Self-care and finding a passion: Candice’s story

04 December 2020
Candice with her family and in her taekwondo gear.

Candice, 42 was diagnosed with seronegative arthritis in 2011. Her symptoms came on suddenly – she went from feeling fit and healthy to not being able to walk for a period of almost nine months.

Determined not to let arthritis take control, Candice focussed on keeping a positive mindset and finding ways to manage the pain. It hasn’t been easy, but almost ten years later she is a taekwondo champion and shares her top tips for self-care and self-confidence.

“It was a horrible time; the symptoms came on literally overnight.”

One day I was fine, and the next day at work my ankle started throbbing and swelled like a balloon. My colleagues thought I must have sprained it, but I knew I hadn’t.

The swelling in my ankle lasted ten days, and then my knee swelled up. I had x-rays taken at A&E and they said I had soft tissue damage and must have badly sprained it, but again, I knew I hadn’t.

Two weeks later my other ankle and knee swelled up. The pain was so bad, I had to sit on my bum to go downstairs.

This cycle continued to happen throughout all my joints – things would improve, and then other joints would swell.

I’m a complementary therapist and it was one of my clients who suggested I saw a rheumatologist as soon as possible.

Eventually they confirmed I had inflammatory arthritis. They told me about the medications I would be taking and said I would most likely need full joint replacements in the future. I was told I would most likely be in a wheelchair within a few years.

“My world came crashing down.”

At the age of 33, I was barely able to walk, and it felt like I’d been given a sentence.

I didn’t feel it was fair on my husband to have to look after me and it broke my heart that I couldn’t get on my knees and play with my kids.

But a strength from within me told me not to accept it. I said to myself, “I don’t know how I’m going to get through this yet, but I am going get through it.”

Even with the pain and difficulties that we experience with this condition, I want people to know there are ways forward. Focussing on your health is so important.

“I gradually built up strength and every small achievement encouraged me to try for the next.”

I asked my doctor for advice and they recommended I start walking to begin with, so that’s what I did.

I started off slow but built up to walking seven miles four times a week, and this did so much for my mental health.

The medication I’m on also helps to manage the pain. I have had steroid injections and was put on methotrexate which I’m still on now, but I think it’s the other changes I’ve made to my lifestyle that have helped the most.

My daughter then started doing taekwondo and asked me to join her. I got permission from my doctor, then went to my first session and from there I was hooked.

The pain at the start was intense, like rods being poked through me, but I found ways around the training that worked for me and the pain eventually started subsiding, I got stronger.

I still felt sore and stiff in the morning, but by the time I had warmed up I felt better, and by the time I was doing taekwondo, I was pain free.

“I began to feel like myself again and my confidence started booming.”

I’m a black belt in taekwondo now, which I never thought I’d be able to do. In 2018 I became British champion for my category and last year I represented Team GB.

Nobody will have the exact same journey as me, we all have our own individual goals in life, but the message I want to share with other people who feel a diagnosis of arthritis has turned their lives upside down – is that there is a way through it.

In a weird way I’m grateful for what I’ve been through because it has pushed me to find out what I’m capable of.

“I’ve also adapted self-care into my life.”

For me, it’s all about keeping a positive mindset and believing I can get through the pain.

I’ve also experimented with changes to my diet and what makes me feel good. Cutting out wheat, sugar and dairy has helped, but I know this isn’t for everyone. I often remind myself that “this is my body, my mission.”

My life certainly isn’t all smooth sailing now, there’s days when I’ve pushed myself too hard and the next day, I feel it, but instead of getting annoyed with myself when this happens, I’m kind to myself.

If I’m too tired, I go to sleep. I have learnt to feel compassion for myself again, which took a long time.

I tell myself, “it’s OK, you don’t have to achieve everything.” I still have down days, and I worry about the future, but the next day I get my energy back.

Self-care has got me to where I am today. It made me believe in myself and gave me the confidence to go after my dream. It’s something you do in order to be able to do everything else, not only when you have nothing better to do.

And making yourself a priority is a right, not a privilege. Believe in yourself by making time for yourself. You’re worth it!

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