I’ve written quite a few songs themed around the struggle between nihilism and hope, and how giving up often seems like the better option. It’s a struggle I know very well.
Very few words have ever cut to my core quite like when my doctor said to me, “You’re gonna need to go on disability.”
When you’re diagnosed with a severe chronic illness, you accept several things. You accept that your lifestyle will need to change. You accept taking medicine for the rest of your life. You accept that you can’t eat certain foods anymore, you can’t do certain things you used to do.
But this was something entirely different.
He said, “Juggling work and school is literally killing you. Your immune system can’t handle all the stress you’re putting on your body, and you NEED to stop.”
At the time, I was working a shitty job at Walmart and trying to put myself through college for a degree I didn’t give a damn about, largely because my parents told me to. And back then, this was absolutely crushing news. The thought that I would have to give up on something I’d put the last couple years of my life into – and something I genuinely thought I wanted at the time – was devastating. Of course, I realize now that this crisis forever altered the path of my life for the better, but that perspective is something I didn’t have at first.
I talked to Chris about it. As I mentioned previously, he was at the time working 60-hour weeks in a factory to take care of his parents and siblings – so I figured if anyone would understand what it’s like to work yourself to death, he would. He did have some thoughts on it, which were, “My parents are on disability – trust me, that won’t help you much. But you also do have to stop pushing yourself so hard, nothing’s worth dying over. Maybe look into self-employment?”
It took a little while to get off the ground, but I started teaching guitar online with a combination of Youtube and Skype. But all the stress had taken a huge toll, and I wasn’t getting any better despite being able to quit my job at Walmart.
So next, I dropped out of college.
Now, I basically never had any reason to leave my house. I worked from home, and that was it for school. Interactions with people who weren’t my guitar students became extremely scarce, and I didn’t realize I was quickly becoming alone with my very dark thoughts. It wasn’t just that this illness had completely thrown off my life plans, it was also a looming threat that could become far worse. For the moment, the worst it could do was cause me agonizing pain. But should I fail to keep it controlled, it would go beyond mere pain and could actually kill me.
In my spare time, I started researching alternative medicine. Reason being, even before I quit my job, I didn’t have anywhere near good enough insurance to afford the medication I needed to keep this life-threatening illness in check. I found a few things that work really well – and in fact I’m still using them today – but the biggest thing that put my illness into remission was throwing myself into making music.
This was around the time Adrienne joined the band, and it led me to realize something that fundamentally changed my entire world view. That is, emotions affect physical reality – and not just in the sense that Epica likes to write about! By curtailing my stress responses, I was able to heal from a physical illness.
More than that, a positive emotional outlook allowed me to outright defy the expectations of an entire medical field that told me I was doomed. It also allowed me to make a living doing what I love – playing and teaching music – despite how horribly bad the odds are of anyone succeeding in that way.
It makes me think that maybe, if you just take what’s inside you – what you’re passionate about – and put it out into the world in some way, success is inevitable as long as you don’t stop trying. Health, career, even family – I certainly consider this band to be more of a family to me than the people I’m related to by blood – no matter what the goal is, it’s attainable with relentless drive in the face of overwhelming odds. That kind of attitude changes the odds, so to hell with nihilism! What has anyone ever accomplished by giving up?
And I don’t believe I’m anything special! I’m sure your goals aren’t exactly the same as mine (or maybe they are?) but the principle is the same. I truly believe ANYONE can succeed – so don’t give up, no matter what. I’m right there fighting with you. You’re not alone, and in fact, we’re all gonna win together. We’ve got this!
To that end, please leave a comment below and let me know if you can relate – it would mean a lot to hear if this story perhaps brought you some encouragement with your own struggles.