A diagnosis with a serious condition can be part of the ebb and flow of ordinary lives. Depending on how someone sees and tackles challenges, being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (an auto-immune condition) can be an ending of one phase or the beginning of something new. Not only does this impact people physically, but also mentally. For thirty-two-year-old dad of two, Phil Davies, a diagnosis in his mid-twenties meant a combination of things. He had a wedding planned, hopes of a family and the responsibility of a full-time job, he had things to get on with.
“For men, not wanting to show they’re in pain is a pride issue. talking about
it at times felt embarrassing. ”
- Phil Davies
Phil says, “My first thoughts were about whether I would be able to work; if I would become disabled – and if I could still play football.” For someone like Phil who has a passion for sport and enjoys being active, the diagnosis hit hard at his sense of self. There was a concern about rheumatoid arthritis taking away the things Phil excelled at and redefining who he was.
“For men, not wanting to show they’re in pain is a pride issue,” he explains. “People don’t always understand how much the pain can impact you, and as a result talking about it at times felt embarrassing. ”
A defiant attitude challenged the impact of a diagnosis
The first year was a time of adjustment where Phil relied on his wife for help with routine tasks. At times it felt like he was losing his independence, when tasks like dressing, driving to work, and staying in work were challenging. He credits his wife’s ‘tough love’ approach where she was always supportive but also encouraged Phil to maintain his positive outlook when faced with difficulties.
“It’s important to be able to bond with your child. Not being able to even pick him up had a huge effect.”
- Phil Davies
Phil decided he wasn’t going to let arthritis steal his life. Mindful of the restrictions a flare up of the condition could cause, he made changes every day to defy the condition and retain as much independence as possible.
Overcoming baby blues to become a fully engaged dad
When Phil and his wife decided they wanted to start a family, he was taking Methotrexate, a drug that suppresses the immune system and can reduce the potential for joint damage as well as reducing evidence of arthritis. The medication has a number of side effects, and is not recommended for individuals who are trying to conceive. But having a family was important and becoming a parent was not something that Phil was prepared to miss out on, so he temporarily paused taking the medication.
When Phil’s first child arrived, the pain in Phil’s shoulders was significant and meant it was difficult sharing parenting duties. While most new fathers are able to be fully involved in caring for a new baby, Phil was unable to hold his son, much less feed him or look after the baby’s essential physical needs.
Phil is open about expressing the impact this distance had on his feelings as a new father. “It’s important to be able to bond with your child. Not being able to even pick him up had a huge effect.”
With time and by continuing with his treatment, Phil has been able to regain and maintain his sense of self: physically, emotionally and as a parent. His second child was born three years later. Now Phil is a football dad, does the school run and plays sport with his children.
Living well one day at a time
In the UK, 400,000 people have rheumatoid arthritis. Some, like Phil are younger men who are managing busy lives, and some are dealing with a new diagnosis. They may be asking themselves all the questions about what happens next that Phil had to face and eventually found answers for.
He is clear in sharing with anyone with a recent arthritis diagnosis that everyone is different, and handles change and challenges according their individual situation.