Being diagnosed with a debilitating illness can cause some people to recoil from the world.
Lee Firth, from Leeds, knows how difficult it can be to bounce back from a long-term diagnosis, after he was told he had ulcerative colitis in 2004.
The illness causes the large bowel to become inflamed and many people with the condition experience frequent fatigue.
But 13 years on from his diagnosis, and after losing his job, struggling for fitness and withdrawing from friends and family, Lee is now an aspiring bodybuilder.
“I always kept myself fit and played sport from a young age, so when I was suddenly diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at the age of 25, I was in complete shock,” he told the Yorkshire Evening Post.
“At first, I found it hard to come to terms with. I was scared and upset, with all manner of worries going around my mind. I was told it was likely that I’d have the condition and be on medication for the rest of my life, which I found difficult to deal with and quite frankly, terrifying.
“I began to spiral down, not taking my medication as I should, eating a poor diet and drinking way too much. A major side effect of colitis is having to go to the bathroom a lot, but the illness grips your body in other ways.
“At times, I feel like I’ve had all of the energy drained from my body.
“I feel like I’m closing down and I can’t stop it or even function properly. It affects my sleeping patterns and makes me tired pretty much all of the time.
“I can’t eat the food I’d really like to, and my emotions are a rollercoaster. The highs are high and the lows are very low. Sometimes it’s a real struggle to get out of bed.”
But the dad-of-one has now come to terms with his diagnosis and learned techniques to cope and manage his moods.
After losing his job, Lee took up cycling to lose weight and went on to join a gym.
He now trains six days a week at the MoveGB mulit-fitness venue in Leeds.
“I started lifting weights,” he said.
“I researched the foods I needed and I kept on getting healthier and found that the healthier I felt, the more I wanted to train. I began to develop a passion for fitness and I’ve now been training my body for three years. I find it fascinating that you can change your physique and the way you feel mentally, if you train properly and eat the right foods.”
On an average day Lee eats around five small meals, which helps with the side effects of his condition.
He hopes this year to showcase his fitness skills with the UK Bodybuilding and Fitness Federation by taking part in competitions.
‘I want to help others who are struggling’
Lee Firth says he wants to use his own experiences battling ulcerative colitis to help others struggling with the condition.
He said: “I feel that my experiences would allow me to offer advice and guidance, having learnt so much over the past few years.
“I wish I’d had someone to talk to and learn from, so I want to be able to share my story with others suffering from UC.”
Lee launched an Instagram motivation page – @leefirthlife – where he shares his routines, goals and achievements