It started with a deep, squeezing abdominal cramp.
A spasm so intense it made the room spin.
The cold sweats of nausea.
Anxiety which builds into a crippling panic.
The desperate search for an escape.
My 19th birthday was my first experience of Crohn’s disease.
Hello Crohn's, goodbye normality
Nothing prepares you for finding blood in the toilet for the first time.
If you’re lucky it’s temporary, but within a few weeks I was going to the toilet up to fifteen times per day.
Dropping weight so fast my clothes looked like they belonged to someone else.
I knew what I was facing.
My sister had been diagnosed with Crohn’s at the same age two years previously and I’d watched her go through countless life-changing operations and still not return to a normal life.
The wilderness years
Many people take a gap year at University.
I took a gap decade.
I spent most of my twenties getting to grips with my condition.
I tried everything.
Medicine. Diets. Alternative medicine. Supplements. Meditation.
Friends travelled, finished University, then started exciting new careers.
I was a housebound drop-out with PTA (public toilet anxiety).
Feeling optimistic, I returned to University but this was a mistake.
I stumbled to completing my degree but the stress had taken it’s toll.
I was 65kg, my face ballooned on medication, I developed kidney stones, was hospitalised, and faced a life-changing operation as my last resort.
I lost interest in everything.
Health. Career. Relationships. My future.
Hitting rock bottom
There’s an odd relief at your lowest point.
For me, that moment was when I developed Spondyloarthritis.
A niggly, tight hip, which I’d assumed was an old sports injury, was spreading and getting more intense.
It had come and gone for months but now the pain woke me up every day.
Osteopaths, chiropractors and physios adjusted, manipulated and stretched my lower back but only made things worse.
Some treatments left me in agony for days.
In desperation, I went to my GP for some strong pain meds, rather than in hope of a diagnosis.
“Sounds like Ankylosing Spondylitis, secondary to your Inflammatory Bowel Disease” he suggested, and referred me to a Rheumatologist for tests.
It wasn’t hardware.
It was a software issue.
I had a diagnosis.
Time for action.
The physical toll from a flare-up
Remission and 12 weeks back at gym
Medication was the key to finally achieving remission, but I’ve always managed my physical and mental health with exercise.
Lots of people view exercise as suffering.
And I get it.
Sitting on the couch is way easier than getting fit and healthy.
Until it’s not.
For me, the gym has always felt like a playground.
A place to feel stronger, younger, healthier and happier.
Even on my darkest days I exercised.
Life always seemed more manageable after a workout.
Don’t get me wrong.
Some days the last thing I wanted to do was exercise.
Underweight, limping around the gym while everyone else seemed to be in peak physical condition was beyond depressing.
I’d bump into friends from school and see the same expression of surprise mixed with concern over my weakened appearance.
But I kept showing up.
I got stronger.
I started running.
I could trust my hip again.
Tasks that left me exhausted gradually became easy.
I slept better at night and had more energy in the morning.
I gained weight and looked more like my old self.
The path to personal trainer
In stable health, I was excited about my future again.
I studied to become a personal trainer.
I wanted to combine what I discovered through many years of trial and error, with the science behind exercise and nutrition.
And to learn how to coach effectively.
Right away I knew I had found my vocation.
My client base grew quickly and spent the next few years sharpening my skills as a coach.
I met Kelsey.
We got married.
We have two amazing daughters.
Despite the difficulties I faced – and continue to face – I feel fortunate to have found reliable ways to overcome these challenges.
I’m lucky to be in a position every day to help other people discover this for themselves.