It’s Friday, everyone! And that means another Primal Blueprint Real Life Story from a Mark’s Daily Apple reader. If you have your own success story and would like to share it with me and the Mark’s Daily Apple community please contact me here. I’ll continue to publish these each Friday as long as they keep coming in. Thank you for reading!
Hello, my name is Roar, I’m 27 years old and I’m from Norway. My story begins a bit early as I was diagnosed with atopic dermatitis1 when I was only 6 months old, but it was a minor issue throughout my childhood. Instead I have to jump forward a little to middle school.
I started middle school at the time when computers became more common for the average household in Norway. Our household got it even earlier, so I was a bit taken by it already, but it was taken to the extreme with newly made friendships at the school. My friends and I would gather as often as possible and create LAN parties2, where we would stay up all night during the weekends and eat mostly junk food and candy.
Physical activities were neglected (I was an active soccer player) and the general lifestyle of staying up late on the Internet became the norm. Usually I would end up sleeping for 4-5 hours a night, while on the weekends I hardly slept at all. During the second semester of the first school year I would start to get hives3 and really bad nosebleeds occasionally, this continued the next couple of years also.
The second year of middle school was the same, I had quit soccer practice and most of my time was spent in front of the computer. LAN parties had almost been taken to a new level were we would often compete about who could stay up the longest, my record was 75 hours. Then came the last year, the one before high school. The first months of the semester seemed to be going fine until October. I started getting stomach aches and they would get worse and worse to the point where I would wake up with them. I stopped going to school, I became lethargic and everything felt much more difficult than it previously was.
After several months, missing a lot of school, I was diagnosed with Crohns4. First they wanted to try a liquid solution that was injected through tubes in my nostrils, but that was so unpleasant so I opted instead for pills. I was given prednisone5 and got positive results in a very short time. This time around I had missed so much school that the teachers argued I had to re-take the school year, luckily I was able to catch up pretty quickly now that everything seemed fine.
For a while it did seem fine. Sometimes I would get strange symptoms like getting out of breath after walking up stairs and I got that famous moon face, but other than that, I could live like I once did. The problems would then rise again as I started the first semester as a junior at high school. The doctors were adamant to change the medication given how positive I reacted to prednisone, the long term effects were clearly detrimental, and I was now given a different medication named pentasa. One brand would give me constipation, another was the total opposite, I was in a roller coaster where both the highs and lows were just bad. Due to the roller coaster ride, I was assigned to a different hospital. The doctors wanted to try an experimental treatment by the name remicade6. I tried it and the effects were pretty good. This treatment was administered the second semester of the school year, the previous instability had been such an issue that I had to focus on some classes while I stopped attending others. I finished half of my classes during the first year, having to re-take the others the next year. This was a huge blow. Ending primary school I was among the top of the class, during secondary school it started well but ended poorly, and now I could not even finish all of my classes. I was angry and felt stupid at the same time.
Next year, when I was going to re-take the classes, I had to move to follow my friends to another school. I didn’t know anyone that was in my class this time, and being one year older and still fighting with Crohn’s, I felt really insecure. A few months in, after a treatment, I had trouble sleeping one night. My back was itching tremendously and no matter how much I scratched it would not get better. It felt like I was going insane, I felt uncomfortable staying in the apartment and I left early to take the first bus home, this was my first panic attack7.
There were no signs of eczema except the intense need to scratch. Before the panic attack I had already started skipping school, and after I stopped attending it completely. The panic attack made me insecure in a different way than previously, instead of feeling dumb I felt out of control, I didn’t trust myself anymore. My second panic attack happened the day I was going to get the second injection of remicade. This time I just stayed in the apartment, not leaving it until the next day.
It became apparent that I was not functioning well enough for high school and I quit after the first semester. January next year I started as a temp in a local IT shop. There I stayed until the summer came and I had new plans, to attend a folk high school8 studying in China. The remicade treatment was still effective and the panic attacks had stopped after I left high school. I regained some of my confidence. Eczema had shown itself between the treatments, but it was so minor that the symptoms quickly faded away after each injection.
China and Eastern culture have always fascinated me, so when I got a chance to go there I took it. I moved southeast and into a dormitory along with my fellow students. There was a lot less academic pressure in this study, much more relaxed than general high school, which suited me well. Still, I had an issue trusting myself. My remicade injections were now administered at the nearest city and I would still go there every three months. However, the eczema really started showing itself. It broke out on knees, on the back, and it would itch randomly all over the place. Sleep became a big issue and since the itching didn’t really stop, I became very conscious about it in daily life.
Every injection would again reverse the eczema, but after each one it would get back pretty quickly. I also started getting panic attacks again. The first one in about a year would happen during a school trip where I made up an excuse and got off in Oslo. From there I went to stay with my brother for about a week. During the second semester my eczema broke out really bad and I was hospitalized for sun treatment9. After the two week treatment I came back to the school fully rejuvenated and ready for the last months. The treatment had not only helped to curtail the eczema, I was also in an exceptionally good mood as well!
During the treatment I had laid plans for the next year. A private IT academy was located in the same city I stayed in and I took some tests to prove my qualifications. I could even jump a few years. The academy had also a branch in the city where my girlfriend came from, so naturally I moved there.
I moved west to the coastal city of Bergen10 to attend the academy. She lived with her family while I rented an apartment downtown which was within walking distance. The eczema was swinging between dry and moist, and I did not go to any sun treatments this time. I was set in my ways of attending school and a general social anxiety11 had begun taking root. Outside school I wasn’t really socially active, even when the eczema was minor it was really annoying. I became more and more self-conscious about it and it became an obsession.
Gradually throughout the school year it would get worse. My obsession grew bigger and I started shutting out people in my life, even my girlfriend. After I had finished the academy and had gotten my diploma, I eventually decided to move north again to take sun treatments. This time around the sun treatments would not last long as they did before. Contending with the health issues I decided to end the relationship.
Between sun treatments and getting sick again, I spent my time in front of the trusty ol’ computer. My friends were scattered all around attending universities or college, I was stuck at home being sick. It became worse and worse and my circadian rhythm was disrupted. Going to sleep was extremely difficult and I would stay up as late as possible to get as tired as possible to avoid itching.
Treatment after treatment I would get good results extremely fast, but they would fade as quickly as they came. Between these treatments I had entered a relationship with a girl from England (I was early on the online dating scene) and I would visit her right after the treatments. The climate in England was much better and the effects from the sun treatments would last longer.
I became very emotionally attached to her, so when she broke up I was heartbroken. Dealing with the eczema was bad enough, so I dealt with both by sleeping all the time. For almost ten days I did not eat, drank water, and I slept as much as I could. After the ten days some of the worst feelings had subsided, but I was still an emotional mess. The eczema had somehow improved and it wasn’t as annoying as previously, although it was still very bad.
Around Christmas I got a new job as service manager at a local IT shop (think Best Buy or Computer World) and I moved to the same town where I once tried to re-take my classes. Because of the eczema I had a big procedure every day before going to work. It consisted of waking up at least 2-3 hours before I had to go, take a hot shower and then let the warm skin cool down before I could apply any moisture creams. After applying the creams I had to let it get pulled in before wearing any clothes or they would be ruined, or worse the areas would be annoyed and itchy.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that I didn’t really like that job, so I applied for a different one in the southwest12 and got it. In my new job I was working shifts, which meant an increase of salary, allowing me to travel more. My wake up routine would still be the same, and I did not trust the health care system anymore, so I decided I had to figure this out on my own. Traveling became one of my hobbies and along with it the interest in photography.
Every time I traveled I would feel uplifted and much more relaxed, the eczema would get much better although not perfect by any means. I thought it was the climate as it would always get worse when I got home except for the summer or late spring. I enjoyed the new job I had, but I was not really that social outside of it, though for me at that time it was good enough.
After 18 months I felt like I wasn’t making any improvements on my health. I had proven to myself that I could get a good job and earn a decent living, but looking to the future I could not settle with the current health problems. Something had to be done, so I quit my job and went for a three month trip to the USA.
The trip was fairly planned out as I was going all over the place, from Chicago to Denver, to San Francisco to Seattle, to New York and Florida and then back north. Although a lot was planned, I wasn’t entirely sure where to begin regarding health, so I decided to just leave that be and see what happened. Traveling while still having health issues did impact the journey somewhat, but it was always a bit better coping with it in a foreign country.
First I landed in Chicago and spent the night there, next morning I took the train going to Denver which lasted about 18 hours. I’d spend about a week there before heading over to San Francisco, I was attending the 20th anniversary of Photoshop. Arriving there in late February wasn’t exactly the warmest, though compared to Norway at the time it felt like late spring.
Between the Napa Valley vineyards and the Seattle coffee shops, I did not really spend much time focusing on health. That focus came on the end when I stayed in Daytona Beach, right after Photoshop World13 in Orlando. I had a few weeks left until I was going home again, my thoughts reflected upon the decisions to quit and spend my money coming here, was it all a waste?
My primary goal had not yet been fulfilled, the trip though, would in the end be a success. Before going back I visited some friends that told me about a diet that consisted basically of meat, fish and vegetables. They didn’t have a specific name for it, but they could easily have called it low-carb paleo. There was no specific information given about gluten nor grains, so I did not decide to convert completely and instead up my intake of vegetables and meat in general.
I arrived in Norway early May, the time when it’s warm enough outside to be comfortable in a t-shirt (if you’re lucky). The next couple of months I changed my diet a little and began exercising. In short of just two months a tremendous change had happened. For a very long time, since I was about 18, I would wake up feeling awful with a strong need to take a shower to deal with the skin irritation. One early morning in July, I woke up feeling just refreshed and okay. No need to take a shower, no bad or annoying feelings in general, I was just fine.
I had exercised three times a week (full body routine on Mon, Wed, Fri) along with some cardio and walking in the mountains, each day gradually improving the skin. I would look okay after waking up, but I still felt a strong need to take that shower since it was still itching. This day, at 5AM, I just woke up and went to the gym. This instilled the confidence that I was certainly on the right track.
It was time to find a new job, and by coincidence, I got one in the same town southeast where I had previously quit the last one. The job was still in IT, but it was not the same shift work, working nights and weekends weren’t my cup of tea anymore. With my newly found improved health I became more obsessed about it and I finally read The Paleo Solution14 by Robb Wolf15 and decided to go gluten free. My exercise regimen also increased, I wanted to get bigger and stronger.
Social activities were still neglected as ever before. I felt I didn’t have the time for it and I knew how bad alcohol could affect me so parties weren’t really a solution. After a few months in the new job I realized once again that I didn’t like the job I had taken. Not liking the job I had together with my obsession of getting bigger and stronger, was a good recipe for depression. In the end I was so unhappy that I was looking for any opportunity I could find, which I found during my summer vacation in the north.
Moving back to old friends and family seemed like a good idea, so I went for it. This new job as IT manager and support became much more stressful than I had thought. The work place was more chaotic and hectic than I was used to, every day I would be really tired early evening, and no matter how I exercised there was no improvement. I became really angry at myself for putting myself in this position. Outside work I didn’t have any concentration to use my brain for reading or anything else. This work became my life and I didn’t enjoy the work.
Something had to be done, it was increasingly tearing me apart that I had gotten my health back, just so I could feel tired every day. Simply existing wasn’t an improvement from dealing with the eczema, both resulted in being angry and depressed. This led to me quitting the job which leads me to today.
It has been a couple of months since I left that job. The last two years, changing several jobs and the stress, made me realize that I should take a step back and get a broader view. That new view gave the understanding that I really didn’t know myself for all of those years. Besides travel and coming back to Norway, I never took any time to relax. From going to the academy to the last job, almost every decision I took was misguided. Be it a need to make up for lost time, or simply the hope of escaping to something better, the decisions were made on the wrong basis.
The last months, and especially the last three weeks, have been a journey of learning more about myself. I won’t say no to a trip to some foreign mystical country (travel is still a lot of fun) to find out who I am, but that has not been needed in this case. A lot of the information came from Mark’s books (The Primal Blueprint16 and The Primal Connection), which gave me a necessary insight about what inputs to give the body and mind. Much of the time I have had the “oh, this will surely make everything fantastic!” approach, where I ended up neglecting a lot of other areas in my life. Now I realize that there must be a balance.
Reading the books, especially The Primal Connection, gave me a lot of info to structure my life around. I’m the type who likes a framework to live by, and I have always had certain principles in my life, many of which I have not adhered to sufficiently. This would result in feeling bad about not eating good enough, or not being honest to myself, or knowing that I neglected friends and family. Yup, basically a giant briefcase of reasons I could open up and pick whatever I wanted to feel bad about.
That giant briefcase has been left behind, the worst is over, and I must look forward. This self-realization has made me more honest to myself and others, where I get more insight about who I am each day. The layers of the onion are slowly being peeled off, revealing more as each day goes by. Important things, like just understanding your own character, your own principles and what you stand for. Not only does it give you a greater confidence, but also makes you more relaxed since there is less doubt about which course of action to take. It’s building a framework to live within. Most people already have it, though I am willing to bet that people afflicted with health issues over several years will feel differently.
Throughout I have learned a lot about myself, many experiences about what did work and what did not. It taught me the importance of being diligent and honest, to take a good look in the mirror and realize what one has to do. Whether it is finally coming to terms that using butter with every meal doesn’t work or that I’m grumpy and easily a bit negative whenever my blood sugar is a bit low. It’s good to know that certain behaviors can be adjusted and improved upon. Food has of course shown itself to be extremely important, but getting sun exposure is easily another big part of the puzzle. A third is correct exercise and stress management. That again can be extrapolated to having sufficient time to eat and relax before going to work, or cutting down on certain activities or actually being more honest about what you feel to people. Or simply not drinking 15 cups of coffee no matter how much you love that freshly roasted java.
One last topic has been on my mind for a very long time, making a living. Previous jobs taught me a few things about what I really don’t want. The experiences also gave pointers on how I probably should live my life as well. Constant stress, for instance, creates a downward spiral and I easily become depressed, tired and overall sad. The chatter in my brain starts and a lot of negativity spirals out of control. Although my health is pretty good, I’m a bit sensitive to some types of stress and I must realize that this can either take a very long time to fix, or maybe it won’t be fixed at all.
I have gone through this in my head several times, I’m really nervous even typing this, but I’m gonna make my own podcast17. If I succeed, I will be able to support the lifestyle necessary for my well being. I’m scared, really scared, but I know it is the best option for me to help others and myself at the same time. It will most likely be in Norwegian and about health, self-improvement and lifestyle.
At last, I want to share a few insights about certain lifestyle changes I have made that have been very successful for me:
First, getting decent sleep and waking up properly is just really important. I got a wake-up light lamp18 that has made that part very easy, and every morning I either do a 40 minutes Qi Gong19 routine or a walk to wake up the body. If I skip this for some reason I have a strong tendency to have issues digesting the first meal of the day, it simply doesn’t sit well with me and my temper may suffer too.
If I go out for a drink (usually red wine or NorCal Margarita) I take a histamine pill to avoid any issues, and I always bring food to eat (grapes, nuts etc) as I usually get hungry. Eating a decent protein-laden meal will also be quite helpful, I never get hung over.
Chill out, don’t be so hard on yourself. If you are angry, realize that you are angry and do some deep breathing. When I catch myself being angry I sometimes put on certain music or listen to Alan Watts’ lectures20 on YouTube. Don’t give it more attention than necessary, don’t give in to the stress.
Be honest and open, challenge yourself and be a bit playful in daily life. If life is a game, then we must dance to the song that is being played. My determination for creating a podcast and hopefully making a living by doing so, has created a lot of challenges for me to go through. Everything from finding a format I am comfortable with, to challenging my own knowledge and setting up hardware and software. I have gone through entire days criticizing everything I do because I am a bit of a perfectionist, but as John Cleese talks about in a presentation about creativity21 (referring to the creative process, recommended!), you have to allow yourself to go through that to be creative. And the longer you spend on that process, the more original the solution will be. Sometimes it feels like I have no idea what I am doing, or how to go about things and it is just very uncomfortable and I really feel anxious. Each time I learn something more about myself, each time I improve and find a new piece to finish one of my internal puzzles, and in the end I am happy for doing so.
This drive has led me to talk candidly to strangers I meet when going to parties or other social situations, they reciprocate by telling their own stories and issues. Such responses have given me a greater confidence in the podcast, that there is an audience for it, that people care and want to know. Challenging myself to be more open, to dig deeper, shows me that I have yet to resolve certain things in my past that I will talk about in the podcast. Situations about being given a diagnosis, having issues with panic attacks and so on, is very helpful to talk about even if I don’t have the same problems now. If there is one major thing I have learned, it is that you have no idea how messed up you may be. A messy home may not bother you, but once it is cleaned and nice you feel very different and maybe even uplifted. The same goes for past experiences, it may be worthwhile to talk or write about it to get a certain perspective, or catch the essence of what happened.
The last item on the list is that supplements can not replace good habits or good nutrition. I take probiotic pills, my Vitamin D (regularly), Omega 3s, Quercitin and L-glutamine as my go-to protocol when I suspect accidental gluten consumption or anything of that kind. I have had no success supplementing my way into eating whatever I want all the time, it is not a viable long term strategy. If this means giving up that one piece of chocolate (even if it is 85% cocoa) with your daily coffee, or even your daily coffee, so be it. It is not worth the money, nor the effort and stress that goes along with it as you will always be slightly uncertain about what you can and can not eat. Once in a while is fine (except gluten of course) if you’re overall healthy, making a habit of it is not.
A big thanks to Mark Sisson for letting me share my story, the information from the books have been invaluable, giving me the necessary insight about how I function. I came from being stressed out with no particular insight about the future, to having learned so much about myself in record time. Now a new and greater journey in my life can begin.
If anyone wants to contact me regarding this article or the podcast, whether it is a friendly hello, sponsorship or specific questions, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.