The long road back to health

A nice wee stop in Kingsbarns to update my playlist

On 6 June 2018, I made the decision to leave my two roles—web architect within the digital communications team and warden of Agnes Blackadder Hall within student services—at the University of St Andrews and strike out on a new adventure.

My plan, such as it was, was to take a few months out to focus on my health before plunging back into gainful employment. The previous two years had been rather brutal on my health

Disc breaks

Those plans came to a shuddering halt two weeks later while my (now late) mother was visiting. As I got up off the sofa I felt an excruciating pain across my lower back and I dropped to the floor in agony. I couldn’t stand up; I crawled upstairs to bed. I knew that something terrible had happened. A few days later my physio confirmed that I had herniated a disc in my spine. L5.

Six months later I started a new job as a scrum master at Vision (formerly In Practice Systems Ltd, now Cegedim). It’s always a test of character to start a new job in agony, unable to stand even for the duration of a 15-minute daily scrum meeting.

Fast forward one year and a lot of physio later, in the summer of 2019, I felt my back strengthening. I’d got the okay from my physio that I could return to cycling, as long as I focused on my posture (sit up straight!) and took things easy. The following Saturday, I made the decision to quickly clean my house before going out for a short ride. But when I lifted my coffee table to vacuum under it, I heard the same disc ‘pop!‘ and I felt the same familiar exploding splash of pain.

More physio. A second burst disc, L6 to join its neighbour, and I was officially getting fed up with being in constant pain. I struggled to walk but forced myself out on lunchtime jaunts around the block with my colleague Justin.

I welcomed the lightening evenings in the spring of 2020, what could possibly happen next? Oh, I see. I need to work from home now? I need to sit at my desk all day on Zoom calls and not move? Urgh.

New bike

A year later, I was now working for Sky and tentatively hoping that my back was healed, I bought a new bike with money from Mum’s estate.

The work at Sky is very demanding. My blood pressure and blood glucose levels have spiked to the highest they’ve ever been. Along with my weight: I am now the heaviest that I have ever recorded. Over the last year, I have put on maybe 16 kg. My ‘fat man’ belt doesn’t even meet let alone fasten. And (bonus!) I am now creeping into diabetes territory.

Last month I turned fifty years old. I am obese, I have polycystic kidney disease, and am pre-diabetic. When my father was fifty years old he was obese, had polycystic kidney disease, and type 2 diabetes. He died when he was 52. I don’t want to follow him into an early grave. I need to do something now.

Last week, I was offered a new scrum master job. There was now an end in sight to the constant anxiety and stress at Sky. It was like someone flicked a switch in my head: while previously I had struggled to get out of bed in the morning for my 08:30 start, I was now up at 06:00. In the past seven days, I have cycled 37.5 km. And my back is fine. No pain. I have started lifting weights. I am eating better.

I am under no illusions that this will be a long journey that requires dedication, focus and building solid habits. But I’ve done it before. In 2006–2007, I lost around 40 kg. I’m older now and need to lose more but I can do it.


I need to.

Published by

Gareth Saunders

I’m Gareth J M Saunders, 52 years old, 6′ 4″, father of 3 boys (including twins). Enneagram type FOUR and introvert (INFP), I am a non-stipendiary priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, I sing with the NYCGB alumni choir, play guitar, play mahjong, write, draw and laugh… Scrum master at Safeguard Global; latterly at Sky and Vision/Cegedim. Former web architect and agile project manager at the University of St Andrews and previously warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall.

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