Contents

My Story

Finding Blood

A deep, agonising cramp was squeezing my insides.

I looked across the dance floor for the exit.

I wasn’t going to make it.

I needed a bathroom. Now.

A grotty, flooded nightclub toilet without a seat or a locking door was my only option.

Salvation.

Then dread.

A dark crimson tinge stared back at me from the toilet bowl.

Oh sh*t.

My 19th birthday party was my first experience of Crohn’s disease.

Crohn's Diagnosis

The final year of being a teenager can be a wonderful, liberating time in life.

You’re an adult, but you’re still an idiot.

A rite of passage to finally choose your own path in life yet avoid harsh judgement for making dumb decisions.

Freedom.

But my independence was under threat.

Months of unexplained weight loss and tummy issues were getting worse.

Over 20 trips to the bathroom per day.

Bloating, fatigue and countless mouth ulcers.

And now this.

Discovering I had Crohn’s disease at 19 felt like I was robbed of a future.

I’ll never forget my diagnosis.

The gastro was trying to sound optimistic but was lingering over a section in my notes:

“I see your sister was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease two years ago? Hmmm….”

After a quick (but startling) examination he scribbled into my notes.

“I’m afraid it looks like colitis to me – mostly likely Crohn’s. We’ll have to book you in for a colonoscopy to confirm.”

Everything said afterwards is a blank. All I recall is wishing I’d let my parents come with me to the appointment.

IBD is often diagnosed in adolescence, cruelly restricting the freedom of becoming a young adult.

The Wilderness Years

Many students take a gap year to find themselves.

I took a gap decade.

I spent most of my twenties trying to adapt to a life with chronic illness.

I had to drop out of University to focus on getting remission. I was spending more time in the bathroom than in lectures.

Friends partied, travelled, graduated, then started exciting new careers.

Feeling left behind, I returned to University.

A huge mistake.

I stumbled to completing my degree but the stress had taken it’s toll on my health.

I was a skeletal 65kg with a face ballooned on steroid medication.

SevereIy dehydrated from constant trips to bathroom, I developed agonising kidney stones, was hospitalised, and faced a life-changing operation as my last resort.

I hit rock bottom and put everything on hold.

Career. Relationships. My future.

Exercise, My Old Friend

Action movies like Predator, Rocky and Top Gun were etched onto my soul as a kid.

If you’ve got abs, you fly jets and fight aliens. And you get the girl.

Simple maths for a 14 year old.

I got my first weights bench and I was hooked.

Ever since, exercise has been my therapy.

Like an old friend, always there when you need it.

Making you feel stronger, younger, healthier and happier.

Even at my worst, if I could work out, my day was better.

Exercise and movement always made Crohn’s symptoms seem more manageable.

Mentally and physically.

South Africa

Aged 22, in a moment of madness, I decided my path to recovery needed a change of scenery.

So I packed enough meds for a year and booked a flight to Jo’burg.

“At least South Africa has excellent medical facilities…”,

my gastro offered at the news,

“…because you’re going to need them!”

With hindsight, flying across the world in my condition was a daft idea.

But getting away from people and places that reminded me of being sick really helped.

In Africa, I studied everything I could find about IBD. I dived deep into learning about exercise and nutrition.

Virgin Active Gym in Randburg was my lab to test everything I’d learnt about strength training, core function, mobility and movement assessments.

Bloated and miserable (left) followed by remission and 12 weeks back training (right)

I developed a whole new methodical, disciplined approach to exercise and nutrition.

Results came quickly.

Stronger.

More flexible.

Tasks that left me exhausted gradually became easy.

I put on weight.

I slept better at night and had more energy in the morning.

I started looking at myself in the mirror again.

My exercise and nutrition program didn’t make me better.

But everything felt better.

Learning To Coach

When I finally returned home I was excited to use this new information to help others.

I certified as a personal trainer but I had no clients.

One-to-one coaching wasn’t really as popular as it is now. Certainly not in Belfast anyway.

But my background gave me a unique advantage in a typically egocentric fitness industry.

I quickly built a loyal base of clients who valued patience, understanding and support, rather than being trained like a robot.

Clients consistently achieved impressive, long-lasting results.

I had found my vocation.

All clients struggle at times.

Showing empathy rather than apathy is the real secret sauce of good coaching.

Arthritis

Having Crohn’s for so long while avoiding surgery or major complications was, for the most part, simple good fortune.

That luck wouldn’t last.

I’d made another leap of faith and signed a contract for a new gym in central London.

It was 2012, the Olympics were coming and the captial was buzzing with anticipation.

New country. New job. New opportunity.

I was beyond excited on my road trip to London with my life in the back of my car.

But there was one problem:

When I arrived I was stuck in the driver seat.

My hip had totally locked solid.

It had been niggly for a number of months but now I was in agony.

I limped through my first few weeks In London.

Osteopaths, physios and chiropractors only seemed to make things worse.

In desperation I went to my GP for heavy pain meds so I could sleep at night.

“You’ve probably got ankylosing spondylitis, secondary to your Crohn’s. I’m referring you to a rheumatologist.”

It wasn’t hardware. It was a software issue.

Good news: I had a diagnosis.

Bad news: I now had two connected inflammatory conditions to overcome.

Years of trial and error with biologic medications and I finally managed to maintain clinical remission.

The road was very bumpy.

After the birth of my first daughter, a combination of stress, lack of sleep and developing antibodies to adilimumab I relapsed hard.

One evening I was in so much pain I couldn’t get out of the bathtub and almost called the fire service to lift me out.

The Colitis Coach

I’m not sure about you but the IBD online community never provided the help I needed.

“Just be happy you’re not as sick as me.”

Empty platitudes and con-merchants promising to cure you with apple cider vinegar and crystal therapy.

For most of my career I wasn’t really vocal about living with autoimmune disease.

Encouraged by my wife, I included a page on my fitness website about my story with IBD (just like this).

The response was overwhelming.

A huge number of people with autoimmune conditions were clearly searching for help to boost their fitness and wellbeing.

The Colitis Coach was born.

The goal is simple.

I’ve two daughters who have an increased risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease in the future.

One day they might need this resource.

I want the information and coaching to be an honest, practical, relevant guide to thriving with IBD.

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