Gary has psoriatic arthritis and shares how golfing helps him cope

19 May 2021
Gary with his partner, playing golf and with his daughter.

Gary, 37, went from footballer to golfer after his psoriatic arthritis diagnosis. He tells us the vital role that sport has played throughout his life, and why it’s so important for men to talk to support their mental and physical health.

“The GP thought it was an injury.”

I was about to turn 29 and had long a history of playing sport. At a football pre-season I started noticing lots of discomfort in my pelvic area. I put it down to injury because I had suffered with a lot of injuries. I left it and thought, “with a bit of rest it will heal”.

It didn’t go away after six weeks and I was unable to play football because I couldn’t stretch out to get the ball due to the pain. Treatments with our team physiotherapist didn’t help, so I went to the GP.

The GP gave me naproxen and exercises, but I knew that it wasn’t normal, and it was getting really painful. After a few weeks I called the GP and, with persistence, they referred me to a physiotherapist, who recommended going for blood tests. By this point three to four months had passed.

I pushed my GP as I wanted to get it checked out properly and I had an MRI scan. After my scan, I walked into my appointment with the Head of Orthopedic Physiotherapy and he said “it’s been a pleasure treating you, but this will be the last time I see you. I am referring you to a rheumatologist”. He showed me the scan and the inflammation in my sacroiliac joints.

I used to think arthritis was an old person’s disease or that young active people got it from wear and tear.

It isn’t until you sit down with a rheumatologist or rheumatology nurse that you get information about what it actually is.

“Football was everything to me.”

I grew up in a junior football team and a lot of the same guys went into the same adult team after, they were teammates for a long time. I played a good level of football and cricket for many years. However, I was always injury prone so everyone thought I’d just have a break and come back time and time again.

When I knew I couldn’t play, I stepped away to stop myself having the urge to try. Every week, people would ask if I was fit enough to play, and I just knew that I couldn’t. By not going I stopped those questions. They didn’t ask “how are you feeling” but, “will you help us out?” I’ve not watched a local game since.

I was one of the stronger players and because people didn’t know what the pain was, they didn’t understand it. Whereas they know there’s a certain form of recovery with an injury.

“People’s expectations are the hardest part.”

You can’t see some chronic conditions and people don’t understand that it isn’t going to get better. If I can’t reach their expectations, I wonder if they see me as a failure when it’s actually my body failing.

People don’t understand that when they take the mickey out of you, you could be having a flare up. It’s frustrating and difficult to accept that I won’t ever be that person who was fit as a fiddle. I brush off comments people say and horrible phrases like ‘man up’. You should deal with your condition how you see fit and I am quite positive.

It’s been year since lockdown and some people might joke, “Gaz you’ve put on weight have you been enjoying lockdown?” Comments like that can hurt; I am a dad, take horrid medication and can’t be as active anymore. That’s what guys are like and why positive messages are important.

“Golf has been a lifeline for me.”

I got married at 30 and had my son and things did change. I’m like most people - working, trying to be a husband, a dad, have a social life… Then the fatigue sets in and all of a sudden, I need to rest. It can impact on the family because there are times I can’t do things.

My wife fully understands and does what she can to support me. It’s probably frustrating when she has to tie my shoelaces for me, which happened quite early on because of my sacroiliac joints.

I have very good occupational health where I work too, and the support I get it is second to none. I’m very lucky and I know I am.

I started a golf society eight years ago. Once a month we play and socialize as a group of lads. Golf is much more accepting than football, you can alter the way you play depending on how your body feels. Physically, golf hasn’t been too challenging; you walk a lot and it helps keep you loose.

“It’s ok for men to say “I’m hurting I need help.””

When I was diagnosed, I didn’t know anyone who’d suffered with my condition. I remember seeing the Versus Arthritis Instagram page and thinking that I’d not seen many men. I thought about what I had to give up and it made me think, ‘why aren’t men talking about it?’.

I am a guy who used to be very active and had success in playing sports. If only one person relates to my story and realises it’s ok to not be the person they were, and that there are things to look forward to, it’s worth it.

Guys don’t speak up enough about this. We bottle our feelings up. If they spoke up, they might get help earlier.

Ways to get moving

  • For ideas on exercise options check out our exercises for healthy joints.
  • You can get more inspiration on ways to get moving around the house from the We are Undefeatable website. They have ideas ranging from chair exercises, yoga to dancing in your kitchen.
  • Let’s Move is our online programme for people who want more movement in their lives.  Sign up today, and we’ll be there to support you every step of the way. 

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