Perspectives on the Positives of Pain and Suffering: My Life With Ulcerative Colitis
“Do you know that disease and death must needs overtake us, no matter what we are doing? … What do you wish to be doing when it overtakes you?… If you have anything better when you are so overtaken, I suggest you get to work on that.” – Epictitus
I drive down the road. My arms are shaking and sweat is dripping down the small of my back. I feel like something is scratching at my insides and my stomach is cramping to a point where I’m almost bending forward into the steering wheel.
“Almost there” I tell myself.
I pull into my garage, throw open the door, and I sprint into my bathroom just in time to release the mixture of blood, water, and whatever else my body is expelling during times like this. I let out a huge scream, and I ask myself how much longer I can bear having this disease. I’ve played this scene out before many times in different venues. There was that time at Disneyland where I had to use the public restroom over 40 times. Countless times during runs, training sessions, meetings, and even on dates where I had to sprint away from what I was doing to get to a toilet. This disease has brought me to the brink of my sanity. It has stolen my pride, and it has robbed me of careers, business opportunities, and played a role in ruining my first marriage. This is my life with Ulcerative Colitis (UC).
UC is an autoimmune condition that attacks the lower intestinal tract, or colon. In very simple terms, my immune system can no longer tell the difference between the cells on the inside of my intestinal wall and foreign matter, so it attacks it. This raises levels of inflammation, causes bleeding ulcers, and my colon gets irritated. Because of this, on really bad days, I can experience between 20 and 40 bloody bowel movements a day.
This might sound like complete Hell, but I am not writing this to get your sympathy. On the contrary, I want you to know something: I’m lucky.
No, I’m not lucky for having UC, but I am lucky for the many lessons that having UC has taught me about pain, suffering, and life.
When I first learned that I had UC, I threw myself into denial mode. I pretended that I didn’t have it, refused to take the medication, and tried to carry on with my normal life as best I could. At the time, I thought I was being tough, but the reality was that I was being childish. This was my problem and I had to be the one to take responsibility for my body and deal with it. Nevertheless, the disease reminded me that it was there pretty quickly. Over the next few weeks I fell into a severe flare up, and lived nearly 50% of my day on the toilet.
Yet, I still didn’t get the message. Rather than manning up, I fell straight into victim mode. I began thinking about how “unlucky” I was and I couldn’t believe that the world would do this to me. I became angry, bitter, and hated anyone who had a normal colon. I began making excuses for myself as to why I couldn’t work, why I couldn’t train, and why I couldn’t do chores around the house. And as a result, I became unhappier, out of shape, and even less healthy.
Then I lost everything. I lost my first business, I lost my marriage, and I eventually lost my place to live. And it was not until I got to the point where I was living out of my car that I understood that I had a choice. I could sit there feeling sorry for myself and let the disease take even more from me, or I could work to live my best life in spite of the disease.
I couldn’t control the fact that I had UC, but I could control what I allowed UC to do to me. It was this realization that gave me the strength to open my first online training business, and without it, Warrior Soul would not exist today.
You cannot control whether or not tragedy, disease, or hardship comes to you in this life, but you always control how you respond to it. As our recent guest on the Warrior Soul Podcast, Tom Campbell, might ask, will you allow these events to drag you toward fear or will you use them to increase your love, understanding, and drive to make this world a better place? If you choose fear, then you decrease the freedom you have to live your life the way you truly want to. If you choose the latter three options, you open yourself up to a world of possibilities to make your life and the lives of those around you better.
We often blanket our characterization of the word “humility” with singular positivity. Being humble is a good thing. But people often get confused between humility and self-deprecation.
Humility can be a bad thing if it leads to thoughts like “I’m not good enough to do that.” These are the types of thoughts I would have when I was deep into a UC flare up. I held off on starting a YouTube channel for over a year before I did because I told myself that people wouldn’t want to take fitness advice from a guy who’s intestines didn’t even work properly. I held off on taking Jiu Jitsu classes for over three years because I told myself that I no longer had the strength to be a grappler. I waited months to even have a real conversation with my now current girlfriend Shawna because I thought she was far too beautiful for me.
When you tell yourself that you aren’t good enough to do something, it’s not real humility. Rather it is self-deprecation. Humility is defined as “modest or low view of one’s importance.” The value in humility is in understanding that you are not the center of the world, and that your wants and needs can only be fulfilled when you put effort into achieving their fruition. All good ventures start with humility, and the understanding that you need to learn to get better at something.
If, however, you tell yourself you aren’t good enough to do something, it shuts off the learning process completely. What you’re really saying to yourself is “I want that, but I’m not going to put the effort in to do it.” In this sense, anytime you tell yourself that you aren’t good enough to do something, it is not humility that is keeping you from doing it, it is laziness.
Yes, having UC has driven me to laziness before, but it has also driven me to positive humility by forcing me to ask myself, “how can I make my world better, and in the process, also help other people?” Just like personal responsibility, choosing humility or self-deprecation is a choice between a world of possibility or a self imposed prison of inaction, and again, the choice is yours.
I credit two experiences in my life with most of the success that I’ve had in business and other ventures. The first is my experience as an enlisted man in the United States Marine Corps and the second is having UC.
The Marine Corps taught me right away that I was never as important as I always thought I was up until the night I stepped on the yellow footprints at Parris Island. This helped me to understand that success in life is not based upon what I can do for myself, but what I could do for other people. True success will always involve serving others and bringing value into their lives in some capacity, whether that be providing national security so that others may be free or creating a product or spreading ideas that helped others to improve their lives.
Having UC has taught me, in addition to personal responsibility for my mindset and positive humility, to always be appreciative for what I do have in my life. When you spend 25% of your day on a toilet writhing in agony, it’s easy to feel sorry for yourself. But then I think to myself, “If I had not been born in this time and place with running water, the opportunity to eat nutritious food, and the ability to work on the internet, I would either still be homeless or dead from infection.” One could actually say that I’ve had a charmed life so far. Things have been pretty damn awesome for me.
The problem is that most of us don’t see it like that. Instead, we think about what we don’t have. We worry about getting a bigger house, or a nicer car. We think about all the things that never came to be. It’s great to have ambition and drive for better things, but it should never be at the expense of enjoying the life you do have. Our time here on this Earth is too short for that. Think about it: if you’re lucky you might have 70-80 years total in this life. Why would you waste a minute of it discouraging yourself over something that, in the end, is meaningless?
Pursue your goals, follow your dreams, and build the life you want, but be sure to remember to be grateful. The very fact that you have an opportunity to pursue these things means that you are privileged. Remembering this will help you to continue on this path. Those who are successful in this world don’t spend their time complaining. They are successful because they opened their eyes to the opportunities before them. When you are bitter, jealous, or fearful, you become blind to these opportunities because your focus is on your pain. Remembering that you are blessed gives you space to focus on the world around you and the actions you can take to make your goals happen.
The last few months have been extraordinarily difficult because of my UC symptoms, but that does not mean that these days have been bad. On the contrary, my relationship with my girlfriend is amazing, Warrior Soul has grown, and I truly believe that we are changing lives through the ideas we spread. This does not take away from the physical pain I am enduring, but it does put it into perspective. I might have severe UC, but I refuse to let it define me and I have pledged to myself that I will turn it into a positive experience.
Whatever happens to you in your life, remember this advice. You may not come out on top. For example, you may get a terminal disease. In this case, these concepts should become even more important so you can truly live out the rest of your days. In fact, even if you do not become terminally ill in the near future, remember that we are all marching off to our own death in one way or the other. Travel then, to that final destination, with your head held high and your eyes open for what this life has to offer you.