Posted in Caregiving

No Regrets

Welcome to Caregiver Friday!!

One of the key issues that arise while caring for someone with an illness or injury is the uncertainty of the situation.  There have been many occasions when caregivers/wellness partners have been in need of expressing themselves about an issue but are reluctant for fear that what they have to say will make matters worse.  The truth is that it may make things worse, but is that such a bad thing.  It’s unlikely that what you have to say will kill them, but it may make things a bit uncomfortable for a time.

On the other hand, not saying anything makes things uncomfortable for you all the time.  When you don’t express yourself you have an edge in your being.  Your responses in conversations to the person you’re caring for may be short and even with a bit of an attitude.  Your body language becomes less and less open and receptive.  You may not think any of this comes through, but I assure you it’s loud and clear.

I’m not talking about divulging deep  dark secrets that may hurt the other person.  One of the issues that arise in relationships/marriages is that the caregiver may leave saying this isn’t what they signed up for.  Well the truth is no one signs up for the role of caregiver.  It comes as part of the package of love and devotion.  It’s an outgrowth of a relationship.  Yes, we hope that everyone in our lives will live forever and without illness, but that’s not likely.

The other end of the spectrum is when the caregiver feels left out our pushed out by te patient.  This new experience of dependency by the patient on you, the caregiver, at times is overwhelming and the feelings are, at times, too much to handle.  The idea of no regrets is to have an honest relationship because that promotes health and healing for both of you.

A “no regrets” relationship keeps the dialogue going and that’s a healthy step in any relationship.  The “no regrets” relationships makes it so that if the person you’re caring for dies these regrets don’t add to the grief you’ll experience as a result of the loss.  A “no regrets” relationship provides you with freedom to make choices as to the type of caregiver you want to be and are capable of being.  As they say in show business, leave everything you got on the stage, then you won’t have any regrets about what could have been!

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

Art Linkletter’s Wisdom

I’d like to take a moment to honor Art Linkletter who died at the age of 97.  He lived an incredible life but had many hardships along the way.  Even with these hardships: abandoned as a child, one child died of cancer and another committed suicide by jumping out of a window thinking she could fly.  Even with those life events; he committed himself to making us think and making us laugh.

Linkletter’s last book is a how-to book titled, How to make the rest of your life the best of your life”.  So, instead of it being a book title what if we changed it into a question.  How do you make the rest of your life the best of your life?  It’s an important question because no matter where you are on the health-challenge continuum, the question is not only pertinent, but vitally important.

It requires you to make a shift in your thinking.  This question (which Linkletter seems to answer) requires you to emerge from the sludge that holds many of us back from improving our quality of life following an illness diagnosis.  I’ve discussed the difference between curing and healing, and Linkletter’s book title implies a healing world view.  It asks you to come up with solutions.  We know what the problem is, the illness, so being part of the problem (your attitude) is self-defeating.  It’s time to become a part of the solution.  I believe that’s what Art Linkletter was striving for when he wrote this book in 2007 at the age of 94.

Collecting the wisdom of those in the world is about allowing the emergence of your personal wisdom culture to come into being.  It means that as you move forward on your journey to wellness that you pick up bits and pieces that will improve your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.  Emergence of an internal wisdom culture means giving yourself every opportunity investigate your unlived life.  After all Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living”. 

I think that Socrates and Art Linkletter may have been cut from the same cloth on this issue of a personal wisdom culture.  I know that going this inner deep dive will give you the answer to the question, “How will you make the rest of your life the best of your life?”

Posted in art and healing, creativity and health

Everywhere you go your creativity goes with you!

Welcome to Art and Healing Wednesday!!

One of the things I love about using art for healing is that you can create anywhere and out of anything.  I was one of those kids in school who doodled in his notebook all the time.  It’s a practice I continue still today and I make it more fun by having a collection of colorful pens with me at all times.

You don’t need art supplies to create art.  I encourage you to look at the art of Andy Goldsworthy.  Goldsworthy creates art with materials in nature and then lets nature run its course.  His documentary, Rivers and Tides is mesmerizing and inspiring.  He gives you a crash course in making art in and with nature and then being disconnected from the piece because nature will take it back.

If you’d rather create art using art materials you can get mini-art kits that have paint or pencils.  They make sketch pads very small so their portable.  If you have your computer with you that’s one more way to be creative.  You can write, create computer generated art, find clip art and make a collage, the options are endless.

The most important part with any of this is for you to continue telling your story.  Your story is a healing narrative.  It gives you the opportunity to express yourself completely without remorse for the words/pictures/ideas you express.  Create a tune that expresses how you feel and then sing it to the world.  I love music for self-expression.  You can often find me on the pavilion in one of Denver’s parks singing to the mountains.

Abandon the notion that you need an art studio.  Your pockets, purse, backpack, car trunk all work as portable art studios.  The real question is, “Are you willing to tell your story?”

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

What Will Be Your Next Challenge

If you got past the title I’m sure you’re thinking I’m crazy.  You may even be asking yourself, “How could there be a bigger challenge than being diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness?”  I didn’t say a bigger challenge; I said your next challenge.  I can assure you there will always be a next challenge, so you better start preparing for it now!

Life is full of challenges.  It’s these challenges that get us to grow in ways we could previously never have imagined.  Yes, the diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness may be your largest challenge so think about the lessons you’ve taken away thus far.  How have your learned to cope with your diagnosis?  How have you become a better advocate for yourself?  How have your clarified your positions and priorities in your life? 

The questions I just posed are crucial because the way you answered them will be the roadmap for all future challenges.  One of the things I’ve learned from my twenty plus years of working with individuals and families facing a health challenge is that life lessons are generalizable.  We don’t learn a lesson and then can only apply it to a health crisis.  The lessons learned from facing your health challenge are the catalysts for coping and thriving through any challenge.

This isn’t about finding out how life can be ideal; but how life can be fulfilling.  It’s about taking each challenge and taking the lessons you’ve learned to branch out and explore more of your own emotional and spiritual worlds.  It’s about deepening your relationship with yourself.  Once you take on that challenge those lessons will be applied to your relationships with others.  For example, when you learn to treat yourself with loving kindness and compassion; you’ll be more likely to treat others with loving kindness and compassion.

We don’t live in isolation, that’s why our life lessons can be transferred to other arenas of our lives.  Know that your diagnosis isn’t your last challenge.  Know that you have resources yet untapped waiting to aid you in your health and healing.  Know that each challenge gives you clues to increasing your quality of life and making your mark on the world.

Posted in Caregiving

Worried and Waiting

Welcome to Caregiver Friday!!

I’ve been spending a lot of time at Parker Adventist Hospital over the past few weeks.  I’ve hung an art show, moved an art show from one floor to another, and sat with staff planning the multiple art spaces in the hospital.  I’ve had a lot of opportunities to observe those sitting in the many waiting areas of the hospital and without fail the experience is very similar.  Everyone waiting in a hospital is worried.  It doesn’t matter why the person you’re love is there; the natural tendency is to worry.

Worry is an amazing emotion because it saps us of our energy, makes us feel worse, and doesn’t change the outcome for the patient.  Waiting makes us believe that we can stop the hands of time and as long as we don’t move nothing bad will happen.  Ever notice how people are glued to their seats in waiting rooms and it takes a persuasive family member or hospital staff member to encourage the “waiter” to get up, move, and breathe.

Waiting and worrying seem to go hand-in-hand, and yet when we engage in this practice the only person experiencing the anxiety is you.  The patient has their own worries and they aren’t necessarily concerned about the freeze frame of your life in tha moment.  If it’s at all possible, I hope the patient is thinking about the time when they reunite with you and get the hell out of the hospital.

Maybe I should film a documentary called “Waiting and Worrying” because if people actually saw themselves; I wonder if they’d still wait and worry.  The conversations are forced and meaningless.  They often have nothing to do with the truth of the situation which is fear, as if talking about it would make it worse.  If you talked about it someone might be able to help you with it.  Those who are sitting waiting and worrying with you are great for getting coffee and a magazine, but I bet they’d be even better holding your hand and allowing you to be vulnerable in the moment.

I’m not trying to downplay the waiting and worrying experience, but I listened to my mother’s wise words when she told me, “Worrying doesn’t change anything; it only gets in the way”.  I want you to be available to you.  I want you to have the freedom to be vulnerable (even fall apart if you feel called to) while someone else, in this case the hospital staff, is taking care of the patient. 

Waiting and worrying is the worst.  It doesn’t get better no matter how many times you do it so don’t try to become the local waiting and worrying champ.  Be who you are, someone who loves and cares for someone who needs the attention of a team of medical professionals, and someone who needs to be open and honest about their experience.  Your experience is real, don’t minimize it, don’t try to be brave, and most of all allow love to flow and receive it with grace!

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

Fighting or Dancing?

Getting the body to move can often be a struggle depending on your particular health challenge.  When you think about fighting and dancing various thoughts come to mind, but overall being committed to action is important.  We’ve become a culture that commits partially and then we wonder why we don’t get results.  I began thinking about this when I saw a commercial for the remake of the iconic film, The Karate Kid.  The young man is instructed in activities believing they are punishment, but in the end they make him a champ.

So what direction would you like to go?  If you want to fight it requires an enormous amount of resources.  You may have to train before engaging in the fight and it can take a lot out of you making a recovery period a requirement.  Fighting something like a health challenge on the emotional front is another story, but there are better ways of achieving health and healing.

On the other hand, dancing requires finesse.  It requires a new level of grace along with the commitment to the dance.  It means partnering and for many it may not be something you’re familiar or comfortable with in your life.  Dancing requires establishing an emotional and spiritual sense of rhythm.  This new sense of rhythm is the beat of your soul.  It can take you to new levels of consciousness.  This new ability enables you to move in and out of difficult situations with grace.  You become flexible and teachable, important qualities for health and healing.

You always have a choice as to how you will tackle your health challenge.  When you decide to fight it means you’re coming from the place of the victim and you’re fending off evil (to some degree it’s true).  When you’re not sure how to confront your health challenge, dancing provides you with exciting options.  When you dance you’re open to new suggestions and your soul is available for healing energy to enter.

What choice will you make?  Dancing allows you a sense of freedom, releasing you from the ball and chain of your health challenge.  Give yourself the gift of the dance.

Posted in art and healing, creativity and health

Express Yourself!

Welcome to Art and Healing Wednesday!

I attended a lecture at the medical school last week and a friend of mine whose son was at Children’s Hospital (on the campus with the medical school) told me to check out an art exhibit at the hospital.  The art exhibit was done by children/young adults that are in the medical treatment program, a part of the Ponzio Creative Arts Therapy Program. 

The exhibit was called Art-For-Life and it showcased, “one-of-a-kind artworks and performances by 23 students from the medical treatment program and 23 artist mentors”.  The program pairs a student with an artist and they work collaboratively over a period of time.  Beside the work of art is a picture of the pair and a statement about the impact the other person had on them.  It’s a heartwarming display of collaboration and empowerment.

This year’s theme for the exhibit was “journey”; an appropriate theme for kids in a medical treatment program.  Their lives are one continuous journey and all along the way they learn to live their lives within the parameters that are safe and healthy for their condition.  It’s not about making concessions; it’s about living life with vim and vigor.

One of the artists, Sander, stated in his quote about his student, “…the process is interactive, inclusive, collaborative, and therapeutic in nature”.  I read that and felt like I had just read a piece of prose by one of the great writers of our time.  His experience of the collaborative art process was succinct, poignant, and heart-felt.  This is the sense you get from all the artists participating in the program.

The key ingredient of this program lies in its inspiration: healing and mentorship.  Wouldn’t you thrive if you had someone who was willing to walk the path with you and give you guidance along the way?  Wouldn’t you thrive or excel if you had someone vested in your success?  Wouldn’t you thrive if you created art that allowed you to express yourself freely without reservation? 

Find someone who will accompany you on this journey.  You don’t have to be a child for this to make a difference in your health, your attitude, and your relationships.  I’ve spent my adult life serving as a partner in health for clients with chronic and life-threatening illness.  I’ve utilized art as a means of ultimate self-expression in my own life and with clients.  Don’t believe that you have to go it alone; there are plenty of people who will help you express yourself!

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

Good Doctor or Bad Patient?

Ever wonder why we tend to think in extremes?  Life is a continuum so where’s the gray in our black and white culture?  Why have we become at ease praising doctors for our health and blaming patients for the body’s refusal to accept the treatment regimen?  It’s an interesting dilemma and one that often puts patients and doctors at polarized ends of the continuum.

When can we create collaborative ventures?  How can you, the patient, be commended for your commitment and perseverance in striving for health?  How can we command respect from doctors so that our voice can be heard?  I believe that as patients we are just as responsible or our success as our medical team; after all they couldn’t be a success without us!

Why does blame come so easy?  Shouldn’t we be delving deeper into the patients narrative to see why treatments are as successful as we’d like them to be?  Are there parts of the story that we don’t hear, or don’t care to hear?  How could your story unlock the mysteries your medical team needs to propel you toward health and healing?

I know it’s a complicated issue, but medical training is changing.  We as patients have to remember that it could take the better part of a generation for these changing on patient-centric care to become prominent.  The old guard who were trained with the doctor-as-god model are slowly retiring and a new generation of medical professionals are showing up with a more collaborative consciousness. 

The rise of mid-level medical practitioners has been a huge boost to the collaborative mind-set.  Physician’s Assistants (PA) and Nurse Practitioners have led the charge in more interdependency between medical provider and patient.  They’re training emphasized the patient connection and that’s been a blessing for many of us who see multiple doctors.

Success doesn’t get a plus in the doctor’s column, and failure of treatment isn’t the patient’s fault.  If we as humans could negotiate with our cells and organs maybe that would be a different story.  Until that’s possible all you can do is employ health promoting behaviors and be empowered on your journey to wellness.

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

A shining example

I haven’t watched ABC’s Extreme Makeover Home Edition all season, but tonight I decided to watch the season’s final episode.  The Williams family is amazing.  The father, a football coach, is dealing with a diagnosis of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and the son has spina bifida. 

Watching the show I was taken with Jeremy Williams attitude about his illness.  ALS, one of the most devastating diseases on the planet, ravages the body while the mind stays alert.  In this case, Jeremy Williams has a mission deep in his soul that I believe helps him maintain as much of his physical capacity as possible.  

He coaches a football team that last season was undefeated.  He shows his team what can be accomplished against incredible odds by simply choosing to get out of bed and be the leader of this amazing team of young men.  He is committed not only to his family, and his own health, but to the young people he mentors.  Even if they never personally have to fight a health challenge, the lessons they learn from Jeremy Williams will make them successful in each and every endeavor.

He’s clear that the future is uncertain.  He doesn’t know if he’ll be alive a year or two from now, but he’s determined to live each day giving and receiving love.  I thought his wife was eloquent and should be doing commercials for the national caregivers association.  She spoke to the point that others feel that she is shouldering a huge burden having both a husband and a child with challenges.  Her response is that being involved in her husband’s and son’s life in such a caring and loving was is a privilege.  It has allowed her to evolve as a person.

We all need shining examples in our lives, especially when we’re facing the diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness.  We need to know that others are willing and able to share their nuggets of wisdom about living in the moment.  It’s important to have a go-to person who can show you how to follow the ancient Chinese proverb, “Fall down seven times, get up eight”. 

I hold healing energy for the Williams family and hope that every day they spend together is blessed and filled with love!

Posted in Caregiving

If Ashton Kutcher Said It; It Must Be True

Welcome to Caregiver Friday!!

I was watching ABC’s Nightline last night and saw Cynthia McFadden interview Ashton Kutcher.  If you’ve followed Kutcher’s career aside from the movies and television production, you’d know a lot about his commitment to using social media.  He’s one of the most prolific social media celebrities in the world.

One of the things I particularly enjoy is the background story of these noteworthy individuals.  We all know about his rise to stardom from modeling and That 70’s show, but how many know about his personal life?  This is why these types of interviews are important; they show him as a real person not some Hollywood concoction of good look and money.

Did you know that Ashton Kutcher had a twin?  Did you know that his twin brother was born with Cerebral Palsy and a heart condition?  Did you know that his brother Michael needed a heart transplant at age 13?  Well now you know and more importantly it’s his life experience that I want to shine a light on today.

During the interview McFadden asked Kutcher about his relationship with his brother and the guilt he felt having not only a brother, but a twin with health challenges.  Aside from the guilt there’s always the feeling of pity that enters the picture, but during their talks, Kutcher’s brother Michael said something profound, he said, “Don’t feel sorry for me because it make me feel less than”.  These are phenomenal words of wisdom.

This is one of those times when I’m going to ask you to look in the mirror and ask yourself, “Do I feel sorry for the person I’m caring for?”  It’s a common human emotion and if you’ve listened to as many stories about health challenges as I have over the past twenty-four years then you’d know that pity and feeling sorry comes up a lot in the dialogues.

What if you didn’t feel sorry for the person with the illness?  What if by relieving yourself of feeling sorry you were also releasing the patient from feeling less than?  It makes sense that when you feel less than you feel helpless and hopeless short-circuiting the healing powers of the body.  So how can you abandon feeling sorry for the other person?

The other part about abandoning feeling sorry for the person you’re caring for is the freedom you’ll experience.  When you don’t feel sorry or pity for the other person you can be more present with them.  You’re relationship will improve because it’s not about having an unequal balance of perceived power (your health).  It’s not about feeling superior because you’re healthy.  It’s about being healthy and with that health partnering with the patient to live with the most quality of life possible.

We think of Ashton Kutcher as this movie star, but I think of him as a guy who has had extraordinary life experiences with health issues and has used these pearls of wisdom to become a more empathic human being.  His devotion to humanitarian causes is proof of this empathy.