A SALISBURY woman who suffers with a rare autoimmune disease has started a podcast to help others and raise awareness of "invisible" illnesses.

Cat Ray's life changed when she was diagnosed with Behcet's - a chronic condition affecting the body’s immune system - when she was 23.

Now 30, the former dancer and singer who worked on Disney cruise liners, has started Rising From The Illness with new episodes every Monday.

Prior to starting the podcast she previously wrote a blog but says she became 'uninspired' when the coronavirus pandemic hit but this changed when she was contacted by someone in need of support.

"I realised I need to keep sharing my story because it is helping other people - that is when I decided to set up the podcast," said Cat.

"I was diagnosed seven years ago now and the condition I have is very rare, I couldn't find anyone to talk to who was going through that experience. I really don't want people to feel how like how I felt back then. It is so lonely and I went through so much trauma in my personal life."

At its worst the disease has left her bed-ridden. She also has seizures and her stomach became paralysed which meant she was unable to eat and had to be tube fed. It can also affect her vision.

She has to use a wheelchair, crutches or a walker - depending on how she is feeling as everyday varies.

"The condition is autoimmune so it feeds off of stress and your immune system attacks itself." adds Cat.

Speaking of the time after her diagnosis, she said: "It was a horrible time, it was rubbish and at that point I didn't think there was a way out for me. But now that experience is helping others."

"It was hard because my life before was very active. I always felt I didn't have a lot of energy at times and was poorly and just pushed on. When it was diagnosed they said it could get progressively worse as I got older. That was quite worrying for me obviously being 23. I had been travelling and done all this stuff and was like 'where's my life going to go now?'," she added.

After having a seizure on stage and her condition getting progressively worse she had to give up singing and entertaining.

Cat admits she is still "very poorly" but she has started a plasma exchange treatment, which she says has given her back some "quality of life".

The podcast has allowed her to connect with other people with Behcet's as well as other other diseases and conditions.

Through the podcast, Cat says, it is also helping to open people's eyes to these "invisible" and chronic illnesses by raising more awareness about them.

She said: "I don't look obviously ill. So many people have asked me if I've fallen down the stairs or something."

She says the disease affects her joints, her brain, causes seizures, skin lesions, blisters and ulceration's, adding: "Most of it is internal so you can't see it.

"It is just getting the awareness out there that these conditions do exist. The whole thing is to be kind to people and don't judge and to the people suffering reach out, don't be scared to ask for help and don't suffer alone"

The Rising From The Illness podcast is available to listen to on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or go to the website.