Back in about 2012 I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid arthritis. It came as a shock, because I was only 26 years old and I didn’t even know you could get arthritis that young. I thought I was a healthy 26 year old, however what I discovered was that I could be so much more.
It all began when I started to get pain in my left knee. I wouldn’t say I was unhealthy, but I wasn’t doing any regular exercise or anything else that would cause an injury or pain. Slowly I started to walk with a limp because the pain in my knee was getting worse, but I continued to ignore it. Eventually, the size of my knee ballooned to the size of a small soccer ball and the limping was worse than ever. So I finally went to a doctor who sent me for lots of scans and tests, before I was seen by a rheumatologist. Thinking my knee was full of fluid, the rheumatologist stuck a needle into my knee to drain it, however what he found was nothing. The swelling in my knee wasn’t actually swelling, it was the quad muscle slumping over my knee due to not being used in so long. The muscle was literally dying. I was put on some anti-inflammatory medication and given the most important piece of advice… “you need to lift weights.”
It was pretty simple, the arthritis isn’t going anywhere, nothing I can do about it. But what I can do is strengthen the muscles surrounding the joints, taking some of the pressure off. Being only 26 I was not about to spend the rest of my life limping around in pain, it was time to knuckle under. So the very next day I started on my journey.
I had a small gym in my apartment building and with the help of my partner at the time I started doing simple body weight exercises, squats, lunges, light machine weights and stretches. Now this was not without pain, in fact I was in a lot of pain. After every workout I would ice my joints, I wore strapping most of the time and took my medications to mask the pain. After a few months there was another set-back, the arthritis made its way into my left elbow and suddenly I couldn’t even tough my face with my hand because my elbow wouldn’t bend. I started wearing a sling, because the simple position of my arm hanging down was causing me pain. So my specialist gave me some exercises, changed my medication and told me to keep going.
Although I experienced lots of small results along the way, it took me about a year to really start to move more freely. That’s when I was really able to start changing my training to include more isolated and strength exercises. Don’t get me wrong there were still plenty of tough days ahead. Days when I would be in tears because of the pain, have strapping on my joints for days at a time, alternate between ice packs and heat packs in an attempt to lessen the pain and find myself struggling to sleep at night. But I felt like I was finally making some actual progress and taking back control of my own body.
It was around this time that I decided I wanted to be medication free. I think taking medication is necessary at different times, but I didn’t want it to be a constant thing for me. Also, I started lifting heavier weights and I didn’t want the medication masking any injuries or muscle aches I was having. So I stopped all meds, cold turkey. Now this isn’t the best option for everyone and I did experience some setbacks with my pain and mobility. But luckily for me it was short-lived and within a month or two my body adjusted to being medication free.
From this point on I never looked back. I had found something I loved, in weight training and suddenly everything else feel into place. My diet improved, because I wanted to build strength and grow muscle. I lost weight, not because I was specifically trying to, but because I was enjoying my training and never missed a gym session. I found out how strong I really am, and how the human body can withstand an awful lot as long as the mind is willing. As my passion grew, I started to learn about different exercises, training styles and diets. I was lucky enough to have some great personal trainers along the way, who have shared their knowledge with me and continue to impart their wisdom.
Having arthritis has actually made me a happier, healthier, more driven person. 6 years on and it has taken me to body building competitions, changed my career path and given me a drive to help others. If it wasn’t for the arthritis, I’m not sure I would have taken up weight training and found my passion… Thank god for my arthritis!!