When I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2008 my world was turned upside down. My first reaction was one of disbelief followed swiftly by anger and fear. Despite being in my forties I was still physically active, playing five a side football regularly. Suddenly, I couldn’t run or kick a ball more than a couple of metres. The prospect of a future dictated by a chronic disease filled me with dread. I sunk into a dark, depressive state. The grey skies and pavements reflected the ugliness of my thoughts and I began to struggle in my job. It was at this point that I made a brave, yet ultimately life-changing decision. I took three months off work in order to take stock and deal with my mental health issues. One of the first and most vital steps on the road to redemption is admitting you have a problem; you can use rock bottom as a springboard back up to the gorgeous fresh air.
I regard this time away from work as a breakthrough not a breakdown; a time for self-reflection, an opportunity to understand myself. Men are often reluctant to express their inner most feelings and often regard this as a sign of weakness. It is the exact opposite; a symbol of strength and a desire to embrace the challenge, embrace change. As a writer, I also explored my emotions through writing poetry. Below is my revenge poem where I witness the demise of rheumatoid arthritis.
Moving like a milk float in the night,
Feasting on ankles and torturing wrists.
You have encased my feet in concrete;
Feet that once dropped a goal from forty metres
To clinch a game and render team mates speechless
On a blue sky autumn day.
But you can never win.
You cannot immobilize my ideas
Or suffocate my spirit.
I am unbreakable.
I picture you, lying in the frozen winter fields,
Slowly losing consciousness.
Having come to terms with my predicament and acknowledged my problems I was ready to become proactive rather than reactive; another important step forward. Bizarrely, it was a rheumatology nurse who inadvertently did me a favour. I asked her if it was worth me continuing some form of exercise but she implied it was fairly worthless and only the drugs would really help. I was enraged and it fuelled an intense desire within me to explore holistic options to improve my condition. I found someone in Australia who had tackled rheumatoid arthritis through diet and exercise. I adopted his program, became a vegan with no oils, started regular hot yoga classes and began hard core cycling. The transformation was remarkable, I lost 20kg’s and became fitter, healthier, more flexible and relatively pain free.
To mark this change for the better I travelled to South Africa to undertake a cycling challenge. I decided to raise awareness of rheumatoid arthritis by cycling 180 km over a three day period, including climbing the 2050 metre Swartberg mountain pass. I was joined by some friends and we raised a few hundred pounds for the NRAS arthritis charity, who featured me in an article in their magazine. A couple of years later I also entered the Cape Argus cycle tour and finished the 105km course in 5 hours.
All of this has taught me some important things which have inspired me to become a life coach. Give yourself time for self-reflection, be honest with yourself, answer some challenging questions, move from a fixed to growth mindset, critically examine your own thinking, don’t necessarily believe your own story it might be just the way you are looking at it, believe in the power of the mind, believe in the capacity for change, believe that you carry your own answers - BECAUSE YOU DO.