How Chronic Illness Made Me A “Tracker”

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How Chronic Illness Made Me A Tracker | Overcoming expectations and boundaries to find your "true self"

My husband has a serious man crush on this finance guy, Patrick O’Shaughnessy. Normally we listen to his “Invest Like The Best” podcast on a trip, and it lulls me into a deep and comfortable sleep. Every so often there are ones I really enjoy, like the episode with Dr Peter Attia. My favorite, however, has been with tracker, Boyd Varty. Varty grew up on the Londolozi reserve in South Africa and now offers safari excursions that incorporate life coaching.

This guy is pretty incredible. Not only is he fun to listen to (hello accent!), but he has a beautiful way of looking at life that makes you think a little deeper about your own. I imagine having a near death experience with a black mamba, malaria, and being stung hundreds of times by African bees will do that to you. I connected with this last podcast as I realized that I was, in fact, becoming a tracker. What exactly is a “tracker”? According to Varty it’s “the journey into uncharted territory. It is a process by which you begin to take yourself into the infinite.”

“Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers”

The podcast starts out where the two men are recounting an experience tracking wild dogs. When I hear of a “wild dog”, I picture my golden retriever running down a hippo and then deciding it’s too much effort so she lays down for a nap. I thought I’d post a picture for you so you can get a better idea of what these “wild dogs” look like.

How Chronic Illness Made Me A Tracker | Overcoming expectations and boundaries to find your "true self"
Image via WWF

The group watched these dogs lie in a deep sleep, then saw them wake up and greet each other, then fall into a full out hunt for prey. The idea behind this whole moment was that these dogs had no idea when their next kill would be. When they were tired, they slept. When they woke, they were playful. When they were hungry, they hunted. The dogs focused on what their immediate needs were. Living in the present is essential to not living in stress.

Varty mentions this book “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers”. The cover alone is enough to make you smile. Essentially it comes down to letting go of our roles and expectations, and working with what nature gives us. This hit me hard since I actually had an ulcer a few months before my chronic illness hit. I was living in a constant state of low level of stress with my job. I would lie awake at night always worried about the next day, week, or month.  

Zebras don’t live in a constant state of stress. Sure there are predators that make life a little more crazy, but they don’t sit there and ruminate on it. Instead they have that “fight or flight” mode only when it’s necessary. If your “fight or flight” mode is turned on all the time, there’s no relief, and you’re exhausted when you actually need to “fight”. There must be a time for rest and a separate time to be alert. 

Social Self vs. The Wild Self

How do we change our mindset and get out of this mode of constant stress? Varty mentions it’s identifying what our Social Self is against what our Wild Self is. My Social Self was a label – an idea of what I should be.

In my high school, everyone thought I should be a psychologist because I had a successful behavioral science fair project. In my heart, I wanted to be in fashion, so I thought I was going against the grain. I moved out to NYC and tried my hand with a big fashion house. In the end, NYC wasn’t for me and I decided that I loved the south. When I found out a large watch company was based in Texas, I thought that would be the perfect fit for me. I worked my way up the ladder and eventually onto a brand called Michele, which I loved. But as time went on, the company changed and I tried to see the lack of support as an opportunity to grow. I kept thinking that next promotion would make me happy, and would give me that satisfaction that I was in the right area for me. But I never got the promotion. Instead I got very, very sick.

My Wild Self? It’s helping others find answers and treatments to their illnesses. It’s supporting new friends through these hard times and letting them know they can feel better. And I’m able to do that through this site and VEDA. There is more fulfillment in one day of kind emails from readers than I ever received at my old job. According to Varty, your Wild Self will not allow you to be what you are not.

It’s too easy to fall into a pattern of labeling yourself as “sick” or “disabled”, but that is not our true Wild Self. Have you found what fulfills you?

How Do You Discover Your Wild Self?

This can be found through some sort of catalyst – the death of a family member, an illness, or a call to move into “the wilderness of life”. Yeah, I didn’t get a call from the wilderness. But I did get sick. And when my workplace, after knowing my diagnosis, stuck me in the middle of a busy walkway, changed my whole team, and left me hanging, I realized they were forcing me out. I suddenly hated my job. I hated the people around me. I really hated HR. I felt so alone and depressed. Fashion was all I had known, what I went to school for, and here I had to give up a job that I had worked hard to get.

That unknown period is the scariest of all. What am I going to do with my life? I knew any other corporate fashion company around here would have produced similar results. So I sat in my stillness. I focused on my health, making every doctor’s appointment and vestibular therapy session. I colored in an adult coloring book each afternoon. I researched every little bit I could find on vestibular migraine. It was that research that led me to realize there wasn’t much specific information on vestibular migraine or a migraine diet. And the sites I could find were kind of depressing. Why couldn’t there be a fun place, where people didn’t feel like this was the end of the world? Somewhere that had a light at the end of a tunnel. The time that I sat in my unknown led me to a spark of inspiration…or my next “track”.

How do you sit in stillness? Varty says that modern life is 3 days deep. It takes 3 days to get out of the structure you have for your everyday life. Here you focus on deeper connections with yourself and others. Meditation, fishing, weaving – these tasks are simple, but involve quiet, inner reflection. For me, it took about a month. I blame that on my stubbornness!

You must “give yourself space and time in your unknown” – Boyd Varty

Shifting the Hive

At the end of the podcast, Varty recounts his experience with wild African bees. I won’t spoil the whole story for those who decide to listen to the podcast, but basically after one bee started with a single sting, hundreds of others immediately followed suit. One individual can shift the whole hive. If you think you can’t make a difference to others, think about how that one bee can cause a swarm that takes down a man 1,000 times their size. Any time I get discouraged that no one cares about vestibular disorders or any of my posts, I remind myself of the rogue bee!

Living on Your Purpose Gives You the Feeling of Being “Enough”

I often think finding my purpose was how I was able to pull myself out of that depression. Helping others can bring you a joy that not much else can. However, this work definitely doesn’t pay my old salary. In fact, I’m pretty much running at a deficit and have no idea where this might go, although I’m pretty proud of where it seems to be going. Not everyone has the means to quit their job and run at a deficit for months, which I understand. According to the podcast, often people’s main excuse was that they didn’t have enough money to pursue that purpose. But the question that was repeated was if you had more money, what would you want next? What do you want more of in life? This should lead you to what your purpose is and how you implement it in your life.

Please consider donating to vestibular disorder awareness by either volunteering your time and participating with us, or making a small donation to our group. Thank you!

If you enjoyed this post, I highly recommend you listen to all 3 of Boyd Varty’s podcasts with Patrick O’Shaughnessy. They make you feel like you can do almost anything with your life…except maybe start a bee farm.

Zebra image credit: Karen Van Damme found via Dr Rex

Alicia was diagnosed with Chronic Vestibular Migraine in 2016 and has been able to successfully manage her symptoms through medication, supplements, lifestyle changes, and the Heal Your Headache Diet by Dr. David Buchholz from Johns Hopkins. She's the owner of The Dizzy Cook.

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