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To the Man Diagnosed With Ulcerative Colitis, Who No Longer Has Control of His Body

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Dear Chris, 

I know you’re relieved. Over the last six months life has been scary and miserable. You’ve been running to the bathroom over 20 times a day, and over the last few weeks, you’ve gotten up from the toilet to see it covered in blood. We began planning for the worst. We were not presented with the worst. We have ulcerative colitis.  

What is Ulcerative Colitis?

I’m writing you this letter because this disease that you don’t know much about yet will test your love of this life and your faith in your own strength.  

Up to this point you’ve dedicated your life to controlling both your mind and your body. This is what has gotten us through our time in the Marine Corps, and it’s helped us excel at things like bodybuilding and powerlifting. Indeed, though you have a strong mind, you’ve based a lot of your self worth on how other people view your physical strength.  

chris albert doing pull ups

Here’s the problem with that: as much as we take our medication, exercise and try to follow a good diet, this disease will show us that our body will not always do what we try to will it to do. Your focus on winning approval by displaying only your physical strength is going to hold you back for a while if we don’t change our way of thinking.  

When your symptoms get bad, your first thought is going to be to blame yourself because you always thought of yourself as being above nature. You’ve lacked sympathy for others you’ve met with chronic diseases and thought of them as being weak. When you realize how much this disease has control over you, you’re going to think of yourself as weak and you’re going to begin hating yourself.  

You’ll curse God, nature and your own family for giving you your genetics, and you’ll hate yourself so much that you will put yourself in isolation for years because you are so ashamed of what this disease has done to you. This will hold you back from any semblance of a career and from any meaningful relationship with another human being for a long time.  

When your symptoms do subside from time to time, you’ll take on too much work and try to force life to happen. This will increase your stress levels and send you right back into a severe flare up every time. And in addition to blaming God, genetics and yourself for your disease you’ll blame the rest of the world.  

I can’t tell you anything that is going to take away this disease because right now it’s 10 years later and we are still dealing with it.  But I can tell you that we’ve been managing it in a much more productive manner. We’ve made a name for ourselves in the fitness industry, and we’ve opened up a clothing line that inspires and educates U.S. military veterans on how to live better lives.  

But we also had to go through a lot to get here. For a time, we were homeless. This happened because, after we opened our first business, we once again attempted to control what we could not control. We took on too much again, the disease re-entered our life, and we allowed the depression from this defeat to take over everything.  

But we pulled ourselves out of it by realizing one thing: it is not the misfortune that happens to us that matters. Rather, it is our perception of what is happening to us that matters.  

As the stoic Epictetus wrote, “Disease is an impediment to the body, but not the will, unless the will itself chooses.”  

So when things get hard, I want you to realize you have a choice in how the next 10 years will go. You can use this disease as an excuse to pull back from life and blame everyone and everything around you including yourself for what is happening to you.  

Or you can realize that having this disease is an opportunity and a blessing. With everything you will go through, you will gain experience in understanding how much the mind matters through difficult times. This will force you to become mentally stronger and more resilient after a few hang-ups. And having this disease will lead you to your life’s work: inspiring and educating others on how to get through difficult times.  

So in closing, I want you to understand that most of this journey will be in understanding that you have this choice.  And once you realize this, you will know you are not cursed, but blessed to have been able to live a life full of hard won lessons.


Your future self

Originally published: February 28, 2016
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