Like most Australians right now, Christiaan Van Vuuren is stuck at home, riding out the coronavirus lockdown.
The only difference is, this isn’t Van Vuuren’s first rodeo.
In 2009, Van Vuuren began a near-seven month stint in quarantine, after his life turned upside-down when he learned he had contracted tuberculosis on a backpacking holiday in South America.
“I had a fast-paced life,” he told Yahoo Finance. “Long lunches, a lot of boozing, a lot of man-about-towning. In fact, I was hosting a client lunch at a fancy restaurant when I started coughing blood.”
Rushed to a Sydney hospital, Van Vuuren was told he had tuberculosis (TB) - a serious, infectious bacterial disease that affects the lungs, and can spread through coughing - and a hole in his lungs the size of a 50 cent coin,
But the treatment for TB was “standard”: Van Vuuren would need to take antibiotics and spend 21 days in quarantine.
“Generally that sorts you out,” he said. “Three weeks felt like a long time at the time. I was 27 years old - those first few weeks were hard, but there was a finish line.”
To pass the three weeks, Van Vuuren downloaded GarageBand, an app that allows people to create music or podcasts, on his Mac.
“I was a little preoccupied with the idea of having a chronic illness, so I just thought it was time to be productive and learn how to use GarageBand.”
That led to his first rap song: “I did some fooling around....and I wrote this rap song about being sick.”
But not in the sense of being physically ‘sick’, Van Vuuren said, but in the sense of being “sick sick” - fully sick.
He uploaded the song, called “I’m not Sick, but I’m Sick Sick”, which he wrote just nine days into quarantine, on YouTube so he could show his mates, and it ended up going viral.
At the end of the 21 days, Van Vuuren was sent home.
180 days begins
Though Van Vuuren had hoped to return to normal life in Sydney, and go back to work as an advertising rep, things didn’t go to plan.
When he returned home, he lost 16 kilograms, and he “wasn’t heavy anyway”, continued to cough up blood, and was eventually readmitted to hospital.
There, he was told he had a multi-drug resistant form of tuberculosis. This, he recalls, was the “hardest stage” to go through mentally.
“For me, I’d set the expectation that this will go back to normal after three weeks, and then obviously that wasn’t the case,” he said.
In fact, Van Vuuren was told he’d need to remain in quarantine “indefinitely”, or until doctors could come up with a combination of medicine that would work effectively against his TB.
“The process was that I’d need to stay in hospital until I’d given 10 weeks of clean samples,” he said.
And this, he said, was a tedious process.
“Sometimes I’d get to five weeks, and then I’d get a dirty sample,” he said. “Then it was back to square one. Sometimes I’d get to eight weeks, get a dirty sample - back to square one.”
“It was this endless cycle where I had to learn to not get my hopes up, or give myself any finish lines,” he said.
A major turning point
Van Vuuren said the toughest part for him, mentally, was first arriving back in quarantine.
“I was really hit by all the, ‘why me?’, ‘why now?’, ‘what have I done to deserve this?’,” he said.
“I was angry at myself, angry at the situation. I was stomping around a lot, I was very grumpy, and my hair was down to my face, my beard hair was getting long. I let myself go.”
But about a month in, Van Vuuren realised he needed to accept his situation, and focus on getting healthy.
“Something clicked over,” he said. “I was no longer worried about what I’d lost on the outside, and thought, ‘life is really simple now, it’s just about getting better’.”
From then, Van Vuuren decided to break his days up into 9am to 5pm, where he’d set blocks for certain things like music, talking to people on the outside, recording videos and posting videos, exercising and eating.
Van Vuuren continued to post his videos under the name The Fully Sick Rapper, gaining fame during his quarantine stint.
He now boasts around 160 videos on his YouTube channel including his series Bondi Hipsters, which has garnered him over 31 million views.
Life stripped down
Whether you’re sick or not, Van Vuuren said life can be really busy - and full of clutter.
“Your job keeps giving you more money, so you keep increasing the expensiveness of your life, and moving into nicer places, and having a slightly nicer car, and a fancier phone, or an extra couch,” he said.
“All of a sudden you find yourself at a point where you have to work really hard, and you’re really stressed out just to maintain this lifestyle that you didn’t even bring on naturally - you only brought it on as a result of what you were being paid for the work you were doing.”
And “when the cash flow is up, and you start losing those things, you realise those things weren’t important to begin with,” Van Vuuren said.
“You’re actually fine without them,” he said. “And in many cases, life is a wee bit easier without them.”
Now is the time for creativity
What happens throughout this, Van Vuuren said, is that because life gets busy, we don’t spend a lot of time giving ourselves meaning.
“We don’t give ourselves a skill we wanted to learn, or a challenge we wanted to overcome,” he said.
“For me, in hospital, this was learning to write music, and learn programs - and making videos, that became my actual passion,” he said.
And Van Vuuren said now that life is a little less busy, it’s time to give ourselves meaning.
“If you’re in lockdown or in forced isolation, it’s a really good opportunity - sick or not - to challenge yourself to learn to knit, read more books, to write down some of the most important things that have happened in your life, to adjust your will, to learn to skate in your backyard or learn to do a backflip,” he said.
“You could read a book about lucid dreaming, and control your dreams. Learn a language - just treat yourself to a thing that you haven’t been able to.
“We’re all going to lose a lot over this period, it’s going to be really stressful. But there is stuff to be gained too.”
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