I haven’t published an article in two years, there are several reasons for that, though if I’m honest they’re really excuses. I have many reasons for why I haven’t been writing, mental state, busy with work, perennial tiredness, but it all amounts to the fact that really, I’ve just been too lazy to put the effort into something that I really enjoy doing. This is something I aim to fix, and I may have plenty of time to do it over the coming months.
The last few years have seen ups and downs throughout both my life, and the political world in which, as you may have seen from some of my previous articles, I am so interested in. We all know the political landscape has now quite potentially changed forever and for once the whole country has been involved in the discussion (Whether or not it was an informed discussion is the subject for a much longer article than I plan this one to be) so I won’t go over arguments that have been said by better writers than me.
My life has seen several upheavals of late, I got out of an unhappy relationship, which partly fueled my writing as an escape mechanism (why it is that I find it easier to express myself and be creative when I’m unhappy I will never know), left a job that I hated and moved back in with my parents. I subsequently got an old job back that if I didn’t like the job, I at least liked the people, and got a second job that I did enjoy, and I got into a rather happier, if distant, relationship with an old friend that I had always had feelings for. I moved back out of my parents back to the city, transferred again to a new job, that was okay if underappreciative, got made redundant, got a new job that I actually do feel appreciated (with a pay rise I might add) and got engaged to that old friend. It’s fair to say that I’m still a bit dizzy, but happy for once.
However, every silver lining is not without it’s cloud. I have suffered from minor chronic joint pain all my life, mostly in my knees and shoulders, which is mostly due to being hypermobile. Over the past several years that pain has spread in area and intensity, six years ago I would think nothing of being able to go to the gym five times a week and cycle at least five miles a day, three years ago I started getting intermittent back problems, but I would still not be troubled by the idea of an intense martial arts class, or a long walk up the Fells. After that point I started with the odd day that the pain would be so bad that I couldn’t walk unaided, but that was a rarity, and only when feeling unwell. I started taking painkillers every day, something which I had not done before, I always hated taking tablets, but at this point I no longer felt able to function without them. Around two years ago I started developing severe chronic pain in my right achilles tendon, left hip, lower and mid spine, and my right index finger.
I passed most of the increasing pain off as just more of the same I had always had, nothing could be done, I just had to get on with it, and then I decided I would do a charity 10k. Something you have to understand about me is that since my mid teens, I have always been relatively fit and healthy, and have always thrived on challenge, and to be unable was, and is, a thing of shame to me, I always had an issue with my body (as you may well know if you’ve read my previous articles) and so those issues started to come back and plague me when I steadily stopped feeling able to exercise. My thought process in doing this 10k was that it would be a challenge, and an achievement to build on, to get me back to where I was, if only I could get into gear, surely exercising would make the pain go away as it did before? Sadly no, never in my wildest dreams did I expect to very nearly come last, to not even be able to run half of the distance, and to experience more existential pain than I thought possible. You see, I had experienced pain before, appendicitis, broken bones, my regular chronic joint pain, but those were somehow separate, I could shut those pains out, and were always focussed. But this pain, mixed with the shame of not only not being able to keep up, but not even being able to run, seemed to be omnipresent, and, instead of the run giving me confidence, it removed the last confidence in my body that I had.
After the run I asked my doctor to refer me to a rheumatologist.
I had never wanted to see a doctor about the pain, it seemed too much of an admittance of defeat, but now I was defeated, I had to walk with a cane for a month after the run, and one day in 6 after that. I no longer felt confident in walking any distance, never mind exercising.
Work was difficult, my colleagues in the shop were understanding mostly, but still expected me to do the heavy lifting, the pub that I was working in less so, they always got me to do the heavy lifting, stacking full kegs on my own etc. It came to a head one day when I was in so much pain I could barely form sentences (I have never phoned in sick for the pain, I hope I never will), even breathing hurt, and the girl in charge of the shift openly said she thought I was doing it for attention, I quit not long after that.
Happily after that, I saw the rheumatologist, and very quickly got a diagnosis for Ankylosing Spondylitis, a form of inflammatory arthritis that affects 0.5% of the population, it affects mostly men (around 70% of patients are male) and generally starts in the mid to late 20’s. I got some long term slow acting anti-inflammatories and a regular prescription for Tramadol. I cannot state enough how even just having that kind of diagnosis can help, never mind having targeted pain killers that actually work. It gave me something to fight. You see, I had started to believe that it was all in my head, that maybe there wasn’t really a problem. Now I can actually go for a walk in the hills without fearing the pain, and the knowledge that that amount of pain is normal for someone with AS, makes it more bearable. I still have bad days, I still have to use the cane 1 or 2 days a month or so, and there are still things that I run into that I used to be able to do that I struggle with now that upset me, dancing at a friends wedding, doing push ups, and a few more, but I firmly believe that I can get back there with a little effort. Really the best support I’ve had is my partner, who gives me just enough sympathy to let me know she understands that I’m in pain, but also expects me to get on with it, and pushes me to do more.
The funny thing is, when I am having a bad day and have to use the cane, I always get people (mostly older) asking why I’m using it, and the responses when I explain are enlightening, they range from surprise “you’re very young for that!” to outright denial “Don’t be silly, you’re not old enough! It’ll get better in a few weeks!”. The one common theme in the responses is age, somehow it is unthinkable that a man in his late 20’s can have arthritis, despite the fact that in the UK there will be approximately 320’000 people with AS, and that is only one form of arthritis, some people are born with rheumatoid arthritis. It is no respecter of age.
Bearing this in mind, when a friend of mine nominated me for the push up challenge, I decided to give it a go, but not only raise awareness for the soldiers suffering from ptsd, a very worthy cause, but to also raise awareness of how difficult something so simple as doing 22 push ups can be for someone with AS, so I thought I’d do a running commentary on how I’m managing with the challenge.
And with that introduction, I give you day 1.
Day one was difficult, but not impossible, as you can see I managed to do the 22 in one go (with a bit of help from the dog at the end). It hurt my back but not overly so.