A dairy farmer from Ballydehob in west Cork has said that living with an autoimmune disease has changed his mindset when it comes to work.
“I have to work smarter,” said Patrick McCarthy, who milks 45 cows.
“For example, instead of throwing a 25kg bag of calf nuts up on my back, I now put it into a wheelbarrow and transport it to down the yard to the calves.”
He farms 105ac, 47 of which are grazable. He was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease Ankylosing Spondylitis about two years ago.
“I turned 40 in January of this year, and I have had a lot of lower back pain since my mid 20s,” said Patrick, who took over the farm from his father in 2005.
“Unfortunately, most people who have Ankylosing Spondylitis, or AS for short, do not get a diagnosis for a few years,” he said.
“My hope is that highlighting the autoimmune condition might help people that struggle with back pain to consult with their doctor to see whether they might have AS,” Patrick said.
“Ankylosing Spondylitis is a type of arthritis/inflammatory disease and it affects my lower spine on my right side. It can become inflamed easily. This causes my lower back to tighten up into a spasm which can be quite painful.
“I also have a lot of stiffness in my lower back. Routine is very important to me.
“Waking up in the mornings is the hardest as I am very stiff in my lower back and have to be careful in the way I move for the first 30 minutes every morning.
“That is why I get up an hour earlier and I put a heat pad behind my lower back to help loosen out my muscles. Once I get moving out the farm, I’m fine.
“But I have to listen to my body. I take breaks throughout the day. This helps a lot and prevents my back from tightening up,” the farmer added.
“I give myself an injection called Benapali once a week. This helps reduce inflammation in my lower back,” he said.
Patrick considers being his own boss an advantage as he can decide what type of work he does each day and he can also take regular breaks.
“If I feel my back tightening up, I need to rest as much as possible,” he said.
The Cork man runs what he calls a “kind of farming blog” on his Twitter (@2pintpaddy), where he gives weekly farm updates.
“Recently, I highlighted that I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis,” he said.
“To my surprise, a few farmers contacted me and told me they struggle with the same autoimmune condition.
“I plan on starting up a new Twitter page for AS sufferers who can share their experiences of living with the condition and hopefully get some advice on how to live a normal life with AS,” Patrick said.
“Mental health and well-being has always been a concern of mine in regard to the farming community. I spent the last 16 years in Macra,” Patrick said.
“Macra has always been a great advocate for the mental health and well-being of young farmers and young people in general.
“I can safely say my positivity and confidence is thanks to being a member of Macra. Rural isolation is still a major issue in Ireland. Thankfully, organisations like Macra really help young people build up confidence and meet new people.
On the topic of mental health, Patrick said that living with Ankylosing Spondylitis can make you feel “isolated”.
“I have had my hard times over the years living with Ankylosing Spondylitis. But being involved in my local Macra club in Caheragh and taking up a number of officerships over the years in the organisation has definitely been great for helping me stay positive,” he said.
“Through Macra, I have friends all over the country, and over the last 16 years I have always looked forward to attending the Macra festivals throughout the country.
“Living with the condition can be hard so it is important to go on a holiday or go away for a weekend. It helps your own mental health and in turn, I find this helps my condition as I find stress can bring on more pain and tightness in my lower back.
“It’s also very important to talk to family and friends about your condition and more importantly talk to other sufferers of AS.
“This is why I decided to hopefully create a Twitter account so people with AS can share their experiences on living with the disease and hopefully get some advice that might make living with the condition easier.”
Patrick would like to see more focus put on mental health and well-being among the farming community.
“Your mental health is just as important as your physical health,” he said.