“I’m going to be an ironman”.

This is what I was telling everyone from August to December 2017.

I really believed I could do it.

My life was going great. I was winning at everything I was doing.

My photo booth company was growing fast and my SEO/Web Design business was flying high- earning me more than my day job and I was going to go full time.

Then December came.

My body was falling apart.

This when I know something was up

My shoulders were hurting when swimming. My hands were hurting riding my bike, and my feet felt like I was walking on razor blades on my morning run.

To top it off I twisted my ankle in the snow and the swelling just wouldn’t go down.

At one point I was seeing a physiotherapist and a chiropractor.

Neither could fix me.

To give you an idea of how weird how everything was, I was stood in the physio room with him looking at my ankle’s and he said,

Which one are you having problems with?

Turns out my ‘good ankle’ was more swollen than my bad ankle. It was odd.

So training stopped.

I was tired all the time.

And my body kept getting worse.

I put it all down to training for Ironman Wales. I thought my body just couldn’t handle the volume.

How wrong was I?

The Diagnosis

Come January 2018 I was at the end of my tether. I was in so much pain. I couldn’t sleep. I could hardly walk.

After working through the pain for a couple of week and my colleagues campaigning for me to go off on the sick I finally gave up.

I could work no longer.

Luckily or luckily for me my mother had that mother intuition and said I know what this is.

It’s RA. At first, I said that’s ridiculous but the more I looked into it, the more I came around to the idea.

You see, my hands were horrible. They were throbbing in the morning and moving them was horrible.

I really can’t explain it.

It was excruciating.

I went to the doctor.

No joy.

I went to the doctor again.

Blood tests.

They decided to refer me to the Rheumatologist which meant months of waiting.

So I paid to see the same Rheumatologist privately within a week (ridiculous).

He confirmed the diagnosis and gave me a steroid injection to keep me going for the time being.

At first, I was glad of the diagnosis but then it hit me.

This is for the rest of my life.

I’m ashamed to say but at that time I would have preferred a cancer diagnosis.

In my mind, with cancer, it either ends well or ends badly.

Either way, it ends.

With RA, It’s the rest of my life.

I’m ashamed to say that now but that’s honestly how I felt at the time.

Finding the Right Treatment

After my steroid injection I was fine for about 2 weeks, then it all started to kick back off again.

It lulled me into a false sense of security.

I was back normal again then BANG, reality hits.

It took ages for them to start me on any treatment and in the meantime, I was learning to cope with RA through taking 8 Co-codamols a day and 2 naproxen.

I continued this even on the first few attempts at treatment.

Everytime I tried to reduce the pain killers I’d ‘feel it’ instantly.

Up the dose again.

The only time I didn’t take that many painkillers in those initial few months was when I ended up on Prednisolone (tablet steroids) for a few months.

I felt awesome again but my god the weight gain.

I think I put on a stone and ended up with stretch marks on my stomach.

Oh the shame.

A rugby-playing, future ironman wasn’t supposed to have stretch marks on his stomach.

Then again, I was supposed to need help getting in and out of the shower, putting my socks on, walking up the stair or cutting my food up either but an ego is an ego.

Stretch marks done it for me.

Getting on With Life

Eventually, after lots of trial and error, they settled on weekly injections in January 2019 which I am still taking today.

They are working well and I’m pleased to say that I am able to live a relatively normal life again.

I can exercise and have recently lost 34 lbs through exercise and nutrition, have run 5 and 10k’s and can do 40 push-ups in one go again. Happy days.

I’m restarting my business again and halfway through my Public Health MSc.

I still struggle now and again.

Recently, I’ve had to come off my medication to have the Covid vaccination and it took its toll on me.

Much like at the start, it’s only when I’m back on my medication that I realise how bad I am actually am when I’m off it.

Low Points

One of my lowest points has to be not being able to push my 2-year-old at the time, on the swing.

I just couldn’t get enough power through my hands to move the swing enough.

I’ve never felt so emasculated in all my life.

Another low point, but hilariously funny was trying to get out of the bath at the peak of the illness. Jess (my wife) would always offer to help and I’d always initially refuse.

This day, I was determined. I got up to a decent position and went to manoeuvre myself out of the bath and I came crashing back down.

Water everywhere.

Me just gently swishing back and forth with the water, startled.

Jess then helped me out.

High Points

This is going to be a wierd one.

But one of my high points is actually being able to understand what my mother has been through. She was diagnosed at 26 when she has 2 kids and was given Ibuprofen to get her through until the boffins invented some drugs to help her.

A simply amazing woman!

The second one below is also odd, but here me out.

I mentioned earlier than when I was first diagnosed I wished I had a cancer diagnosis and I was embarrassed by it.

I’m still embarrassed by it.

But, I’ve learned to realise that a life with limitations is perhaps more beautiful than a life with no limitations.

Every physical achievement is euphoric, every win comes with the pretext of- I did this, despite this.

It makes you feel 10ft tall.

I now wince at my attitude pre arthritis- I never made the most of my abilities or good health. That will always be a regret but I wouldn’t have appreciated things that I achieved anyway.

Lastly, I no longer wish I had a terminal illness.

I’m lucky to be alive.