Akshay Nanavati has pulled a 190-pound sled across the world’s second-largest ice cap. He’s climbed the Himalayas and run across countries, suffering from severe heat exhaustion in the process. He survived a dalliance with drug addiction that killed two of his high school friends.
But, his biggest challenge came with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) years after serving as a United States Marine in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The diagnosis was nearly devastating. Following his time in the military, where part of his job was to walk in front of convoys looking out for IEDs, Akshay gave into the despair that he felt was a given when confronted with struggle. The weight of the trauma he had suffered from the war led to a deep depression and alcoholism.
“I went to a therapist to find a way out of the darkness. But nothing seemed to work,” Akshay recalls, “I then began delving deeper and deeper into alcohol until I reached the brink of suicide. At that point, I knew something needed to change. I then took it upon myself to heal my mind, my brain, and my spirit.”
Akshay decided to reframe his approach to the PTSD diagnosis. Sometimes, labeling symptoms as a disorder can create self-fulfilling prophecies of destructive downward spirals, rather than being recognized as normal human reactions to trauma. Akshay decided to use his fear and past trauma as an avenue to ascendency, not an anchor.
In Indian religions, the concept of Nirvana is the ultimate end-state of enlightenment. It comes with a cessation of suffering, a state where all desires have “been extinguished”.
Akshay dove headfirst into studying neuroscience, psychology, and spirituality to understand his PTSD diagnosis and find a way to the other side. This study led him to the concept of “Fearvana”.
“I became awakened to the realization that fear, stress, anxiety, and suffering in any form can be an access point to bliss, and even enlightenment,” he explains.
Much like the spiritual concept, Akshay’s idea of Fearvana sought to work through fear, not run from it, to reach a blissful state. He no longer approached the concept of fear, stress, or even trauma as his enemy, nor was he destined for a life of depression and substance abuse due to these experiences.
Akshay adopted the name Fearvana and parlayed his study and realizations into his own non-profit of the same name. He also kicked off a successful success coach business, helping others work through their own traumatic experiences to find the joy he had discovered for himself.
Akshay learned the term “post-traumatic growth”, an approach to rewriting the story of PTSD.
While a diagnosis of PTSD can be devastating for many, in Akshay’s approach, it doesn’t have to define who you are. People diagnosed with PTSD are encouraged on the Fearvana website and through Akshay’s coaching to embrace the struggles that come because they are going to come anyway. For everyone. The difference in the Fearvana approach is embracing the struggle.
As Akshay explains on his website, “We all have a worthy struggle waiting for us. It could be running a marathon, building a business, writing a book, raising a child, playing chess, anything! The path itself doesn’t matter, all that matters is that you give all of yourself to find it, live it and love it, because if you don’t seek out a worthy struggle, struggle will find you anyway, as it has often found me.”
The Lessons Found
Through his years of study, application of his Fearvana concepts, and reaching out to help others, Akshay has fought his own “worthy inner war”.
“I call it a worthy struggle because the road will be hard. It will involve challenge, struggle, and sometimes intense suffering,” he says, “But that is not a bad thing. Adversity is one of our greatest gifts and a necessary access point to reach the next stage of our personal evolution.”
The lessons gathered along his path have informed his future as a leader and mentor.
Akshay’s book, Fearvana: The Revolutionary Science of How to Turn Fear into Health, Wealth, and Happiness, even features a foreword by the Dalai Lama himself.
The Road Past PTSD
Akshay’s life experiences have taken him from the very depths of despair, survivor’s guilt, and fear to the other side, where he sees a clear path to happiness beyond a PTSD or other mental health diagnosis.
Since reframing his thought process regarding living well after trauma, Akshay has built a global business, poured himself into Fearvana, and spoken to groups all over the world.
His work reveals a life past PTSD, if you’re just willing to scratch and claw past the fear and embrace the worthy struggles that life hands to us.