Queens, New York

Dear Reader,

I am sitting in the white-washed examination room, legs dangling from the bed, my arms shaking—no, trembling, as the nurse is taking my blood pressure.

“150 over 80,” she says. “Quite high,” she adds, as she inputs the information to my chart.

“I guess I am little nervous today,” I respond with a chuckle.

She turns to look at me. “Why are you nervous? Everything will be okay,” attempting to reassure me, but failing to do so. “Stay put, the doctor will be with you shortly.”

I nod.

As soon as the door closes, I collapse into the bed, my mind exploding into a frenzy of flashbacks, my heart racing with anticipation and last minute mental calculations.

I am sick and in need of answers.

I close my eyes, trying to focus on my breathing, only for my mind to wander over all the possible diagnoses—Lyme Disease? A chemical imbalance? A neuromuscular disorder? A bacterial infection? Dementia? The possibilities are endless and the symptoms all-encompassing.

Suddenly, a tap on the door, I snap out of it, and position myself upright, as if I didn’t just have a mental breakdown.

“Good morning, Nick,” the doctor says. “I have the results from your tests.”

I show a nervous smile and lean closer to him. “What is it, doctor?”

He pauses to look at his chart one more time before delivering the news.

“Nick—everything looks normal,” he states with a false sense of certainty. I can see it in his eyes, thinking, that his lab results say one thing but my body declares and screams the opposite. He is aware of this predicament.

“Look, Nick, I am not saying that there is nothing wrong with you, but we have exhausted all diagnostic tools in our disposal at the moment.”

“I understand.”

“We did CT scans, MRIs, blood work, EKGs, an EEG; we sent you to the GI, the neurologist, the cardiologist—nobody can find a cause for these symptoms.”

“Yeah…” feeling tears forming in my eyes.

“I can only imagine how frustrated you must feel. It is—”

I cut him off. “I just don’t understand, doctor. I wake up every morning feeling worse than the day before. My entire body is twitching and is in excruciating pain; I faint regularly; my heart rate skyrockets suddenly and without warning; my mind feels foggy; my memory is failing me; I suffer from excruciating headaches. I feel like a semblance of my old self. I don’t know for how long this can go on. I am too young to die.” Yes, this thought did cross my mind quite often, especially when the pain and the fatigue became insufferable. “But, you know what hurts more, doctor? Not having clarity of mind. Everything has been a haze for the past year.”

He ponders for a few seconds before he turns to face me. “I don’t know what to say, Nick. It sucks, I know.” He turns to the computer. “I will note down chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. These diagnoses basically mean that we have no idea what’s wrong with you. It’s only an acknowledgment of your pain, but provide no input as to what is causing it.”

“I see.”

“I am sorry, Nick. I will also prescribe you some physical therapy and refer you to a psychiatrist.”

He then offers me stimulants and benzodiazepines “for symptom management.”

I kindly refuse.

That night, I went home and cried myself to sleep, in desperation, in hopelessness.

But the following morning, these feelings had vanished.

Something about that encounter had produced the paradoxical effect of not wanting to give up. Being told that the medical profession had no answers for me had made me experience an almost delirious sense of hope.

I don’t know how to put it in words, but that morning, I discovered that I had agency over my mind.

If they can’t help me, I will help myself.

That morning, I got out of bed, got dressed, and pulled out a notebook. I started writing down the changes that I needed to make to regain my intellectual edge and physical strength. I mapped out a path to recovery, and I began living it without any delay. It involved dramatically reducing my reliance on technology, transforming my diet, reading books, scouring academic databases, walking in nature, establishing strict routines, and engaging in a series of lifestyle experiments. I also kept a detailed journal of my progress.

The journey to clarity had commenced.

Of course, in my pursuit for change, I suffered serious setbacks, experienced anxiety and fatigue, uncertainty, and depression—yet I persisted—believed in my ability to change my condition for the better. There were days when I was bound in bed, in a vegetative state, unable to think and function, but these days became increasingly infrequent as I stuck to my plans.

But why I am telling you all this?

Because over the past few years, I have encountered a disturbingly large number of people that struggle with similar “mystery” conditions like mine—their bodies and minds failing them in a number of ways that physicians do not seem to understand yet. Some believe that long-covid has something to do with it. Others blame technology. Some maintain that the stresses of daily life and anxiety take a toll on all aspects of our health, which is quite obvious, yet we often refuse to acknowledge. Others simply dwell in conspiracy theories. I am not in a position to make guesses as to what what is causing our collective undoing, but what I can say is that all these people have one thing in common:


I strongly believe that I can be of help in this area.

That’s where the purpose of this email comes in.

I am going to write a guide (in a form of a story), which might turn into the book I mentioned in the last email. I have tentatively named it:

The Erratic Path to Clarity: A Guide for the Distressed

Written in the second person point of view, and employing elements from the most American, and despised, form of literature, the self-help genre, it will help you find clarity in the midst of chaos, uncertainty, and distress. The book is not about curing your anxiety, although it could. It is about the physical and intellectual tools that you can use to find—or create the illusion of—a crystal-clear path in life. It’s about the tools that I discovered, and wish I had in my possession, on my journey for clarity. Thus, the book is more about the journey than the destination, for destinations are mostly illusions. It will be short, direct, and practical.

This is a project, among many, that I have undertaken, and I do not have a rigid timeline for its completion. But my current plan is to distribute this for free on my website sometime over the summer.

If you would like to be one of the first to read it, reply to this email, and I will send it to you the minute I release it.

As always, I will keep you posted.

Nikolaos Panaousis

P.S. As I leaf through my analog Zettelkasten, it becomes obvious that my chief intellectual goal for the past few years has been to come to terms with the elusive concept of clarity. From exploring the realms of storytelling, religion, neuroscience, and philosophy, my notes reflect a desire to understand what propels us forward in the face of adversity.

Do you want to receive these emails in your inbox? You can subscribe to my list by clicking here. (In my emails to you, you will also find writing that is not published in the public archive.)

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