Posted in Emotional Health, Spirituality and Health

Illness and Anxiety

Waiting can be the most anxiety producing element of any diagnostic process.  Most who are having surgery are scheduling the surgery and that gives you too much time to think.  There is something to be said for the emergency surgery where your brain doesn’t get in the way by throwing all these life scenarios in front of you giving you too much time to ponder the negative.

I received a call today from the mother of a client.   The message basically said that the client is in a state of perpetual “death anxiety”.  I can understand the fear of undergoing surgery and then waiting to come out of anesthesia hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.  In the meantime I often wonder how is the client living his life?

The wake-up call is the doctor saying you need surgery.  What do you think about during the time between notice that you need surgery and the actual surgery?  This young man is telling me that his biggest fear is leaving behind a young child.  If that’s the fear then what are you doing to day to instill all the “right stuff” the child will need throughout his life?  What values are you demonstrating?  Do you light up every time the child walks in the room?  (these are the things the child will remember)

The truth is that until the surgery is done we sit in the “waiting room of life”.  This holding place is not as pleasant as the green room of a TV set, the food in most cases won’t be very good.  It’s at these times that we are reminded about how small we are in the Universe.  The truth is that in the grand scheme of things we’re insignificant, except to those we love and care about.   That being said, isn’t it important to make sure that every day is spent fulfilling your dreams of generativity?  What’s your legacy going to be?

Obviously the hope is that you’ll have a long time before your legacy is reflected upon, but don’t think that even if you’re healthy that your legacy isn’t being created on a daily basis.

You may think that distraction works to alleviate the anxiety.   The truth is nothing can take it away, but by sitting with the fear and understanding what’s under the fear will help reduce its intensity.  Let’s face it, we’re not going to be conscious of our death.  The Ancient Greeks felt that the way to the Good Life was to meditate on your own death, and yet we try and keep it beyond arms length.

What would happen if it came in a little closer?  What can you do today to reduce your anxiety by being mindful of the moment your living in, right now.  Don’t throw NOW away!

Posted in care for the caregiver, Caregiving, Self-Nurture

Care for the Caregiver

Too many organizations, books and nonprofit organizations focus on the person with the illness, but one person is seldom the only one impacted by the diagnosis.  We assume that people in our lives are obliged to care for us during our times of need, but is it done willfully and without resentment?  In most cases the answer is Yes.  However,  just like the person who is facing the illness has a road to recovery so does the caregiver.

Caregivers are a unique bunch because the research and my own experiences shows that overwhelming caregiving is done by women.  The order in which caregiving occurs is the following: wife, mother or daughter, sister, sister-in-law.  What happened to all the men?  Of course this isn’t an absolute, there are plenty of men who care for the women in their lives, but overall women do it the majority of the time.

My hope is that caregivers find outlets to recharge their batteries.  It’s like when you listen to the flight attendant giving the safety instructions…”put the oxygen mask on yourself first, then assist those around you who may need your help”.  There is a reason for this sequence, it’s not about being selfish, but you’ll be better equipped to help others if you make sure you have the tools you need so you can keep on providing the necessary care to the person facing the life-altering diagnosis.

Think of it this way…If I give you a penny and ask you to give it away you’re left with nothing.  If I give you two pennies and ask you to give one away you still have a penny-everyone wins.  Caregiving has to included win-win situations.  If not you’ll become depleted and you can’t squeeze blood out of a stone.

Many organizations provide support groups for the support person(s) of those facing an illness.  Those organizations are forward thinking because it gives you, the caregiver, the opportunity to discover coping mechanisms that will keep your battery running.  It will also give you an opportunity to experience a community of your own.  Caregiving is often very lonely and breaking the silence gives you support.

How are you handling your caregiving situation?  Share tips with us so that we can all benefit.

It came to my attention that I need to make caregiving articles a regular part of this dialogue.  Look for the weekly caregiver entry on Fridays…a chance to start your weekend with a bang.

Posted in Personal Conviction

Does Time Really Mean Anything?

The clock ticks but does it really say anything? Time passes and we yearn for more time. When facing a life-altering health crisis time may be counting down till medication starts working. It is often what passes in waiting rooms. We believe or want to believe that time is endless. I was talking to my father last week about time, really about age, after my uncle’s death at the age of 61. My father asked me if I ever thought about the fact that the time I have left to live is probably less than what I’ve already lived (I’m about to turn 47).

It’s clear that time means a lot to those who have little left. You can go from being here to not being here in a very short period of time. There is an element of surprise when time doesn’t play by the rules we want to set. I can tell you from my work with thousands of clients over the past twenty-years that time waits for no one. It’s as if “time” has it’s own rule book but doesn’t tell anyone the rules.

Stop watching the clock, the calendar, the moon if that’s how you mark the passing of time. Begin living in the moment and you won’t have to worry about what’s passing you. It’s like riding the wave in surfing, you get caught up in the excitement, the drama, the risk, the accomplishment and the fact that maybe thirty seconds passed means nothing… it’s all about how much you lived in that time.

Posted in coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness

Anchors Away

When we’re newly diagnosed we have lots of decisions to make, often in a short period of time.  It’s not often that we take the time to focus on our identity as a person with a health challenge when more pressing matters are present.  I’ve started wondering…in order to experience wellness, do we have to let go of who we were and embrace who we will become.

Let me just say that when I say “who we will become” I’m not focusing on the illness itself.  I’m really thinking about the qualities, characteristics, behaviors, experiences that we will have as a result of our illness.  I’ve worked with individuals for many years, following my own health challenge, and people ask would we change anything?  The obvious answer is YES…we could choose not to be ill.  Then I started thinking and of course the ideal is to be healthy with no restrictions and certainly no medical treatment walking by our side.  I also began to think about what have I become since my diagnosis.

On a personal note, my auto-immune diagnosis came late in my adolescence.  I have grown up with my illness and maybe that’s different than those being diagnosed as adults.  What I know is that I’ve become a more inquisitive person.  I engage in more conversations about things that matter to me and I certainly am particular about those I choose to spend time with on a regular basis.

What is developing in you?  Are you becoming more assertive?  Have you realigned your priorities so that what you say and how you act are congruent?  I think of Tim McGraw’s song “Live Like You Were Dying” and it rings a strong chord.  Who will we become as a result of a diagnosis or the diagnosis of someone who is near an dear to our hearts.

This may seem like the furthest thing from the minds of those who are newly diagnosed.  I can assure you that the questions had begun long before your diagnosis.  We watch those around us get sick, some overcome the challenge and others die, but the questions begin and we can’t stop them.  When we’re diagnosed it goes from a passing thought to, for some, an obsession.  Questions are good.  The Ancient Greeks lived in the question and they felt that’s how you achieved the “Good Life”.  Isn’t that something we all want?

Don’t be afraid of who you’ll become because you won’t ever lose the humor, compassion, love and experiences you had pre-diagnosis.  This in a bizarre way just adds to our repertoire.  I’d love to know who you’re becoming…please share it with us!

Posted in art and healing, Emotional Health, Spirituality and Health

The Never Ending Saga

Ever stand at the ocean’s shore and look out on the horizon?  What do you see?  I’m a beach baby and love the water, specifically the ocean, and what I was always amazed about was the vast openness.  The never ending water reaching out to where sky meets sea.  It’s that feeling that things will never end that those facing a chronic illness every day.  There is a constant reminder that the illness is ever present and most likely will be for the rest of our lives.  As someone who has faced an auto-immune disease for over thirty years I’m well aware of the impact the point with end has on one’s psyche.

Flannery O’Connor wrote, ” I have never been anywhere but sick…In a sense, sickness is a place, more instructive than a long trip to Europe, and it’s always a place where there is no company, where nobody can follow.”  I’d like to add, and hope no one ever wants or has to follow in those footsteps.  O’Connor dealt with lupus throughout her life and understood, quite eloquently, the impact physically and spiritually that a long road toward wellness can have on one’s inner journey.

It can take a long time to accept and embrace the “new normal” we have to live when our lives will always contain an element of medical treatment.  Many can’t understand the experience of having a host of doctors on your Christmas card list, but they become an integral part of the lives for those facing chronic illness.  It would be great to be able to take a vacation from chronic illness, but unfortunately, it goes on and on so it’s up to us to be able to take mental and emotional vacations.

I’ve found that one of the great ways of taking a frequent vacation from illness is by creating art.  It gives me time to enter “the zone” and in that space all outside distractions disappear like fog when it’s touched by sunlight.  The creative juices flow and it overrides the ick/discomfort/annoyance felt toward the illness or transforms what could become the “pity pot” to something beautiful and resourceful.

I’d love to hear how you are taking a vacation from your chronic illness…even if it’s just for a moment.

Posted in Partnerships

Bringing Everyone Up To Speed

I have the honor and privilege of being invited to accompany those facing a life-altering diagnosis on their road to wellness.  I’ve been doing this work for over twenty years and I’m continually shown the strength of the human spirit.  In one of my recent phone conversations with someone at the beginning of their journey I was taken with the experience at their recent doctor visit.

In this day and age I’m excited when the medical community believes in creating a partnership with us, the patient.  The days of huge divisions I hope is over, but if not, it’s up to us to educate the medical community.  Yesterday I was told about a recent encounter by a man who is currently in the process of diagnostic testing.

The patient was going for the results session following the biopsy.  His wife decided to accompany him to this visit because knowing her husband, she knew if anything important was being said that he’d probably block it out.  It’s not a surprise that when a doctor is giving us troubling news that we dissociate to try and avoid the pain.  That’s why it’s so important forus to bring someoe who can bear witness to the appointment so we don’t miss anything important.

The doctor could have started with the results but instead decided it was important for the wife to hear a summary of everything that had been discussed with the patient prior to giving the results.  This doctor understood the importance of having the patient’s support person included in the dialogue and that the only way the wife could fully support her husband was if she had all the information.

I commend the doctor having the savvy to take a couple of extra minutes and save the couple a lot of grief by having he husband disappear and the wife to be lost due to gaps in information.  It also helps that the doctor realized the patient is not only the person being treated, but the entire family.  This process impacts everyone and keeping everyone in the loop avoids confusion and increases by-in on the part of the patient.

I hope this serves as an example for all medical personnel who have to deliver diagnostic information.  I believe that whenever we can aid the patient in hearing and processing the information, the quicker the process of healing can begin.

Posted in Personal Conviction

In Limbo

How is it that a day consisting of 24 hours can seem like an eternity?  I had a conversation last night with someone who recently went through a needle biopsy.  It took eight days for the follow-up in the doctor’s office.  It was clear that even with a busy schedule, the looming cloud waiting for the results is overwhelming.

It would certainly be easier if the doctor could give us instant results from our tests.  The anguish we feel going through the diagnostic process is enormous.  Even those who are good at compartmentalizing their lives find it difficult to cast the uneasiness to the side and go on with life as if nothing is out of the ordinary.

The truth is that with a single sentence your whole life can change.  The fact that it takes so long for test results to come back means that we walk a tight rope on the emotional front.  We’ve learned to take an assumptive stance when waiting for news.  We can and often do pick up on what the negative results will be and how life will never be the same.  Even when the odds are overwhelmingly in our favor we’ve been conditioned as a culture to put ourselves as the underdog instead of the victor.

Obviously test results will come back for some with unwanted news.  The waiting process shouldn’t be a living hell.  Maybe it’s a time when we begin to think about what’s important in our lives.  Maybe it’s the catalyst to begin thinking about who we want to spend our time with or what path we want our career to take.  If we utilize this time as a time of reflection, it doesn’t make the waiting any easier, but it may be more productive no matter the results.

Posted in coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, In the Know

Dealing with Uncertainty

When we go to the doctor with a problem our assumption is that they will be able to figure out what’s wrong and fix it.  Personally, I think that’s a lot of pressure to put on the medical community.  Remember they call it the “practice” of medicine, not the “perfection” of medicine.  I say this because over the past couple of weeks I’m hearing from more people that the doctor’s they’re seeing aren’t sure what’s wrong.

In addition, maybe it’s the body that’s fooling the medical community.  Yesterday I got a call from someone who had a biopsy that was inconclusive.  We might want to ask how’s that possible, but it means that the body isn’t giving up its mystery.  The hope is that further tests, or whatever the next steps are for diagnosis will be pursued because treatment can’t begin without a diagnosis and it helps if the diagnosis is accurate.

Many of us facing a life-altering health issue are living in a black and white world.  Because it’s our health at stake we can’t stay in the gray and that’s frustrating.  I’ve talked to many people over the years who felt the diagnostic process was more unbearable than the ultimate diagnosis.  It’s the inherent knowledge that something is wrong but not knowing exactly what, keeping us on pins and needles that makes you pull your hair out (fortunately I don’t have any hair).

I guess what I’m saying is that when dealing with uncertainty stay in the realm of asking questions.  When you stay in the space of the question you’ll help smoke out the real issues helping end the guessing game and landing firmly on your feet.

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Emotional Health, Having a Voice, Personal Conviction

Mind-Body Connection…DUH!

The news agencies reported on a study that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, linking Diabetes and Depression.  The study looked at over 6,000 individuals.  What did they find?  The found that those suffering from type 2 diabetes were more prone to depression, and lo and behold those with depression were more prone to getting diabetes.

I say it’s not a surprise because we’ve been discussing the mind/body connection for years.  This type of study is a message to everyone facing some type of health crisis to get treatment, good treatment, and find a way to make peace with the illness.  It’s the struggles that are associated to living life with an illness that creates these secondary conditions.

No one wants to have to tackle more than one health crisis at a time.  If you are facing a life-altering diagnosis consider ways to live life beyond illness.  For tips you might consider information on the website  Don’t suffer, learn to life live beyond the illness.  Find ways to assimilate the illness into your being so you have it and it doesn’t have you.

The longer we live the greater the chances of facing some type of illness.  Let’s keep it to a minimum by understanding that the mind/body connection is real.  Let’s not give illness the opportunity to co-opt our quality of life.  Let’s take the illness and put it in its place, figuratively and literally.  Let’s make the case for greater support services that serve as an adjunct to medical treatment.  Let’s tell our providers that our mental health is as important as our physical health and vise versa, and create a comprehensive treatment plan.  Put the odds in your favor and keep the mind/body connection in the foreground and you’ll make healthier choices.

Posted in coping with life threatening illness, creativity and health, living with chronic illness, Self-Nurture

Home as the Mirror to the Soul

When I was training to be a psychotherapist I studied a lot of Jungian philosophy.  I was particularly intrigued by the symbolism used in both our conscious and unconscious lives.  I began looking for ways that the symbols would appear outside the realm of my dreams and I began to notice that signs and symbols did show up.  One of the therapists I worked with then told me about an article or book she’d seen called the “Home as the mirror of the mind”.

I think it’s more than just a mirror to the mind, but a mirror to the soul.  The author discussed how if your house is cluttered then the odds are good that you mind is cluttered and so on.  This gets into the idea of using your home as a barometer for the life your living.  It means we have to pay attention to our surroundings because they can leave us clues to what our next leg of the journey may be.

Our homes are the collage of our lives.  And even though a collage may be unrelated items brought together, they wind up creating a cohesive whole.  It’s important to create places of comfort when tackling the challenge of a life-altering health diagnosis.  We become more sensitive to our surroundings and comfort becomes paramount.

This is also the time to take the good china out of the cabinet and begin using it.  Who are you saving it for?  You’re the most important person on the planet, why shouldn’t you eat your meals in divine fashion?  Create the order you want in your home and your life, but keep your needs in the foreground and make it a place you want to spend time, rejuvenate your soul and recharge your battery.