“Support groups have been a lifeline for me.”
John McLester, 48, from Coleraine has lived with osteoarthritis for over 25 years after breaking his neck in a road traffic accident. He was also diagnosed with fibromyalgia 10 years ago.
Here he talks openly about the challenges of balancing parenting with arthritis and the importance of getting support when you need it.
“There are lots of men living with conditions like arthritis who are dads, and we need to be aware of the impact – people don’t speak out enough”
I had a road traffic accident in my 20s and broke my neck in 3 places, as well as suffering severe fractures of the spine and a broken leg.
I was told I had a premature degenerative disease from the x-rays, and it turns out this was osteoarthritis in the neck. I have been taking pain relief for over 25 years now, as well as regular medication day and night for my fibromyalgia. Chronic pain can have a huge impact on your mental health too, and this has been difficult to manage at times.
“Managing my conditions can be very difficult – they can flare up at the same time and be very debilitating. It’s hard to cope with the pain.”
My relationship broke down in 2008 and I became a single parent to my son who was 8 at the time and part time to my daughter who was 3. It’s been very hard raising a child – I won’t lie. At the same time, it’s without a doubt the most rewarding thing to be part of my children’s lives and see them growing up.
It was a struggle when my children were younger to explain how I was feeling, and I couldn’t depend on them for help. I did a lot on my own, from cooking and cleaning the house - and there were things I struggled with like hoovering and cutting the lawn. My oldest son would come over and help with this, but I did feel quite trapped at times.
Now the kids are older and can understand my conditions better, I’m honest with them about what I can and can’t do.
I have had support from my family – my mum is a huge support and my children’s grandparents on both sides have been there for me too.
I talk openly about my condition now, but it can still be tough as I’m a lot younger than a lot of people with arthritis.
“Sometimes I can’t do things because it’s too much and I have to rest a lot”
If you do too much, things can deteriorate quickly. You have to think about rest periods and time for yourself, I can get vey fatigued. My condition influences my mood and makes me feel cranky at times and I don’t like being around the kids when I’m feeling like that.
I had to leave work 4 or 5 years ago because it was too much. This was a huge change and can be a very stressful decision to make.
“The positive part is that I joined a Versus Arthritis support group”
In 2012, I found the support group and it’s been so helpful, I’ve met other people going through the same challenges as me.
I’ve been part of the group for 6 years now and was part of the committee for 5 years too. I even started a hospital hub in my local area with my friend Harry (John is pictured on the right). We’ve been running this for 3 years and it’s really developed me as a person.
The Versus Arthritis self-management courses helped me massively too, these are 2 and 6 week programmes where you get great support and can talk to people during the hard times.
It helped me to manage my condition alongside taking my medication and provided me with the information I needed to feel confident in taking steps to do this.
Tips for getting the help you need
- Don’t feel alone – isolation isn’t good. I was isolating myself at one stage and I felt very low – I want to encourage more younger people to get involved in support from charities like Versus Arthritis.
- You don’t need to deal with it on your own. Meeting others gets you talking and is very reassuring. I’ve found the charity so welcoming and the support groups have been a lifeline for me.
- You can lose confidence when you are diagnosed with a long-term health condition, like arthritis. But things have come on leaps and bounds for me and I’ve gained so much confidence since becoming part of my local support network.
- I would encourage anyone else living with arthritis and going through any of the experiences I have to seek support and get involved in the work Versus Arthritis do.
- Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help from people because it really can make all the difference.
You can take action today
Join us and thousands of others across the UK pushing back against arthritis by declaring yourself #VersusArthritis.
Our Northern Ireland services
Debbie tells us more about the services in Northern Ireland and why our volunteers make all the difference.