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

Why Do We Look for the How To?

Everyone feels confident when they are employing the use of an instruction manual.  They provide detailed information on how to take care of any issue in digestible steps.  I love when the instructions read “so easy a child can do it” because that’s when I enlist the help of friends with PhD’s in engineering to help with the task.  What may seem easy to some can be very difficult for others depending on whether you’re a left or right brain dominant individual.  Left brain people are more analytical and technical in their thought patterns.  Right brain people are often more creative and big picture types.  Either way the instruction manual is something you seek because it makes life easier; that is until you got your illness diagnosis.

Ever go to a bookstore and look at all the books that tell you “how to” tackle a health issue?  The problem comes when you try and juggle too many of these at the same time and you feel conflicted because the opinions may be contradictory to one another.  You have to remember that those writing the book are speaking of their experience.  When the books are written in the first person what you’re reading is their experience and it may not be generalizable to anyone outside of themselves. 

Illness is a highly personal experience.  The “how to” in illness is often in the medical arena where there are gold standard treatments for each diagnosis.  Even with science, not everyone will be helped by the treatments because each person is uniquely unique.  So where do you turn if the “how to” isn’t the place to find the answers?  Turning within is where you will find an unlimited supply of love and energy.  It’s the place that is a wellspring of questions focused on getting you to think deeper about your own level of consciousness and it’s impact on your health.

Too many people are looking for what meaning their illness holds and I’m not sure that meaning is the goal.  I believe that self-understanding is the goal.  The illness, if you are a conscious being, asks deep questions you may not have considered since childhood.  These inquiries are not to discourage you, but to challenge you to think more expansively about your life.  When facing a health challenge, do you really want a “how to” book?  You’re much more resourceful so keep asking the questions and listen closely for the answers.

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

No Guarantees

Well let’s hope that this week is better than last week regarding the death of some of America’s most prominent personalities.  It’s amazing that even when someone is ill; their death is a surprise.  It’s not about denial but the hope that we can actually revel in the possibility of being wrong.

They say that tragedy occurs in threes so last week we had the death of Ed McMahon, Farah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson.  The first two the public knew that death wasn’t too far based on news stories.  Obviously for the world, the death of Michael Jackson came as a complete surprise, except to him (according to blog posts by Lisa Marie Presley).

What can we understand when an 80 year old, 60 year old, and 50 year old die?  We learn that none of us were guaranteed a certain number of years to live.  We are shown that the rich and famous all have to die just like the rest of us.  We become curious about not only the cause of death, but how we as humans understand what death entails and how we hope we would respond if in the same situation.

The stories of the three celebrities demonstrates both the journey of the long struggle and the instantaneous nature of death.  Depending on your age you may become scared because if it could happen to a 50 year old and you’re approaching the big “5” “0” then you may begin wondering about your own mortality. 

When facing a health challenge whether it be chronic or life-threatening we wonder if we can endure all the test that will be presented to us on our journey to wellness.  It doesn’t matter what your response as long as you have a response.  It’s like opinions, everyone has one.  Your reaction means you’re still in the land of the living.  It means that you are fortified with the hope that health is still possible.  You’re ability to take these deaths as lessons not as forecasting your own future means you get to rewrite your story today!

Posted in Caregiving


Welcome to Caregiver Friday!

Who wouldn’t like a little R & R?  We love the idea but even in the best of times we find ways to fill our days with endless chores and activities.  When caring for someone with a chronic or life-threatening illness the idea of R & R takes on a whole new meaning.  It’s no longer simply for fun; we’re talking about sanity.

It’s not unusual for caregivers/wellness partners whose loved one is in hospice to receive respite care.  The truth is that respite is always important whether the person is newly diagnosed or on their death bed.  It’s about being able to step away knowing that the person is cared for and for a moment in time, however brief, you’re not responsible.  Can you hear me….for a moment in time you can release the reins and just be you, not the role you play as a caregiver.

I know that many caregivers feel guilty about respite.  When we got respite care for my mother-in-law so she could go out leaving a trained professional with my father-in-law we were shocked by the outcome.  She would sit at home while the respite worker was there.  It wasn’t because she didn’t trust the respite worker; I don’t think she knew what to do with herself or where to go.  She’d already been caring for my father-in-law at home for ten years.  The idea of having freedom was daunting.

Don’t wait until you’re at wits end to look into some type of respite care.  It doesn’t reflect on your intention or ability as a caregiver.  I’m not sure the saying what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger is always accurate.  In a lot of cases I think what doesn’t kill you leaves you totally exhausted.  If you’re that’ tired who are you really able to help?

Embrace respite care as your lifeline.  It will provide you time and opportunity to recharge your battery, relax, and who knows maybe even go out and have a good time doing something you love.  Martyrdom isn’t attractive; learn to use the resources that are available in the community.  You’ll be doing everyone involved a favor!

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

Life is Full of Snapshots

The newest  phenomenon to become a dinosaur in our culture  is Kodak’s Kodachrome film.  In the age of digital film is used less and less, but this film can be tagged with lots of memories you’re probably familiar with from the pages of National Geographic and other magazines.  Today because of technology we choose to get our results with the push of a button, but one thing stays the same…life is full of snapshots.

Every memory in your mind is snapshot.  It contains people, places, and things that are of importance to you.  They represent your feelings, thoughts, and emotions and those memories surface every time you call them to the foreground of your consciousness.

When diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness many choose to push the personal photo album to the far places in their mind.  You are afraid that recalling what once was has no bearing on the life you’re living today when in fact it is the cornerstone of every new snapshot you take.

We all live life looking through a lens.  Following the diagnosis your lens may alter slightly, but who you are is still the same.  Your memories are the same as are the stories you’ve told for years.  The new photos are not simply images, but reflections.  Following your diagnosis you begin to shift from simply taking snapshots to creating your personal photo-journalistic point of view.  It’s not simply about the picture, but the story that is filled with light and shadow that allows you to reinterpret your new life.

You get to choose the lens you will use for this journey.  You may use a telephoto lens in order to get close up to things that are far and you want to keep at a distance.  A fish eye lens may give you enough distortion to make what’s difficult more palatable.  No matter the lens you use selecting it with intention is at the crux of your internal photo-journalistic journey.

It’s your choice how you see the world.  After an illness diagnosis the lens you choose will impact your treatment options, your attitude, and how you live each and every day.  Don’t go the way of the dinosaur; keep your snapshots in the present and glory in each and every frame of your life.

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

Light and Shadow

Light and shadow are two things artists take very seriously when creating a new piece of work.  It’s the aspects of the piece that give the work dimension adding to the complexity of the work.  Balancing the two gives us depth and punctuates certain aspects of the art.  It’s an interesting thing to play with not only in art, but in your everyday life.

When you’re faced with a chronic or life-threatening illness you get submerged in the dark, at least for a time.  The big question that bubbles to the surface is how do you bring light into your own picture?  How will you create an internal checks and balance system allowing your to elevate your spirit with light?

The first step is to know what brings light into your life.  Is it personal relationships, humor, or some form of ultimate self-expression?  It may be all or a combination of those, so use whatever you have in your life palette to let the shadows be where they belong; in the background.

Your life is the greatest masterpiece you will ever create.  Even if you don’t believe you have a creative bone in your body, believe that being a life artist counts.  It’s those moments when you make conscious decisions about what comes to the foreground and what stays in the background…those are big decisions.  It’s deciding when to highlight something as important; that’s an artistic decision.

Creating your personal life masterpiece is not difficult.  You do it on a daily basis but most of the time it’s like being on auto-pilot.  Take each day as a new canvas and decide what you want to showcase during the day.  Rembrandt was one of the artists that played with light in powerful ways; often against very dark backgrounds.  His skill at working with light gives power to each piece and draws you closer to the work.  That’s what happens in your life as well; when you exude light it draws those around you in closer.

Play with light and shadow in your own life and see what artistic masterpiece you can create.  It’s a great way to showcase who you are in the world and will garner tons of support from family and friends when you need the most, while facing a health challenge.

Posted in Caregiving, Uncategorized

Do You See a Pattern?

Welcome to Caregiver Friday!

I’m a textile artist so I’m always intrigued by patterns.  I find interesting patterns in magazines, clothing, and nature.  Now let’s take the idea of patterns to a different level and look at the patterns we live or re-live in our lives.  As a psychotherapist for the past 20+ years I can tell you patterns are the client’s personal gold mine.  These patterns hold lots of information and can once acknowledged and addressed can change your life forever.

What pattern am I talking about?  The pattern of caregiving.  Don’t get me wrong I believe with all my heart that caregiving is a gift, it’s noble, and is a sign of your love and affection.  I also believe that people who become caregivers often have a long history of caregiving.

I’ll give you some personal examples to make my point.  My sister-in-law is in Canada (she lives in Texas)  because her father had open heart surgery yesterday.  She’s the anointed caregiver.  I love my brother with all my heart, but I can assure you that I know I’ve already been anointed the caregiver for our parents if and when the time comes they need that extra attention or support.

It would be easy if we could simply find the caregiving gene and blame it on that, but that doesn’t seem to  be the case.  So are we groomed to be caregivers from an early age?  What is it that put the neon sign over our head anointing us the caregiver?  I believe that what others pick up on is our level of sensitivity.  A good caregiver is in tune to the energy surrounding the patient as well as their own vibrations.  They almost have this knack for anticipating the needs of others and that can be witnessed from a very early age.  A butt load of compassion doesn’t hurt and that can be witnessed early on in childhood.

I don’t know whether it’s possible to turn the caregiving frequency off or whether you would ever want to turn it off; but knowing it exists is important.  Understanding your desire and  maybe even need to be of service is like a beacon to those in need of caregiving.  I focus on health challenges, but the caregiving role can be found in a multitude of arenas.

All I ask is that you pay attention to the patterns and make all your decisions from a conscious vantage point.  Save yourself a lot of pain and suffering by being mindful of when you become a caregiver, how often you become a caregiver and what role caregiving plays in your own life.

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

There Are No Dress Rehearsals

Funny thing about life is that it doesn’t come with an instruction manual and you don’t get a dress rehearsal before you have to give the performance of your life.  We constantly hear that practice makes perfect, but when it comes to life we only get one take so we have to do our best with our one chance.

Following the diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness it’s easy to want another take in the living documentary of your life.  You’ve probably gone over every scenario throughout your life looking for the one moment when your body decided to have a mind of its own leaving you living a life without a script. 

You don’t get a staff room full of writers who will write your lines, provide stunt doubles, or make sure that the light is hitting you at the most flattering angle.  When you’re dealing with a health challenge the footage is raw because it’s real.  It’s the truth and the truth isn’t always pretty.  Health challenges and the role of the patient is the toughest part you’ll ever have to play. 

What provides strength is all your previous life experience.  Every success, achievement, and accomplishment can be used as a foundation for the next scene you have to play; that of a person moving toward health and healing.  This isn’t the time for you to assume a character; it’s the point in your life when you have to be the most authentic.  You’re required to be in your body, honor your emotions, and utilize every ounce of spiritual peace you can muster.

It would be great if life came with guarantees and dress rehearsals, but living life with only one take requires you to be in the moment.  When you’re distracted time vanishes before your eyes.  Living in the place of “what if” is the dream, not the reality.  You can work toward making your dreams a reality by complying with your healthcare regimen and creating a dialogue between mind, body and spirit.

Living life in one take is freeing because you don’t ever have to over think it; you just live it!

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

Are You a Life Gardener?

It’s that time of year when many start playing in the dirt planting their gardens.  For many it is the re-affirmation of life while at the same time giving them the opportunity to commune with nature.  It’s not only about beauty, but it’s also about sustenance for those who plant vegetables.  Before heading to the garden you have to assess the perennials you already have and the annuals you want to plant.  The planting of annuals is the gift proclaiming life.

Surprisingly, there’s no difference between gardening in the dirt and gardening in the earth of your soul.  When you create your life garden you can come up with any design as long as the theme is health and healing.  Every time you plant a plant you support life.  When you plant something in your life garden you are setting life-affirming energy in motion.  Being a life gardener allows you to design your life in a way that is aesthetically appealing and soul soothing.

As with any garden balance is important.  You have to first decide if you’re planting for form or function?  Are you planting so your life looks good or are you planting ideas, emotions, and beliefs in your life garden so you’ll feel good?  If you’re a comedian you’ll follow the old saying from Billy Crystal, “It’s better to look good than to feel good”; we know that to be false.  Having the right tools will make life gardening easier.  It requires you to think about scale and perspective of the things you want to accomplish.  You’ll need to make sure that your life seeds get sufficient nutrients and light to reach their full potential.

You’ll need to figure out how you will fertilize your life garden?  Do you feel fulfilled when you are around those you love, engage in activities you enjoy, or commune with nature?  Whatever you choose it’s important that you fertilize your life garden on a regular basis.  Depletion of physical, emotional, and spiritual nutrients creates an empty human/spiritual vessel.

There is nothing more beautiful than a flourishing life garden.  Choosing to become a life gardener is an exciting adventure; one that will leave you feeling in control and enthusiastic about what life has to offer.

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

Cool Running and Hope

Since the time of recorded history there have been life lessons presented that can be generalized to all areas of your life.  The media, all forms, serves as the communications director and lead teacher in dispersing the most important lessons.  You may believe that you have nothing to learn from popular culture and I would say you’re very wrong.  Popular culture is the ultimate lesson planner of our day.  It punctuates the themes the collective unconscious is screaming about.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that hope is one of those issues.

When the movie “Cool Running” came out in 1993 everyone found it “cute”.  The idea that Jamaica could have a bobsled team was amusing and puzzling all at the same time.  What would make a group of Jamaicans think that they could not only take up the sport of bobsledding but believe in their hearts that they could have a chance at winning a medal at the Olympics.  Some may call it delusional, but if you look deeper what you see is that the winning didn’t have to wait for the Olympics; it happened the day they put their heart and soul into forming the team and beginning their practice.

These courageous athletes had a vision for what they wanted to accomplish and set out to achieve that goal.  So where does that leave us on the pop culture question?  What lesson can you learn from this group of individuals?  You can rest assured that the key lesson is hope.  The hope is in the realm of what’s possible and when facing a health challenge can you think of anything more important than hope?  You can reduce it down to the smallest common denominator and focus on the art of possibility.  Every time you believe that health and healing is possible you mobilize your physical, emotional, and spiritual forces to rev their engines.

Hope is a key component on your journey to wellness.  The moment you let down your defenses with doubt you give negative energy a doorway to walk through and that’s not beneficial to your health.  The next time you’re exhausted and possibly feeling defeated; think of those Jamaicans who had a vision.  Cut out pictures of a bobsled and superimpose it on a picture of a beach and reap the rewards of hope.

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

Brainstorming or Blame-storming?

One of the key components to hope is the ability to look for options every step of the way.  The alternatives you’re looking for may be related to treatment, emotional attachments, attitude, or spiritual acceptance.  Every creative person at one point in their life has been involved in brainstorming as a way to get the creative juices flowing.  It’s that energy that gives you the energy you need to continue coming up with options when facing a health challenge.

The key to brainstorming is to unlock the inhibitions we all have regarding our own ideas.  The key to a good brainstorming session is to allow everyone involved the freedom to express themselves without restriction, criticism, or self-doubt.  The glory of brainstorming comes after the session when you realize the unlimited capacity for answers to your questions that arises from the collaborative efforts with friends, family, and even providers.

The trouble for some is that instead of brainstorming they view their diagnosis from the victim’s role and begin a blame-storming session.  It’s about finding the fault in all aspects of the illness journey.  As this person spends their time spinning their wheels blaming the world, opportunities for health and healing are passing them by with no chance of benefiting from what they have to offer.  The blame-storming session gives the patient the license to be obstinate, combative, and often very angry.  Do you really believe that anger is the magic elixir for health and healing?

The problem is that blame-storming is an easy place to reside.  It means you don’t have to take responsibility for any aspect of your health.  Blame-storming gives you the ultimate card in the martyr deck.  If you’re good at blame-storming, it’s easy to get others to buy into your blame sessions, providing an opening for those “poor me” sessions to evolve.  Blame-storming holds you back at a point in your life when forward should be the only direction you desire and accept. 

Don’t become one of “those” patients the ones where the medical staff sees you name on the appointment schedule and is bummed out by the appearance of your name.  Don’t become one of “those” patients who runs around doubting every aspect of your care.  Don’t become one of “those” patients by settling for anything but enormous opportunities for health progression, not health regression.  Brainstorming is a freeing experience and provides you with unlimited opportunities for exploration of your inner and outer worlds.