England’s most capped player Fara Williams has told BBC Sport that the kidney condition that has affected her fitness for almost a year “broke her”.
The steroids required to treat the condition led to weight gain and other side effects.
And the Reading and England midfielder said that recovery took a toll both physically and mentally.
“For the first time in my career I wasn’t in control of my body – the medication took over,” she said.
“As I was coming off the steroids, that was when I started getting the side-effects – hair growing on your face and hands and where it shouldn’t grow on women.
“My face was swollen – moon face, as they call it – which was explained to me but I didn’t understand how it would affect me mentally, especially with image being such a big factor in the women’s game.
“When I put the weight on, there were times when I wasn’t eating to see if I could lose the weight but the shape of my face wasn’t changing.
“No matter what I was doing in my diet it wasn’t helping, so I was fighting against not eating but not being able to perform.”
‘Football has been my go-to’
Nephrotic syndrome is caused by an excess leak of protein from blood into urine and can lead to swelling in the legs and ankles
Williams’ symptoms came as she recovered from having thigh surgery in March following a training injury.
Although she tried to push herself to come back to the sport, an appearance against West Ham in October, where she managed just 16 minutes before having to be substituted, was a low point.
“I felt like I was shaming myself and if anything was to happen and my career was over, I didn’t want to be remembered for that performance,” she said.
“But that was the time when I accepted I was ill and while I was on medication, I probably wasn’t going to perform to the levels I expected of myself.
“I’ve relied on football and it has been my go-to over my career and maybe I believed I needed to be in it to deal with the illness.
“But pushing as much as I was and feeling like I was failing at every attempt wasn’t a great feeling.
“I also wasn’t able to be honest with my team-mates about how I was feeling and I was keeping it to myself. I’ve always been honest and open with people but throughout this illness I wasn’t able to be honest with it and with the people around me.
“When I did tell them, I broke down because I was feeling vulnerable throughout the illness – my body wasn’t allowing me to do the things my head wanted to do.”