"For 32 years I have been living with chronic pain."
I suffered with back pain on and off since I was 15. I tried different things to manage and had massages three times a week to ease the pain and help me keep my job as a taxi driver in Edinburgh. I’d worked really hard to become a black cab driver – learning the routes, taking the exams, buying my cab – and I loved it. Whether it was the Saturday night or Monday morning crowd, the banter in the cab was always great fun.
Until the day in 2011 when someone ran their car into the back of my taxi.
After that, the pain became so much worse. I kept working, but my back was deteriorating. Sitting still was the worst thing for it. One day it was unbearable, I was in tears and knew that this was it for my career.
24/7 pain took everything away from me – my livelihood, having fun with the kids, going to concerts with my wife, nights out with the girls, everything.
I have severe nerve damage in my back, legs and hips and arthritis in my spine. I spent all of my savings on specialists, chiropractors, alternative medicine, massage and even an anatomist. Nothing worked. The pain was so unrelenting I didn’t even care about my health. I couldn’t worry about taking huge amounts of medication just to get through the day. My liver became damaged because of all the tablets I had to take. I put a lot of faith in doctors fixing my pain, but nothing worked; I remember pleading with a doctor that I was 39 and didn’t want to go home with a Zimmer frame.
In 2019 I enjoyed a brief moment of happiness. For my birthday, my kids bought me a place on a comedy course, which led to me doing stand-up at the Edinburgh Fringe. It was such an exciting experience, but the pain soon dragged me down again. And this time, I went lower than I’d ever been before.
Everything came to a head on one particular night. In an attempt to try and drag myself out of the big black hole I was in, I agreed to perform at a charity comedy night. But as soon as I got on stage, I couldn’t remember any of the jokes and my act fell apart. I couldn’t think straight due to excruciating pain, painkillers and sleep deprivation.
I broke down in tears, in front of the audience, my family, my friends. I felt like I was having a mental breakdown in front of everyone I loved. I had been trying to keep everything to myself about how I was feeling and how I was struggling to cope with the pain. I never wanted to do stand-up again. It was the lowest point of my life. I was suicidal, at rock bottom.
That Monday, I went to the doctors and begged for help. They referred me to a drop-in centre where I heard about Thistle and the Wellbeing Service and I decided to go along. When I met Aileen, my Wellbeing Practitioner, I felt real hope. She said that Thistle believed life was for living. That was all I wanted to do – live my life.
On the Thistle Lifestyle Management course, it was first time in my life I felt really listened to and I didn’t feel that I was a burden. I couldn’t believe it. The course was life changing, it was so easy to understand and take in. I really liked that we were given a manual so I could read it and refresh my memory between the sessions.
It’s all about taking baby steps, but over the days, weeks and months, life got better and better. I’ve no doubt that Thistle saved my life and without their support I wouldn’t be here today. I’ve gone from thinking I had lost everything – my career, my role within my family, my confidence – to being in a happy marriage, spending quality time with my family and doing the things I love. My wife said she’s fallen in love with me all over again.
I’ve become a Thistle Peer Volunteer so I can use my experience to help others. I’m helping raise awareness with GPs so they know about referring people like me sooner – and I’m using all my courage to get back on stage, using my comedy to help raise awareness and money so that Thistle can help more people like me live their lives too.
I’ll be managing pain for the rest of my life, but my outlook is very different now, thanks to Thistle.