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

Is There Any Escape From Suffering

Suffering is a funny thing because, not literally, but it’s something we see all around us, but don’t necessarily know how to change.  I was watching American Idol last night and they had their annual Idol Gives Back episode.  They told amazing stories about hope, compassion, and collaboration.

If we follow the story of the Buddha, it wasn’t until he was an adult that he encountered suffering.  His life had been sheltered and full of privilege, but once he left the safety and security of the palace walls the reality of life, and it hit hard.  He endured a tremendous amount of suffering in order to achieve enlightenment and his perseverance had been the north star for many a follower.

What we get from The Buddha is that we all suffer.  I know that you believe your suffering began when you were diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness, but you probably were suffering on more subtle levels prior to crossing the illness threshold.  What causes suffering?  Our attachments are at the root of our suffering.  I bet you’re wondering what you’re attached to.

We’re all attached to our identity as a person who has their health.  That saying, “but I was healthy before I was sick”, says it all.  The fact that we live with what was instead of what is causes suffering.  This isn’t about accepting a health challenge, but knowing and understanding your health challenge and the actions requires to attain health and healing.

There’s a famous saying, “Pain is inevitable, but misery is optional”.  For many facing a chronic or life-threatening illness it’s the misery level that can be controlled, but we place it in the category of something happening to us, instead of us colluding with it.  What do you want to change about your level of misery?  How would you like to change your story?  Can you escape from suffering?

Posted in art and healing, creativity and health

Theatre to the Rescue

Art and Healing Wednesday…

There’s nothing like going to see live theatre.  The stories are provocative, entertaining, and engaging.  Actors put their heart and soul into the characters bringing them to live in magical ways.  Sometimes we can find an art form that bridges entertainment and meaning.  It brings about social and cultural messages and we related to them.

The other thing that theatre can do is teach.  It may not be on Broadway, but theatre companies across the country have created theatre pieces to bring about important lessons about everything from obesity to teen pregnancy.  Why is it so powerful?

We feel connected to live performance.  The actors feed off the audience and the excitement, drama, hilarity put forth by the actors is palpable.  There’s an inter-connectedness that creates an energy of mutuality and healing.  If the theatre piece has a moral to it then all the better, especially if you’re entertaining young children.  There it is; theatre reaches people at all levels of economics, cultural, spiritual, age, gender, etc.  It’s a universal language.

Look for theatre that provides laughter if you’re experiencing pain of malaise.  Norman Cousins, watching Three Stooges movies found that a good belly laugh gave him periods of pain-free sleep.  Sometimes the theatre piece brings out loud the questions you’ve been asking yourself.  At other times they play devil’s advocate, something I’m always in favor of no matter the discussion.

There’s a lot to choose from, so watch two theatre productions and call me in the morning!

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

Lost and Found

I was watching a documentary on PBS on The Buddha.  It was narrated by Richard Gere and was interspersed with various experts on Buddha.  Jane Hirshfield, a poet, said, “To gain everything, you first must lose everything”.  That’s a powerful statement and it has taken me two weeks to play with the idea, allowing it to bubble within my brain and my soul.  Want to know what rose to the top?

When diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness many feel as if they’ve lost everything.  This is based on that saying, “When you have your health you have everything”, but that saying doesn’t take hold for many till they or someone they know gets sick.  I guess the first thing I wonder is, “Is health and illusion?”.  Doctors and scientists say we all have cancer cells in our bodies at all times and until one goes awry we may never know, so up till that point are we well or are we sick? 

What I have figured out is that your health is important; that’s why we strive for health and healing.  The thing we have to lose to gain everything is the false self.  That persona we put out to the world hoping for acceptance, acknowledgment, and validation.  When we allow ourselves to be who we are those we attract will be attracted to our authentic self, not someone playing a role.  Your relationships will be better, longer lasting, and deeper.  That’s gaining everything.

We have to give up the idea that we’re victims to our health and become empowered.  What you’ll find is that when you’re empowered in one area of your life it begins to creep into other areas of your life.  That’s gaining everything.

When we stop thinking that the body is separate from the mind and spirit we turn a corner.  Integrating our body, mind, and spirit allows us to build endurance for the journey to wellness.  This integration is important for reclaiming your health and your life.  That’s gaining everything.

These are just a few of the things we have to give up to gain everything.  I’m wondering what you’ve had to lose in order to gain everything?  This is a rich discussion that I hope you’ll join.

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

What Keeps You Imprisoned?

An illness diagnosis makes us vulnerable to our environment, in our relationships, and to a profession that is there to help us navigate these difficult times.  When it comes right down to it, our harshest critic is usually ourselves, and finding a way to give yourself some room to breathe is important for health and healing.

On the journey to wellness there are those experiences that keep us in a holding pattern in our lives.  The question is do you know what holds you locked in that circling pattern?  Our own thoughts are usually the key factor in what keeps us imprisoned or frees us to explore new opportunities.

When facing a health challenge the idea of being locked into a mindset is frustrating.  It creates doubt in ourselves as well as those who trying to provide care and support.  Too many times people feel like they’ve been given a sentence and unfortunately they don’t ee any parole in sight. 

Hope is  the key to unlocking those menacing thoughts that keep you doubting your ability to heal (notice I said heal and not cure…they’re not the same).  We can create opportunities that will allow us to gain control over our own lives, decrease our feelings of isolation, and at every turn work to improve our quality of life.

I didn’t say it was going to be easy, but nothing worth having or achieving every is, so what will you do free yourself from this often self-imposed bondage?  What new things will you try that will set your body, mind, and spirit free to explore opportunities that will improve your attitude, increase your physical, mental, and spiritual endurance and if nothing else, make you laugh.

The diagnosis is the start of a journey and as with everything else in your life you have a choice.  You can sit in prison wasting away figuratively and maybe literally or in the words of one of my favorite singing groups, Sugarland, you can stand up and say, “There’s got to be more than this!”.  What will it be?  Let me know your choice and let’s see how together we can keep you motivated to continue on your journey to wellness.

Posted in Caregiving

Did The Three Musketeers Have it Right?

Welcome to Caregiver Friday!!

The story is one of the most empowering ways we’ve come to communicate in our modern society.  It doesn’t matter if the story is spoken, written, or artfully transmitted…it’s powerful.  It’s for this reason that finding the lessons in other’s stories is mesmerizing.  Even when we’re talking about fiction the author’s beliefs and values creep into the essence of the work.

The Three Musketeers were famous for saying, “One for all, and all for one”.  What if that were everyone’s motto, would the world be different?  The answer is a loud YES, but since we don’t have control over everyone in the world; we’ll all simply have to be responsible for ourselves.

The idea that we’re all in this together is important for you, the caregiver/wellness partner, because it’s easy to fall into the trap of isolation and world on your shoulders.  It’s important that the person you’re caring for be on your team as much as you’re on theirs.  I know this may sound like a lot to expect, but sometimes it’s up to us to create the culture of mutuality.  When someone is facing a health challenge it’s too easy to get caught up in your own life and only your life.  Developing the capacity and the expectation that this journey to wellness is two sides of the same coin will save you lots of grief and bring you together instead of dividing the two of you.

Wouldn’t it be fun to stand in the middle of your lawn or at the park and shout out, “All for one and one for all”?  Others may think you’ve lost it, but the truth is that however you say it, it needs to be a declaration.  It’s not about negotiation, but collaboration. It’s important that you and the patient don’t try to compete for who’s worse off, or who is shouldering most of the burden.  A health challenge impacts everyone in the family, so living the motto of the Three Musketeers is the mantra that will help catapult you and your loved one toward health and healing.

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

It’s Time to Be the Quarterback

Once you received your diagnosis did you find that everyone has an opinion?  Did you get bombarded with stories about friends with the same health challenge or anecdotes about stories in the news?  It’s common when people learn you have a chronic or life-altering illness to dig deep and come up with information they believe will help you on your journey to wellness.  I know it’s overwhelming at times when the truth is everyone is simply trying to help.

Once you receive this informal data in addition to all the information you’ve accumulated from your medical team and we can’t forget all the information on the internet it’s time to take action.  This is the time when you put all the information into the pot and distill it into what’s essential.  Upon distilling the information it’s time to call the play. Yes, when you were diagnosed you were promoted from team player to quarterback. 

Perhaps you were the person in the past offering information in hopes of helping a family member of friend through a health challenge, but now the responsibility is yours.  It can be frightening but listening to everyone is beneficial because it allows you to make a choice based on informed consent.  These decisions, although may not work all the time are the best choices because they come from within; that wisdom that comes from knowing your own body, mind, and spirit.

It’s easy to be the one giving advice, but the real work comes when you have to take that advice and craft it into something you believe in that will promote health and healing.  The good part is that new information is becoming available on a daily basis.  Finding a reliable source for updates related to your diagnosis is a great place to start.  I highly encourage you to join the organization devoted to your specific diagnosis.  This is no time for generalities because although illnesses may look similar they all have their specific nuances.

Being the quarterback can be intimidating but having a sense of control over your life is critical to being an empowered patient.  When you’re empowered you’re more inclined  to make choices that work in harmony with your body, mind, and spirit propelling you into the end zone!

Posted in art and healing, creativity and health

Do We Have to Have a Stroke to Become Creative?

Welcome to Art and Healing Wednesday…

I found an article in the New York Daily News that talks about Tommy McHugh, a sixty year old handyman and street fighter who had a massive brain hemorrhage.  Upon emerging from his coma, McHugh got this creative streak.  This creative streak had led him to begin transforming everything he can into works of art.  It seems the hemorrhage unleashed his creativity. 

McHugh not only pains, but writes poetry, sculpts and carves.  So what happened?  Neuroscientists are thinking that the changes in his temporal lobe unleashed this streak of creativity.  It’s giving these scientists some clues into where creativity resides in the brain.  The real news, for me, is that McHugh has embraced his artistic side and lives in it like a pig in mud.  It’s an opportunity for him to express his deepest emotions following the hemorrhage.  This new view of life is not only prettier, but it is freeing.  There’s a new purpose in his life and it gets expressed through his art.

Why is this important?  It’s clear that one of the ways we unleash ourselves from the shackles of a health challenge is ultimate self-expression.  It doesn’t matter the form of the creative expression, but the feelings and experiences need to be expressed.  Sharing your story with the world is empowering, uplifting, and promotes wellness.  It provides the body with positive feedback reducing stress and allowing the body to devote its resources to health and healing.

The other aspect of art as a healing force is that it’s enveloping.  It provides a safe haven for body, mind, and spirit to express those parts of oneself that may be too painful or not yet conscious.  When you unearth the junk you make room for the healing energy to emerge and work on the bodies healing mechanisms.

McHugh’s life has changed drastically.  He is opening a free gallery for amateur artists to show their work.  Let’s hope he encourages those who emerge from an illness or injury to follow in his footsteps and express, express, express!

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

Is Driving When Ill Dangerous?

You may be thinking that the title of this post actually refers to the act of driving.  I don’t have any opinions or data on illness or driving, but I am referring to driving in the metaphorical sense.  When we drive one of the tools that keeps us safe is the rear view mirror.  We’re taught to check it regularly and we use so we’re aware of our surroundings.  Is there a problem with the rear view mirror?

The only problem is that many following their diagnosis of a chronic or life-altering illness keep looking in the rear view mirror and the only thing they see is what’s behind them…the past.  When you look in the rear view mirror what you’ve passed becomes smaller and smaller until it vanishes and is only a memory.  I often wonder if we look in the rear view mirror hoping that as long as we can get a glimpse of our lives before our diagnosis that we can retain some of that illusion of perfect health. 

The other problem with focusing on your rear view mirror is that you’re not paying attention to what’s in front of you.  What opportunities are you missing to heal the body, mind, and spirit connection?  What opportunities for optimistic thinking are you passing and once you pass them and you see them in the rear view mirror they become pessimistic thoughts.  Optimists have greater odds at health and healing according to numerous reports and studies so it’s something to grab hold of tightly.

The other difficult situation when you focus on the rear view mirror is that it’s dangerous.  When you’re not engaged as an active driver of your life accidents happen.  I’m not talking about hitting a tree, at least not literally.  I am talking about crashing, and for many with a health challenge that’s an emotional crash.  We can’t afford the luxury of a negative thought so keeping your eyes front and center is critical on your journey to wellness.

Posted in Caregiving

Company for the Journey

Welcome to Caregiver Friday!!

I encourage people to watch television because I believe, in some cases, it mirrors pop or current culture back to us in profound ways.  I keep a pen and pad near me while I watch television because undoubtedly I hear a quote that sparks a thought that lingers and teases me into further consideration.  So what did I hear?  I’m paraphrasing, but here it is…”We are born alone and we die alone and in the middle we gather company for the life we live”.  How does that fit with your life as a caregiver/wellness partner?

Companies talk about acquisitions so why don’t we think about that in our daily lives?  It’s not about taking over someone else’s life, but integrating the energy of others and acknowledging that we’re interdependent.  Just as the person with the injury or illness relies on you, you need others to rely on.  You need “your” people; those who will provide the company you need for deep discussion or simple contemplation.  It doesn’t matter; just knowing your part of a tribe is incredibly empowering and healing.

We don’t often talk about healing for the caregiver/wellness partner, but healing is an important aspect for maintaining compassion.  It’s not possible for you not to be triggered by what’s happening with the person you love.  It’s not possible not to wonder if you got sick who would do this for you?  We’re human and we all have primal fears about death and dying, as well as pain and suffering.

When you have company for the journey you can discuss these thoughts and know that it’s not taboo to have these thoughts, but it punctuates your humanity.  It doesn’t matter how you go about gathering company for the journey, but having the notion that the lone ranger is not in your best interest is a big step.

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

Are We Acting Like Cancer Cells?

There is no denying that we are interdependent with the Earth.  She is the mother of our existence and without her we wouldn’t survive as a species.  Life on this planet has certainly changed over time and with all the talk about climate change and changing environments is it any wonder that the number of people being diagnosed with chronic and life-threatening illness is on the rise?  Wouldn’t you think that our life as a species mirrors that of the planet?  I know there are some doubters out there, but that’s the position I’m putting forth.

I was reading Michael Dowd’s book,  Thank God for Evolution, and in the book is a comment made by an audience member at one of his talks.  This is what the audience member said,

 “I’m an oncologist,  I work with cancer patients every day.  From my vantage point we are inadvertently destroying our larger body because we lack evolutionary guidance.  We’re acting like cancer cells, rather than immune cells.” 

He continued, “A cancer cell is a normal cell that, for one reason or another, loses its genetic memory.  Cut off from the wisdom of millions of years of developmental guidance, it stops cooperating with the rest of the body.  It experiences itself as separate from the body, overpopulates, and proceeds to consume the very organism that supports it. 

The man pauses, and then asked rhetorically, “We call our society a consumer society, and to consume something is to eat it up, right?  I believe we are consuming the planet because, like cancer cells, we’ve been trying to live without evolutionary wisdom.”

Even if you don’t have cancer, there’s a bigger question.  Are you acting like an immune cell or a diseased cell?  This is an important distinction because it means that as an immune cell you’re engaged in activities that build resilience and foster an environment conducive to health and healing.  As an immune cell you would be engaging in activities that continuously and aggressively combat intruders that try to derail you from the journey to wellness.  It means you have to work hard because immune cells have a tough job keeping out the intruders.

As with anything and everything in your life you have choices to make.  You can go with the wisdom of the mind, body, and spirit and act like an immune cell or you can play the odds and be freewheeling and reckless.  You can give yourself every opportunity to engage in health and healing practices or you can abandon your body thinking or believing that your fate is already sealed.

Immune cells have a difficult job, but I believe we’re all up to the task of promoting health and healing.  There is an evolutionary consciousness that has gotten us (humans) to this point in our evolution and to abandon that knowledge and wisdom negates millions of years of evolutionary vision.  Be an evolutionary visionary and act like an immune cell.