I kneel, a humbled man, down on both knees, my fortitude tested to its very limits, again. As I look up, I see a sky overhead that is dark, almost like the night, stormy clouds circle menacingly, a rumble of thunder sounds a warning. I know that the umbrella I clutch in my hands, my only defence against the steady drizzle that falls gently from the dark sky, will be worthless if the storm materialises and Zeus himself unleashes his fury. Regardless, I grip the device and thrust it towards the sky in an act of defiance. My pupils widen as I catch glimpse of a small slither of blue light cutting through the black.
Many of you reading this will have followed my progress over the past month on Instagram as I toured the Eastern coast of Australia on my own. I say on my own, obviously I was accompanied/accommodated by the ‘Vinny the Van’. However, many of you would not have been aware of my primary reason for undertaking that trip; to get away, and get better. It provided me the opportunity to live outdoors, away from the polluted air of our cities and our homes; it allowed me to eat a basic, nutritious diet, away from the temptations of social events and the many delicious eateries of Sydney; it allowed me to hug the coast and swim in the ocean almost daily; and it allowed me time to sleep, read, meditate and sunbathe as my body dictated.
It was, in essence, a month of healing, conducted on the road.
If the videos that I posted up in the second half of the trip are anything to go by, it was working. There were videos of me cackling with glee at my own jokes, singing to the camera, telling stories and sharing the ups and downs of #vanlife. As the trip wore on I started to feel more like myself than I can remember ever feeling like myself before. As I sat in a camping chair on the side of the motorway, awaiting a tow truck, Vinny having decided to throw in the towel on the penultiumate day of our adventure together, I was struck with a sense of calm and togetherness that I have not felt for a very long time. In fact, so long that I can’t remember feeling that collected and content before. Here I was, no phone signal, no breakdown insurance, my last remaining treasured possession sat immobile on the hard shoulder, and his owner contemplating a startling lack of worry, instead finding the whole thing rather amusing.
I’ve posted up a couple of articles in the past couple of weeks, humourously detailing the pros, cons and lessons learned from #vanlife (links here and here), but what I have failed to communicate in those words is the real life-changing stuff. As the month in the van progressed and my health steadily improved, my body finally able to start overcoming the invader which has taken advantage of it for the past few years, I started to see the light at the end of the very long dark tunnel which I’ve been trudging along. There was a lightness in my step, and a brightness in my mood which was there for all to see. I held nothing back in the videos I posted, I was legit that content. As I walked along golden beaches, through country and coastal towns, up mountains and through farmer’s fields, I felt an incredible love and wonder for the world around me; the people, the creatures, the trees, the ocean, even the inanimate objects, and especially Vinny, including after he broke down. Especially after he broke down.
As we rush through life, frantically pounding the wheel like the hamster in its cage, eager to reach the next milestone, how many of us pause to truly appreciate the world? We’re too distracted, there’s too much going on, too much to see and do (and to worry about) to stop and spend thirty minutes watching magpies live their life. I get it, that was me. I was up there with the most distracted, anxious and fake-busy. The Buddhists see ‘busyness’ as the ultimate form of laziness. We occasionally hear about people feeling grateful for the bad things that happen to them, for it tests them, and then changes them, for the better. Tony Robbins talks about this a lot. His mantra is that “Life Happens For You, Not To You”. I have had no option other than to trust in his message, even if I didn’t fully understand it (note, it’s not really his message, it’s an ancient message contained in all of the great religions).
My life has been a frustrating disaster of ill health and broken dreams over the past three years. As my career, friendships, romances, enjoyment of life, wealth, health and happiness have all dwindled, I have despairingly held on to the simple belief that something good is eventually coming of it. It had to be. As I neared the end of #vanlife I felt something like clarity on this matter. I started to understand that maybe this illness has happened for me, not to me. Stripped of so much – almost everything I once thought was important, I now understand so much better who I am. I realise that I was sleepwalking through life, especially in my twenties, focusing in on material wealth, corporate success and sexual encounters to validate my worth, and conversely, drinking to ease to my anxieties, past traumas, and hidden fears that I was not living life the way I was meant to. As I cruised along #vanlife, alone, with nothing but my own thoughts and Spotify, I started to realise that I really like myself, and I didn’t need to do anything, or be anything, to prove I am worthy. It was a startling, and disconcerting discovery.
“Worthy” of what? Love.
I’ve written in the past about being 35 and single. As everyone, literally everyone, around me has settled down and invariably started families, I had become increasingly agitated in my search for a partner. Chasing dates in the belief that if I went out for enough drinks, bought enough dinners, charmed the pants (literally) off enough women then I would find the one I was looking for. Once achieved I would be complete and happy.
What an idiotic fool.
I know now why I am still single. It’s not because I’ve been unlucky, or just “haven’t met the right person”, or because I’m “too picky” (an accusation commonly directed plenty to my face, and I’m sure even more times behind my back). It’s none of these things. I have been desperately searching for someone to fill the hole in my life, but therein lies the very problem – that hole. I have been looking for “success” in the world of love – to prove to world that I am worthy, that I am good.
“Hey, look, this other person loves me so I must be ok, right?” #validated
Sitting here now, reflecting on Tony Robbins’ belief that life happens for you, not to you, I find myself smiling. I almost laugh out loud. The universe, god, whatever you want to call it, knows better. I needed to NOT find that person yet, and I needed to get really fucking ill, to know better. It is telling that in the past six months my enthusiasm for romance, sex, and love has dwindled, recognising, both consciously and unconsciously, that now was not the time. Something I have found hard to explain to coupled up friends.
So what the fuck was that first paragraph all about? I needed to write this post today, because I am fucking ill, again. I’ve purposely held off writing again about my battle against CIRS (toxic mould illness) (original post here). Since receiving confirmation of the diagnosis back in April I’ve read ALL the books and listened to ALL the podcasts on the matter. I’ve also taken some pretty drastic steps to tackle the problem. Steps which have included:
- Leaving my apartment in Bondi (which had tested positive for a number of toxic species)
- Quitting my job
- Discarding most of my possessions, and all of my furniture
- Living #zerocarb – including an initial two months of eating nothing but meat and seafood (link here)
- Taking Epsom salt baths and saunas whenever I can get them
- Sunbathing and diving in the ocean as often as possible
- Taking a wide range of supplements and binders to kill and then sweep the marauding fungus from my body
- Practicing meditation and breathing exercises to calm my inflamed state of being
- Renaming this blog
I’m still unsure about the new name. I wanted to eventually write about my battle with CIRS from a position of “hey look at me, I beat it, I’m a fighter, and now I’ve won, go me”. I also did not want to dwell on it too much. There is a common medical phenomena where patients begin to associate so closely with their illness that they don’t know who or what they are without it. In turn that makes their illness harder to beat, and more likely to return. It’s in my thoughts a lot, driving my behaviour much of time, it’s inevitable. Writing about it as well seemed a step too far. Now, well, I have nothing left to lose.
My illness remained with me during #vanlife, but thankfully, for the most part, I lived my days symptom-less, free to enjoy the extraordinary life I was living. The occasional alcoholic beverage or mini carb binge (looking at you corn chips and hummus) would lead to a mini flare-up, serving as a timely reminder that if I took my eye off the ball and fell back into old habits I risked finding myself back in that long dark tunnel.
This illness has caused me to feel so much isolation and unhappiness in my life, that at times it has felt utterly intolerable. When #vanlife ended and I found myself back in Sydney for one night before heading to the UK, I went out with friends for drinks and proceeded to get slightly drunk. Not rip-roaring drunk, just a casual few. After a month of content isolation I needed to feel part of something human, to feel included, to be with my tribe, to feel normal. And so I drank, and the mould immediately tapped me on the shoulder to say “don’t do this”. I ignored it, and when I woke up the next morning the mould was there to shake me less gently, and say “don’t do that again, mate”.
Twelve hours later I boarded the plane to England, home, clear-headed and full of excitement for a summer in Europe and all that lay beyond. A day later I found myself in my Mum’s apartment, a delightful bolthole, close enough to London, but surrounded by ancient woodland so that you could be in the middle of nowhere. It’s like something out of LOTR. Even with the jetlag and exhaustion from that long flight, it felt so good to be home.
Mould thrives in hot conditions, typically above 25 degrees, so I was hopeful that being back in the UK, with its cooler temperatures, for a prolonged period of time would put it into complete remission. You can imagine my state of mind when I realised about a day into my stay that all of the old symptoms were returning, and with a Zeus-like fiery vengeance. At first I thought the fatigue and the insomnia were the jetlag, but then the sore gums came back, and then the sinus blockages and headaches, the puffy eyes and the sensitivity to light, then my muscles became permanently sore, and finally, the worst symptom, something I haven’t experienced for a long time; my mood became black as my brain succumbed to something unseen in the air I breathed. I became irritable with those who I love, and whom I haven’t seen for almost a year. I became despondent, slow, ponderous and completely lacking in joy.
Mould does this to the susceptible (which genetically-speaking is 1 in 4). I’ve felt like this many times over the past few years, fortunately I’m now equipped to recognise it for what it is. It is not some psychological flaw, it is not depression, it is a deeply physiological stress response to environmental toxins. As I walked along the flat ground to meet my mum for lunch yesterday each footstep was a fatiguing struggle, a laborious trudge of the pavement. My breath laboured. The sun was shining in the sky, but I couldn’t give a damn. Just over a week ago I breezily ran seven kilometres on the treadmill, on a constant incline, at speed. Yesterday, walking two kilometers on flat ground felt like climbing Everest. This was not jetlag, I knew I was firmly back in the danger zone. I had lunch with mum, faked being ok and then spent four hours walking around my home town in a state of disinterested acedia. The mould is back. In less than three days it took control of my body, and it was now attempting to take my mind.
Tony might be right, maybe it is here “for me” but right now I would just rather it wasn’t. As the rain falls outside the window whilst I type, I laugh out loud. For what else can you do? God, the universe, fate, whatever you may believe in, laughs at our plans. You have to laugh right back at it. I implore you to never take your health for granted. It is the most valuable thing you own. Those words are a cliche, to the extent that people may ignore the message until it is too late.
May my suffering be your light.