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Know Thyself

Welcome to Caregiver Friday!

I can’t believe it’s Friday already.  I hope you have your plans for the Super Bowl.  Times like these get people to come together and remember the good times.  That’s not what I want to focus on today, just something that created a flash in the moment.

Last week’s Grey’s Anatomy had an interesting story line.  One of the doctors, McSteamy, broke a part of his body near and dear and defining to his manhood…very embarrassing.  He had been having sex with one of the interns, Lexi, when the sexual break occurred (I’ll save that for another post).  There was a lot of back and forth as to who the doctor was with at the time but it’s a secret (it’s Lexi).  Okay, I know you’re not reading this for my television critique so I’ll get to the point.  At the end, while Lexi has someone guard the door, Lexi speaks to the doctor and says to him, “I’m going to come over, crawl in bed with you and stroke your hair…because that’s what I like when I’m sick”.

Here is a woman who is going to care for her “friend” in the same way she likes to be cared for when sick.  She’s paying it forward.  She’s able to take her knowledge of what’s soothing to her and pass it on to someone in need.  She knows herself well enough to be able to identify what’s comforting.  She’s able to assimilate her own experiences and transform them into healing for another.  That’s the gift we as humans have, the gift of learning.

I want you to remember that this is a two way street.  I’m not suggesting that you as the caregiver are the only one who needs tending too.  Unfortunately, even something like the flu can knock you on your rear end requiring some nurturing.  This is one of the conversations to have with your wellness partner because we all like to be cared for in a way that brings us back to earlier times when we were safe, secure and loved.

No matter who you’re caring for it’s important for you to know yourself because we can be of greater service when we offer what’s authentic.  In addition, knowing what makes you feel nurtured is part of the caregiver wellness plan.  Don’t dismiss the desire to lounge around with a good book or the latest copy of “People” magazine.  I’ve been known to read a trashy novel at my most vulnerable points.  It does offer me insight into what questions to ask when caring for another, whether it’s a cold, the flu or a chronic  or life-threatening illness.

How do you like to be nurtured when you’re ill?  Do you pass that on to those you care for?

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From Wheelchair to Walking

Once again those under the age of 30 are gathering in stadiums and convention centers around the country hoping to be the next American Idol.  The television was on and on my way from my art studio to the basement where I was painting some fabric I caught a glimpse of a background story of one of the contestants.  This story was unlike all the others because the contestant was part of an entertainment dynasty.  The contestant was born into entertainment royalty and with it comes certain perks.  Enough about the politics of television and in particular reality shows.

The contestant was David Osmond, son of Alan Osmond of the Osmond Brothers.  If you’ve seen any coverage of the Osmonds over the past two years you’ve seen that Alan Osmond is often sitting during performance and walks with a brace.  He lives with Multiple Sclerosis (MS).  As the background story progressed we find that David Osmond is also challenged by Multiple Sclerosis.  I know that many people can’t believe that someone so young could be facing a challenge, but as you also know illness doesn’t play favorites.

They showed a picture of David Osmond in a wheelchair and then we see him walking in to his audition.  There are varying types of MS and it is possible to have a flare or an episode and then have it subside.  The disease is unpredictable to say the least, but for this moment on this day David Osmond stands tall and sings.

There are a lot of things you might think about the Osmond family but one thing is for sure; they support each other in good times and bad.  They are one of the most cohesive family units in the spotlight and that energy, that love can be a healing force in and of itself.  The other aspect of David’s inner life aside from his faith is the music that is in his genetic code.  Can you think of anyone more genetically predisposed to music and the healing power of music than someone in the Osmond family.  If you don’t know about the healing aspects of music read Don Campbell’s book, The Mozart Effect.  Campbell shares his knowledge, his research and the gifts that music can bring to our lives.

The next time you’re thinking about what you can do to assist your body in healing, consider artistic expression.  Find a way to share who you are, what you’re experiencing and the impact the challenge is having on you in a non-traditional way.  Creativity is a healing force to be explored.  What type of artistic expression might suit you best?  What do you need to extract from your inner life and share with he world?  What forms of creative expression get you excited that you might want to try?

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Size of Your World

I remember the first time I saw the pictures of the earth taken from outer space, what a magical vision.  For a planet that seemed so large the picture made it look so small; I guess that’s a lesson in perspective.  As we stand on this planet, in our bodies the illness experience knocks us off our pedestal of feeling big and cuts us down to size.  It’s not a punishment, or a lesson in reality, but an understanding of our place in the world.

The question “what’s the size of your world?” is important because it’s not uncommon following an illness diagnosis for our worlds to shrink and the unfortunately it’s repopulated with a medical community we had no interest in knowing.  Maybe our world has to increase it’s size like a taffy pull, just keep tugging at the edges and stretching it till it becomes smoothe and shiny. This would happen by friends, neighbors and co-workers engaging you.   Maybe we can increase the size of our worlds the way they do with angioplasty…insert a balloon into the artery and then slowly fill the balloon with air increasing it’s size allowing for increased blood flow.  Perhaps we can increase the size of our worlds by invitation, making specific requests of people.

It’s interesting that President Obama asked the country to engage in acts of service.  Can you think of any greater act of service than maintaining our relationships to their full capacity?  Service is not only something we do for those we don’t know.  Service is about extending a hand to anyone who could use a bit more support and encouragement.

How will you increase the size of your world?   Make a list of five things you can do and then select one that you can do today.  I’d love to hear what you’ve chosen and the actions you’ve taken to increase the size of your world.

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What Shapes You?

As a kid I used to watch Gumby and Pokey.  As an adult I had both a Gumby and Pokey toy in my therapy office.  The amazing thing is that it wasn’t the kids who played with these bendable toys; it was the adults.  It could be that kids didn’t know who these two claymation characters were and adult knew full well the escapades these two got into in every episode.  It wasn’t unusual for the adult to pick up the figures and bend them in all possible ways, shaping them to match their emotional being in the moment.

I ask the question, “what shapes you?” because you’ll need to have an answer, and a conscious answer as you move through your health challenge.  Facing a chronic or life-threatening illness means you recruit all possible allies to help you move forward on your journey to wellness.  The amazing thing is that the answer to this question can be as unique as the people walking on this earth.

When I ask clients or audience participants this question they respond with everything from how they were brought up as children, to their ethnic or religious backgrounds, to their political beliefs, and to the person sitting next to them on the bus.  There is no “correct” answer because we’re shaped every day whether we know it or not.  Every time you see a news story or read an article and you have a reaction you’re being shaped in some fashion.

The question is do you want to be able to foster that experience or allow it to be spontaneous?  Knowing what shapes you will give you the edge in your wellness strategy because you will look for things to support and expand your belief system and validate, not to mention reinforce your values.  I’ll give you an example.  I have a friend who has become a raw food vegan.  She was a vegetarian, then a vegan and now a raw food vegan.  Why the evolution?  As she dove deeper into her beliefs and values she found that her diet needed to be a part of the big picture.  It wasn’t a chance decision it came from years of personal experience and knowledge about her own body.  The results she reports are truly beneficial.  She not only feels better physically, but she feels more congruent in her mind, body, spirit connection.  She has created harmony within her body and soul and that creates a healing environment.

What has shaped you in the past and how has it manfiested in your life?  What would you like to dive into deeper?  What are the beliefs and values that need support?  How do you feel this will impact your healing?

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

I Have My Eye On You

It’s the beginning of the New Year and many of the commercials on television are for diet programs and gym memberships.  I understand this is the equivalent of the children’s clothing industry’s “back-to-school” season or the candy companies Halloween, but there is a bigger lesson to learn from the mass media messages.  If an industry has a season then they are trying to make you aware, conscious and active on that information.  What are you mindful of in your life when confronted with illness; after all there is no specific season for a diagnosis.

The key thing when confronted by a chronic or life-threatening illness is to develop a watchful eye.  You are the only person who lives in your skin so it’s hard to help if you don’t take stock of all the information available to you.  It’s like the person who diets who needs to be conscious not only of what they eat, but what they buy at the grocery store; it’s a two part process (you can’t eat what you don’t have).

Having a watchful eye means taking a personal physical inventory on a regular basis.  It’s up to you to notice any changes, no matter how slight and convey that information to your medical provider.  It’s also important to have a watchful eye on your emotional and spiritual life.  The research shows that these both play important roles in your journey to wellness.  A watchful eye is about engagement with the process.  I know it’s easy to put the illness out to pasture until it makes a break for the fence, but as they say, keep your friends close and your enemies closer.  I know this isn’t about friends and enemies, but it is about how the mind, body and spirit connection is playing in the sandbox.

Having a watchful eye reduces the number of surprises you experience.  Your level of participation is increased and the body responds to that level of involvement.  How are you keeping a watchful eye on your health?  How do you think it will make a difference in how you experience your illness and how you participate in getting well?  How is having a watchful eye different than how you’re currently handling your health challenge?

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I Felt the Earth Move

Welcome to Caregiver Friday!

What a week it has been, the inauguration of a new President, the confirmation of most of the President’s Cabinet, Executive orders being signed on a daily basis and of course what would the week be without the scoop on what everyone wore to all the ceremonies.  It’s easy to get caught up in all the pomp and circumstance but when the dust settles our lives haven’t changed quite yet…aside from the feeling of encouragement (that’s big).

One of the things about being a caregiver/wellness partner is you live your life like so many Californians who live on the earthquake faults.  There is a something that takes place below the surface of the earth and it’s not until it becomes to unbearable does Mother Nature decide to relieve the pressure with the initiation of an earthquake.  Once the pressure is relieved there is a calm, at least below the surface, and chaos for us humans living on the surface.

How are you handling the ground, physically, emotionally and spiritually continuously shifting under your feet; or in this case in your heart.  Most of us don’t do well with uncertainty and yet caregivers are in a constant state of uncertainty.  At least the patient knows what it feels like to be in their body, but you, the caregiver, are dependent upon a host of people to piece together the experience.

What’s the most difficult aspect of living with uncertainty?  For many caregivers I speak to it interferes with the concept of “the plan”.  “The plan” is the roadmap created to promote one’s own sense of security and stability.  See, we go back to the idea that uncertainty is unnerving.  It’s like walking on the beach and the sand shifting below you, you’re in a constant state of trying to maintain your balance.  How do you do that in the role of the caregiver/wellness partner?

Creating a sense of stability can’t be dependent on anyone but you.  You have an internal desire, need, desire to maintain equilibrium.  It’s this sense of balance that is the bedrock of their sense of self.  Maintaining a sense of surety, at least in one’s own convictions and intentions allows you to create a sense of normalcy, something you may not have experienced since the day of the diagnosis.

If you haven’t attained that sense of stability what one thing can you do today that will move you in that direction?  Is there something or someone you can access who can assist you in stopping the sands from shifting?  When you’re mindful of the ground under your feet, both literally and figuratively, you’ll begin the stabilization process and that reduces your stress and increases your ability to cope with the uncertainty of being a caregiver.

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

A Piece of the Inaugural Address

Last night I was watching Oprah’s show, the day after President Obama’s inauguration.  The two guests I was most taken by were Jon Bon Jovi   and Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.  If you have never read any of Ms. Goodwin’s works I strongly urge you to read her accounts of some of our most famous Presidents.  As the panel was talking they were asked about their favorite moments and each referenced a quote in the inaugural speech.  I realized that even though I watched the speech I missed parts so this morning I printed the speech for review.

Reading the speech I landed on a phrase that caught my attention, “The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history…” .  Can you feel the power in that phrase?  The idea that you can choose a better history is an affirming concept.  It puts you, the person facing a chronic or life-threatening illness in the driver seat.  It promotes the idea that you must seize every moment, every decision and every experience because they are the legacy left behind when you leave this world.

In order to “choose our better history” means you must be present when walking in this world.  It requires that you be in your body, connect the mind, body and spirit on a conscious level and make the connection between cause and effect.  As the person in charge your decisions dictate your actions.  It also means that you are responsible for your actions so make them wisely.  It’s not about correcting mistakes you may feel you’ve made in the past; it’s about starting a new chapter.  It’s the freedom to change the course of your biography to a healthier, more life-affirming direction.

I couldn’t have stated the concept more eloquently so I’m thankful to and for our new President.  Print out the speech and see what resonates for you.  Take it beyond the state of the nation and apply it to the “state of you”.  What was particularly powerful for you?  What struck a nerve?  What will you do differently since being touched by those powerful words?

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Metallurgy and Health

Our country is always looking for sources of energy and one of the industries in the US is mining.  We mostly hear about mining for coal since we need to run our electric plants and heat our homes.  Scientists are looking at other areas, particularly metals and seeing how they can impact your health.  The big health issue in the news is the dramatic increase in hospital infections such as MRSA and C-diff.  These infections can be life-threatening so coming up with new and innovative ideas for curbing the spread of infection is welcomed.

Last Friday, NPR’s Science Friday had a scientist on who was discussing the impact of copper on your health.  We all remember all those folks wearing copper bracelets in hopes of curing arthritis, but as it turns out copper may be bacteria’s worst enemy.

Preliminary studies show that copper and its alloys, brass and bronze, have anti-microbial effects.  In essence, they serve as sanitizers or resistors to infection.  A study is being conducted looking at the impact that having copper covered bed rails, call buttons, etc. will decrease the transmission of life compromising infections.  The study is being conducted at three hospitals: Memorial-Sloan Kettering, The VA in Charleston and MUSC also in Charleston.  The researchers chose three hospitals that have specific populations that might be more prone to these hospital based infections.

It’s this type of research that is working to make hospitals safer.  No one wants to spend any time in a hospital but if you do wouldn’t it be nice to know that your environment isn’t a bigger health risk then the disease that’s challenging you?  Any steps we can take to make the hospital a place that truly works to ward off disease and promote health is a step in the right direction.

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

Wellness Goes Green

We hear a lot about the importance of going Green, using sustainable products.  But research shows that we can go Green or we can go green.  I know you think I’m trying top lay a joke on you but the green I’m talking about are plants.  We know that plants have medicinal qualities, but we’re finding out that they have other benefits as well.

I’ve always thought is was a bit creepy bringing flowers to someone in the hospital.  The idea of bringing someone who is sick something that will die didn’t make any sense.  I understand that it’s part of the cycle of life, but do we have to have it so in our face?

I recently read an article citing the work of researchers at Kansas State University.  The researchers looked at patients have appendectomies and the impact of having plants in their room.  The outcome of the study showed that these patients (with plants in their room) need up to 36% less pain medication than those without plants in their room (we’re talking real plants, not those silk wannabees).  The plants created a more peaceful environment lowering the patients stress level.  We know that stress leads to the body tensing and in turn causing more pain, so reducing stress lowers the bodies inclination to clench and thus needing less pain meds.  I’d bet their anxiety levels were also lower (that’s not scientific, just my guess).

The key point is that something as simple and inexpensive as a live plant can have medicinal value for the body.  It impacts the physical and emotional aspects of care.  We can’t ignore this type of information because the ramifications are too big.  The recommendation in the article is bring a hearty plant because let’s face it, the plant will not be the star of the show in the hospital, it’s playing a supporting role.

Posted in after the diagnosis, authenticity, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Emotional Health, Integrity, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness, Spirituality and Health

Which Way to Run

It’s a big week in the United States; the inauguration of the 44th President.  There have been a number of speeches and parties over the weekend but everyone is waiting for the swearing in of the President and then that’s when the real work begins (of course once we see what Michelle Obama is wearing to the balls).

It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about our nation or our bodies, during difficult times we scramble for answers or solutions to the challenges that we face.  It’s sometimes difficult to know if we’re running away from something or running towards something.  When facing a chronic of life-threatening illness, how do we know which way to run?  The answer is simple, always run towards yourself.

You can’t make a bad decision when you decide to take the time to explore who you are.  You can’t go wrong when you choose to explore your passions and your fears.  The time is never wasted when you review the talents you offer the world.  These are all things that many of us take for granted when we’re healthy, but once hit with the diagnosis come into play in a more conscious way.

If you think of trains running on a track there is often a point where there is a switching station.  This is often where a single track becomes a two lane road so trains in opposite directions don’t collide.  There comes a point following the diagnosis when you are faced with that same switching station.  Many following the diagnosis run away from the illness, that’s natural, but there comes a time when you have to make you the priority.  Getting away from the illness can’t be the motivation because we don’t all get to escape the illness.  Running towards the authentic you will allow you to leave the harsh emotional and spiritual aspects of the illness in the dust.  It will provide a level of understanding and comfort you may never have previously experienced.

What actions will you take the allow you to run in a healthier direction?  How will you know when you’ve made the switch from running away from something to running toward something?  How has it changed your perspective on your illness?