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Last updated:14th April 2016

Challenging AS

Craig Gunn raised money for NASS in 2011 leading a team of 14 in the notorious 3 Peaks Challenge. This involves climbing the 3 highest mountains in Scotland , England and Wales in 24 hours. He and his team have raised so far over £4,400 for NASS. Here is his story.

Have you ever stepped on a plug. Hurts doesn't it? Well in 2003 as I stepped out of bed that is exactly what I thought I had done. I realised in fact it was my left heel that was giving me a shooting pain up my leg. The usual diagnostic questions came into my mind - and in fact that of my GP at the time. Had I over done it in the gym? Do I have flat feet? Am I wearing the right shoes? 

The pain subsided a little with some painkillers but it recurred on and off for months. I also started noticing other pains. Neck, back, knees - I tossed and turned in bed all night and couldn't sit still at work or the sofa. I was feeling very much out of sorts. Having been in the Territorial Army for my university life and being quite active at the weekends I shrugged off the pain - but deep inside I had a feeling something was up and I was burying my head in the sand about it.

One Saturday morning the heel pain came back with vengeance. As I lived near a local hospital I hobbled down there and checked into A&E. I asked if I could have an X-Ray because it felt  like a bone fracture. They said the wait would be long. I said, 'Not to worry. It's Saturday. I've got all day.' Luckily for me the A&E doctor on call was a rheumatologist. I had offered an explanation of possible plantar fasciitis to him, but a blood test later showed the shattering news, aged 27 years old - I had ankylosing spondylitis.

At first it hit like a bolt out of the blue - the prospect of fusing bones, a bent back in old age and years of pain. I was really upset and the self-diagnosed internet stuff out there is scary to say the least. At the same time I split from my girlfriend of 4 years and decided to attempt Macchu Picchu in Peru with about 200ml of extra fluid on each of my swollen knees. I continued to hit the bars and clubs of London. I was in denial.

I was prescribed various forms of diclofenac based drugs (NSAIDS) and co-codamal, which I still take daily now. I also have had fluid drained from some joints and had localised steroid jabs and steroids tablets, but I didn't really get on with those. Eventually, with the effects of bone fusion obvious in the toes in my left foot, I began to take methotrexate tablets. The side effects I've had on them methotrexate include ulcers and severe mood swings. But in 2005 I met the woman who would eventually become my wife and, with her support, we have dealt with my moods and the physical results of the drugs have been very positive.

I began running and cycling and pretty much returned to a good level of fitness and exercise from the lowest point of my illness when I needed physical help to get out of bed. Recently I moved onto 15ml weekly Methotrexate injections, which I administer to myself and already the side effects seemed less. Injecting is not as scary as I thought it would be. I know my condition will get worse as I get older and my drugs will continue to be modified but I'm trying to make myself as strong as possible to tackle the worse of it later on in life

My experience with AS has been like a rollercoaster - periods of pain and frustration followed by periods of remission and comfort. Methotrexate has severely affected the possibility of children for me, which has been sad for my family and I but with it has come a greater ability to be active in life and enjoy the things I have.

I still go out clubbing and work as a DJ in London, as well as working in a hectic job at the Daily Mail newspaper. Despite feeling very fatigued from time to time, my mental ability to cope with this condition has improved greatly. My physical fitness means I feel about as robust as I ever have and having led a team of people up one of the most challenging things I have ever done - the 3 Peaks Challenge - I'm already planning the next big trip in 2012. AS isn't going to stop me living my life and my advice to anyone is to be active and stay positive. There are many people going through AS. You're not alone. 


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