By all reports we’re living in an age of illness.
According to the American Center for Disease Control, fifty percent of the adult population has at least one chronic health condition, illness, or disease.
And of the people who do, half have more than one. It’s a crazy statistic.
Our medicine has never been better, but we’re less healthy than we’ve been for a long time.
As most of you know, I’m one of the unlucky ones.
For the last six years, I’ve lived with an incurable and somewhat rare, chronic illness called Meniere’s disease. And while it’s not fatal, it can completely destroy your quality of life with violent attacks of vertigo, tinnitus, and hearing loss, just to name a few.
But you can learn a lot from someone who lives with unbeatable circumstances and never gives up. Someone who wakes up every day and punches adversity in the throat.
After six long years with Meniere’s disease, I’ve learned a lot about how to be happy and what it actually means to live a good life.
Resting is not laziness, it’s medicine:
Everyone is always so busy, have you noticed that? We wear our busyness like a badge of pride, constantly pushing ourselves to be more and more productive.
I’m definitely a part of the problem because I’ve always been an incredibly productive person. I work from home too, which requires me to be self-motivating to actually accomplish anything.
But Meniere’s disease, like dozens of other chronic health conditions, causes a kind of cognitive impairment and mental fatigue known as brain fog.
The bottom line is that Meniere’s disease constantly robs me of my productivity, not to mention my quality of life.
And when it does, resting, recuperating, and focusing on my healthy habits is what I need to feel better. But I’ve always found it insanely hard to rest without feeling guilty or lazy, when I constantly have so much to do.
You don’t have to be sick to know what that feels like.
At the end of the day, I’ve come to realize that pushing myself is rarely the answer. We need to take care of ourselves. And realize that resting is not laziness, it’s medicine.
Passion is rocket fuel for your brain:
In my opinion, passion-fueled momentum is the most powerful force in the universe.
It cuts through brain fog, exponentially increases productive output, and makes living life a joy, regardless of the circumstances. The raw, unadulterated excitement that comes from working on projects that you are passionate about cannot be understated.
I’ve learned to treasure and cultivate these precious moments of passion.
In hindsight, the last few years of my life have been a series of expansions and contractions. Growth and entropy. And underpinning every period of growth and accomplishment was a sense of passionate momentum.
I felt it when I first started this blog. I felt it as I wrote my first book and again, most recently, as I’ve worked on my new book (coming soon), Rewiring Tinnitus.
And while there is something to be said about grit, that ability to grind away at a project even when you aren’t feeling inspired, it’s just not the same. Grit does not motivate or even come easily when you’re sick all the time.
But at the end of the day, I’ve learned that passion and momentum can overcome nearly any odds. It’s like rocket fuel for your brain.
Helping others helps me too:
The most rewarding decision I’ve made in the last 6 years of living with Meniere’s disease: starting this blog to help others.
At the time, I’ll admit my motivations weren’t as noble. I just wanted to start writing again. Living well with Meniere’s disease was the one thing I felt I knew enough about to sound somewhat intelligent. But what started as a small side project has grown beyond my wildest expectations.
Holocaust survivor, psychologist, and best-selling author of Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl once wrote, “In some ways, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds meaning.” It’s such a powerful idea from an incredible man who intimately knew the deepest depths of human suffering and pain.
We live in a society always seeking more: more wealth, more fame, more cars, more things. But it’s an empty journey. It’s by helping others, by giving ourselves to those in need, that we better our own lives.
Helping other Meniere’s disease sufferers (and now Tinnitus sufferers, too) is the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. And it makes me better, even on my worst days.
Expect the best, plan for the worst:
I was never a “free spirit”, but when I was younger, I could go with the flow. I didn’t need a plan to feel secure.
But Meniere’s disease changed all the rules of the game. When so much can go wrong at any moment, you have to plan. You have to think through every possible outcome, take every precaution, and always know that it still might all go wrong.
But planning and doing means that at the very least, you tried. You took action. You faced your fears. You accepted risk and took a chance to do something that you wanted to do.
Regardless of what adversities you might face in life, you can still push forward and try to achieve your goals, in your own way.
It just takes more work and planning.
Sometimes it’s better to accept risk than to live with regret:
One of the toughest challenges of living with a chronic health condition is that the only thing that changes is our physical limitations.
We still have dreams and aspirations and goals. We still want to be successful, and loved, and happy. We want the same things as everyone else. No one wants to be sick. But when you are, your actions have consequences.
Some will be expected, others won’t. What’s clear, however, is that your life will not go according to plan. And it’s hard to live with those kinds of restrictions because they breed fear.
The fear keeps us locked in our homes, building resentment and enduring regret. It’s so easy to fall into this trap.
One of the most important lessons I’ve had to learn is that sometimes it’s better to seize an opportunity and live with the consequences, whatever they may be, than to have to live with regret. Because more often than not, it’s just fear that gets in the way of doing the things we want to do.
When asked about fear, the great comedian Louis CK once said in an interview:
“Instead of being able to say ‘I’ve done this before.’ You say to yourself, ‘I haven’t done this before, but I’ve done other things I haven’t done before, before. And it came out okay. So I’m not afraid of this.’ The thing you will learn the most that will help you to do things you can’t do yet, is how to recover from failure. If you can recover from things not going well, then the worst that happens is, this is going to be a total wreck, but I know how to recover. I know how to be okay after I wasn’t.”
It gives me chills, even now, as I write this. Because we all can learn to recover from failure. We can learn to be okay after were not.
But regret… regret can last a lifetime.
Knowing when to seize an opportunity, to accept risk and do something that I want to do, is the most important lesson I’ve learned from living with Meniere’s disease.
I like to tell people that living with a chronic illness is like living an exaggerated life.
We struggle with the same issues as everyone else, the only difference is one of magnitude. Our problems are simply magnified, the potential consequences larger and more immediate.
We have to grow quickly and adapt to challenging circumstances. But the lessons we’re forced to learn are the same life lessons that we all hope to learn.
And if my struggles can help others, healthy and sick alike, in some small way, then it was all worth something in the end.
It’s my dream, but it’s also all we can really hope for.