Hey guys. If we haven’t met already, my name is Keenan Eriksson. I am 25 years old, I am a full time freelance writer specializing in the health and wellness sector, and I have been battling against chronic disease for a little over 3 years.
I’ve written about this topic in other articles, usually to explain how some health tactic helped me, but I’ve never put to words the most important piece of this journey: knowing how to handle fear.
You see, chronic disease is a life-changing tragedy. Overnight I transformed from top physical athlete with sights set on the Navy SEAL/S to a scared man plagued by anxiety, fatigue and the constant threat of panic attacks.
No matter how quickly I managed to heal, I knew then that my life would never be the same.
With Covid-19 lockdowns, rioting in the streets, and a looming economic depression, I figured it was high time I shared the lessons that ultimately got me through this experience. This is how to get through tragedy and overcome hardship.
1. Commit To An End But Accept Reality
The first thing I did right was to accept the reality of my situation.
As I mentioned earlier, I had my sights set on the Navy SEAL/S as a career path, and I did not take it lightly.
Growing up, I’ve always been an over-cautious person. While my peers climbed to the rooftops of playgrounds, I was on the ground looking up with worry and envy.
I did not play sports despite natural athleticism, and if you threw a ball at me during gym class, I’d always dodge but never catch it. Apparently as a small child I was hit in the face, hard, by a basketball and this caused my palpable aversion. Either way, I was not an image of courage.
Despite always being late to the party, I deeply admired the bold and the brave. I was a gamer kid. My fantasies were of the noble warrior mystics known as Jedi from the Star Wars universe, and my favorite game character was Master Chief from Halo: a cyborg super soldier who was always calm, collected, and unstoppable in the face of terrible odds.
As I grew older, I began working on my own bravery more and more, and looked to the stories of our own world’s Spartans, samurai, and soldiers.
One of the greatest lessons I learned is that true warriors have a clear goal, but they do not deny the realities of their situation.
They are neither optimist nor pessimist, and in the face of impossible odds, they determine to win or die trying.
This is the first and foremost lesson of facing tragedy. When my health crashed, I knew I might never recover. I knew that anxiety, panic attacks, and every other strange new symptom I came to face, might be my fate for months, years, decades, and the rest of my life.
I also knew it was possible to overcome all of it. I accepted the reality of my situation first, then resolved to continue trying to change until I succeeded or died.
Fundamentally this is what has allowed me to weather all the failures I’ve faced since getting sick. If you tell yourself that you can’t handle the reality of your circumstance, this can be very motivating. It can drive you to do as much as possible to change.
However, when you hit pitfalls and lose all your progress, you will be crushed. Telling yourself you can’t handle something or denying a harsh reality massively increases your risk of totally giving up any time you experience regression.
Simultaneously, having a clear aim at your desired end will keep you from getting complacent early. It is easy to slow down right when you start making progress if you do not have a clear commitment.
When things start to improve and you get to experience reprieve, it is good to enjoy it, but now is the time to double your efforts, not slow down.
If you are too focused on simply escaping your current situation, you may stop too early once you make progress. While it is fine to be happy with poor circumstances, this may leave you in an unstable place that could easily fall. The foundation of a house may keep you off the wet ground, but it won’t help you much when the winds of fate come and blow it down.
Do not become complacent. Choose your desired end state (get a job, pay debts, overcome the loss of a loved one, heal from disease) and commit to it while simultaneously facing the true, harsh reality that you may never succeed. If you can accept this kind of devil’s bargain, your odds of success in the long run will be much greater.
2. Shorten Your Timeline
Nothing is so bad that it cannot be made worse. When everything is falling apart, and you cannot think about the future in a year, much less a day, shorten your timeline.
To quote scripture: “sufficient unto the day are the demons there-of.”
When I was bedridden, experiencing post-ventricular contractions every fifth heart beat, getting dizzy if I stood up, and feeling unwarranted and undesired anxious thoughts crashing through my brain, I focused on the day.
When you’re hurting, it can seem impossible to imagine a week of suffering.
But a day? Perhaps you can handle a day. After all, you’ve survived everything up til’ this point, and you will likely survive this day too.
You can even reduce this down to the hour, or minute, if necessary.
When things were particularly bad, I just told myself “if you heal, these feelings will be a distant memory.” I know I said not to be an optimist in the last section, but it is still powerful to see clearly your vision of a better future.
Almost a year into my health crash, I became so plagued by anxiety, fatigue, and heart palpitations that for the next 3 months, I didn’t leave my house.
Holding on to my vision of a better future, while shortening my focus to see how I could survive the day, are what ultimately led me out of the darkest times.
“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” — Winston Churchill
3. Access Your Intuition For Creative Solutions
Another thing that has helped me greatly, both in life as well as in facing tragedy, is opening my mind to creative solutions.
Since my first panic attack, I’ve seen a traditional doctor a sum total of 4 times.
- Once in the first week, for basic blood tests and an EKG.
- Again in the first months to make sure my heart was physically normal (via echocardiogram)
- A year later for another echocardiogram after 3 months bedridden due to heart palpitations and fatigue
- 3 months ago to get a prescription of beta-blockers as a back up in case anything happened while on a 7 day cruise (which is also the first time I’ve flown since the earliest days of my illness)
Everything else I did to heal came from my own research and from functional medicine doctors, who I used as middlemen to access blood labs, etc.
I saw my medical bills early, and I knew that hammering my head against the standard medicine model would be neither sustainable nor effective. This isn’t a recommendation on how to handle disease yourself, by the way. I decided to take an unorthodox path based on the realities of my situation.
I also knew that, though well schooled, doctors were just people like you or me. I could probably learn 90% of what I needed to know for free using podcasts and then bypass the docs by going straight to solutions.
The end result? In 2 years I healed to functionality without doctors or therapists. Many people with chronic fatigue syndrome at the level I had it will suffer for decades without improvement, all while seeing the world’s leading experts.
Another tip: Kill your shame. You have a standard to get yourself back on your feet. You are no good to the world sick, depressed, or jobless.
If you need to go on welfare, go on welfare. If you need to make a gofundme account and beg your Facebook community for help (which I did) then freaking do it.
You are in a bad place and your job is to get out of it, NOT to get out of it in a specific way. When I look back at things like asking for money or help, my only wish is that I’d done it sooner.
There is a world of helpful resources and people out there. If you’re in the depths, do not hurt yourself further for pride.
For examples of creative solutions here are some experience-based tips I have for anyone going through a health crisis:
- Podcasts are your friend. This is free information you can absorb even if your brain is barely functioning. I had such bad brain fog that I didn’t read a book for the first 2 years of my issues, but I could still absorb material by listening.
- Start trying things quickly! There are many cheap remedies that can help and sometimes heal a condition. Magnesium deficiency causes all sorts of crazy health problems. A good supplement may be all you need, so don’t get stuck on big fixes that are outside of your budget.
- If intelligent trial and error isn’t working, look into health testing. Some major causes of health crisis are: Thyroid autoimmunity. Gut parasites. Heavy metals. Diet. Mold exposure. — it gets expensive so be smart and do your research, but testing can give you a clearer picture when the path forward feels murky.
- Turn your pain into profit. I waited far too long to do this. When I was sick, I began driving for Uber full time. I loved driving and could work a lot despite my health. However when my health declined more, I was left without income. I didn’t start writing health articles until I was mostly healed, but I had the knowledge to have done so years prior. Whether it’s a podcast or a blog, find a way to share your experience. Then monetize it by finding advertisers, setting up a Patreon, whatever. If you are so sick you can’t work, use the Internet! Think it’s impossible? Check out Jon Morrow’s story. Creator of Smart Blogger, Jon makes hundreds of thousands of dollars from blogging. He started his blog to pay for his medical expenses and repay his father because Jon is paralyzed except for the muscles in his face. If he can do it, you can.
Whatever your crisis, there are a huge number of potential pathways to get out, but you have to give yourself permission to be open minded and try things. If they seem scary, just tell yourself, honestly, that it can’t be much worse than it is.
4. Accept Your New Life, When It Comes
This is sort-of an extension on my first section: Commit to an end goal but accept reality. Accept your new life, when it comes.
If you follow this guide and take it to heart, hopefully some day you will find yourself reaching the end of your trials.
Whether because memory has passed into the rivers of time, or you are doing the work to overcome the pain inside you, some day you may feel normal again.
However, remember that you will never be the same again. If everything seems great, but then you have a weekend where things fall apart a bit, don’t attack Yourself or exclaim “I’m still not done!”
When I first became sick, the goal I committed to was to be better than I was before getting sick.
My goal was not to become the same as I was before getting sick. That would be impossible, if for no other reason than because now I have the memories.
I’ve said that I have healed 90% but in many of my biohacking articles, I speak as though I am 100% awesome all of the time.
This is not the case. While in most ways, I am better than ever, I still face challenges that were not a part of my life before chronic disease.
For one thing, I became anxious at the airport while flying to Florida recently. Last time I’d been on a plane, I was having heart palpitations and even felt like I was tripping out at the airport from anxiety.
Even though I’ve come such a long way, I still hadn’t faced a flight and I felt the tension of bad memories.
This doesn’t mean I have failed. It just means that I am a different person than who I used to be.
Airports are less comfortable for me now, but I’m ok with that. I still want to get to a point where I’m not bothered at all, but in the long run, it’s a small thing compared to other parts of my life.
Furthermore, if I’m really honest with myself, there are a lot of bad habits or scenarios that made me uncomfortable before getting sick that no longer do now. I used to hate sitting and working for long periods but now I write for a living! Life changes, and if we’re not careful, we can exaggerate how good the past actually was.
Basically I’m telling you to allow yourself to enjoy life and be content, even if everything is not the same.
“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. But today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.” — Master Oogway, Kung Fu Panda.
And on that note, I bid you all good luck and good fortune. I hope none of you have to face such tragedies as mine, but in knowing that you will all likely face some tragedy someday, I hope this article helps you overcome it.