotional scars.
She never felt like she fitted in – feelings which intensified when she was bullied at school.
"I was nicknamed Ski Slope, because of my pale skin and the shape of my nose," she said.
"Having lost my parents when I was two, I was extremely sensitive and cried a lot, which I was picked on for. So I looked for a form of escapism and turned to ballet.
"I loved it, I was good at it and I took it seriously. I dreamed of being a professional dancer."
But, when her dance school hopes were dashed, her self esteem plummeted.
"When I was 16 I applied for dance schools, but because I'd been bullied for so many years I didn't have any confidence in myself," she said.
"This affected my performances, so I didn't get in. I felt rejected, which left me depressed and put me off dancing."
For many years, Bennett hung up her dancing shoes. Then, in 2012, a friend invited her to a burlesque class and she took to the upmarket stripping craze like a duck to water.
She said: "It was the first time I'd danced in years, but I loved it and the teacher said I had a talent for it, so I went to classes to learn more and started performing in small bars.
"My stage name was Briar Rouge and I did fan dances. I danced two to three weekends a month.
"I loved the glamour of it, the dressing up and how it left women feeling empowered. It was fun."
Sadly, though, last year, Bennett collapsed at work and the ME, or chronic fatigue, diagnosis was made.
She said: "It had been triggered by years of stress and depression – losing my parents, being bullied at school, the job I did. It all caught up with me.
"For the next year, I had absolutely no energy, so I couldn't work. I was hospitalised for a month.
"Then I was stuck at home and felt isolated from my friends. I missed dancing and wondered if I'd ever do it again."
But, one day, watching videos of other people dancing, she decided her life had been in the doldrums for long enough.
She said: "I got jealous, seeing videos of other people doing it. I was frightened that I wouldn't have the courage to do burlesque again, but, finally, I took the bull by the horns and brought Briar Rouge back to life."
One evening she brought out a pair of feathered fans to do a routine in a bar that was holding a cabaret night.
Recalling how she felt getting back up on stage, Bennett said: "It was nerve wracking but exciting.
"I wasn't as fit as I'd been before but it was liberating to be on stage again. I felt alive."
Now, although Bennett is not completely cured, her ME only flares up every two or three months – lasting at most for a couple of days.
And her foray into burlesque has sparked big plans for the future.
She said: "I have signed up with the alternative model agency Ugly, in London and hope to start appearing in magazines and adverts.
"I am also working as a receptionist now, which is less stressful than my old job and gives me more time to pursue my other interests.
"I'm doing all sorts of exciting things now and, in an odd way, I owe it to the bullies from school. They made me look for a way to escape and I found it in burlesque."