"I focus on what I can do, rather than what I can’t"

25 September 2019
Craig sunderland on crutches and playing guitar.

Craig was in his mid-thirties when he was diagnosed. Over the years he’s been through some tough times, but when he read stories of people like him with arthritis, he felt compelled to share his story too. He tells us his experience of going through diagnosis and figuring out what his life looked like living with Ankylosing Spondylitis and Psoriatic Arthritis.

I’m Craig, 44 from Yorkshire, and I am Versus Arthritis

Ten years ago I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis and Psoriatic Arthritis after an emergency appointment with my GP.

I’d experienced pain for a few years from a football injury in my right knee. The pain didn’t go away but at the time my doctor dismissed it as just a football injury.

I ended up seeing a rheumatologist privately and went straight to hospital unable to get out of bed, which is when I got the diagnosis.

I felt much more in control after my diagnosis

At first, I was relieved. I finally had a quantifiable diagnosis of what was going on. My rheumatologist did a brilliant job of explaining everything really clearly which made me feel much more in control of the situation.

Before the pain medication was prescribed, I would have described my pain as a 3 out of 10. It was only when I started medication that I realised just how much pain I was in and how much I’d gotten used to living in such discomfort.

After the diagnosis I spent two years working hard in the gym to regain my strength and flexibility but my right knee was never quite the same.

I really missed playing football though and I was determined to get back to playing. I decided to train myself to play left footed, and have even taken part in running challenges.

A few years later I went into a rapid decline to the point that I was bed bound and frail. The medication I was on made me rapidly gain weight and I was told that I needed new joints but was too young to have them replaced.

I’ve been determined to get my fitness levels back

For a while I let apathy set in, but quickly that strong determination came back. I got back to the gym, and I’m now fitter and more muscular than I was before.

Life has thrown me a lot of curveballs my way over the years. Two years ago I found myself taking up the role as carer for my wife who became paraplegic overnight, as well as working full time.

Now I get up at 5:30 am every day to make her breakfast and get ready for work. I try to fit in the gym around this, as well as keeping on top of the housework.

I’ve even faced a certain amount of unfair treatment at work and have been treated differently because of my diagnosis. I’ve had a few negative comments from a few of my colleagues who told me I wouldn’t get any further on the corporate ladder with my condition. I’ve since gone on to get a promotion but still I am confronted with the occasional outdated ways of thinking.

It’s great to have charities like Versus Arthritis running campaigns to show the reality of what living with arthritis is like. A lot of my friends through adult life have been through football and now I no longer play I’ve lost touch with a lot of my teammates. There’s times over the years I’ve felt isolated and depressed because of my arthritis.

I’m really grateful that I’ve joined a band with some ex-school friends, playing guitar. They’re great at understanding my limitations and don’t make an issue out of it.

It’s not always easy but I’m proud of what I’m able to do

It’s been hard to adjust my life throughout all of this. But I am proud that I have supported both myself and my wife even in the face of adversity. I hid behind my condition for so long, but now I want to do whatever I can to help me grow back to the person I used to be. I’m focussing on making myself enabled to do what I can do, rather than focusing on what I can’t do.

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