Posted in art and healing, creativity and health

All The World’s A Stage…

Welcome to Art and Healing Wednesday!!

Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”  Are you constantly performing in life?  When we get out of bed every day are acting or are you authentic?  Does it even matter?  I ask these questions because as I was tooling around the internet I was looking for one of my television programs on Lifetime and on Lifetime’s website was the following quote, “Life is Your Stage…Perform.”  It made me start thinking about the different ways we can live our lives, especially after being diagnosed with a chronic or other life-altering illness.

One of the great things I remember about acting in high school is that you get to be someone else, sometimes from exotic places or a different period in history, for a short period of time.  You get to try on a role and see if it fits.  Unfortunately, that’s not the case after an illness diagnosis, you only get to play a well person; and even sometimes that’s difficult. 

I remember people who were quite ill who were waiting for a particular event that had meaning in their lives, holding off death so they be part of the celebration or occasion.  I wonder now if they had slipped into the role of the warrior to keep themselves strong enough to be part of the momentous occasion.  There are those who take on the roles to gain sympathy or support.  I believe when you take on that role, unless your performance is flawless (don’t think even Meryl Streep can do that) your true self comes through and you are found out.

Now let’s look at the health benefits to “performing”.  There are times when taking on a role you forget your cares and woes.  You can transport yourself to another place and time, or simply perform as your “well” self.  I believe that when we do that we remind the body, mind, and spirit of what it was like when we held that authentic place.  It gives our physical, mental, and spiritual essence the ability to reflect on what it was like before the diagnosis so we can strive to get back to that place, or as close as we can given our circumstances.

There are lots of arenas where “performing” is a part of the culture.  The 12-Step programs have a slogan, “Fake it till you make it” and the Mental Research Institute ( one of the nation’s premier and forward thinking psychological treatment groups) used to train psychotherapists in the idea of acting “As If”.  These “performances” spark possibility.  They allow you to try on the role to see how it fits.  I don’t know anyone who would encourage you to put on your pajamas and robe, sit in bed, and cry to try on the role of the sick person.  However, what about trying to get dressed and sit with the family for a meal and try on the role of the well person, or as well as you can be.

We have a well of energy and possibility in our soul.  I hope that you try on different roles, who knows maybe you’ll find the real you and will allow it to shine for the world.

Posted in End-Of-Life Care

The Truth is Not Everyone Survives

The saying goes, “The only thing you have to do is pay taxes, and die”.  I guess that’s a reality…I wish it were more.  Unfortunately, the truth is that not everyone who is diagnosed with a chronic or other life-altering illness will live to cherish their golden years.  It can be for various reasons; the diagnosis was discovered to late, your disease doesn’t respond to treatment, or you experience the domino effect where you don’t die from the illness you were diagnosed with but from a complication related to it.

Our culture doesn’t discuss death.  I remember in my junior year in high school our health class was on “death and dying”.  I’m not sure why they were talking t a bunch of teenagers about death and dying when they believe their invincible.  For most of us in the late 20th and 21st century, don’t experience the death of an adult until we’re older.  Our first experience with death is a pet and that can be very traumatic.  However, it certainly doesn’t have the long-term effects of a loved one dying.

I want to talk about end-of-life care because November is National Hospice Month.  Hospice started in England as a way to provide care for those in the end-stage of life.  The requirement for hospice is that your doctor will certify that you have less than six months to live.  Once you enter hospice they stop treatment in hopes of healing the illness.  Medications that are treatment specific are given if they alleviate pain and suffering, but otherwise treatment is stopped. 

Hospice offers support, comfort, and pain management to the individual and support and education to the family.  There are both in-patient hospices and home hospice depending on where you live.  Because we’re so afraid of the dying process and hold on to the glimmer of possibility that we’ll miraculously get well, hospice care if under utilized.  In England the average length of time a person is enrolled in hospice is 17 days; in the United States the average is 7 days.

Have you made your wishes known to others about your end-of-life care?  Have those in your inner circle been willing to hear you talk about death and dying?  Are you willing to let go of what might be the illusion that you’ll walk away from your illness alive and well?  I know that many believe that hospice is the message of defeat.  Actually I believe hospice is the message of triumph.  It puts you back in control of your own life.  It gives you options so that you can be cared for with dignity and compassion.  It gives you the freedom to make conscious choice about how you’ll spend the days you have alive.

There are some amazing stories in hospice about the six month rule.  I was facilitating a support group for cancer patients and a woman in the group in her late 70’s early 80’s had a rare sarcoma.  She’d been through treatment for over a year and then made the decision to go on hospice.  She lived six months and they extended her hospice benefits.  One day she came to group and announced that she had graduated out of hospice.  In order for her to retain her hospice benefits on Medicare in the months to come; she’d have to leave the hospice program until she was “ready” for it.  Can you imagine graduating out of hospice?

During the month of November when we celebrate National Hospice Month; it may be a good time to look at what hospice has to offer.  Know your options.  Give yourself the gift of knowledge and understanding about hospice.  Allow yourself to consider the possibility that if you’re considering stopping treatment, what options will provide you with the highest quality-of-life with the time you have remaining.

I wish you health and healing, but I also want you to recognize the reality of life…that is no one gets out alive.  Find out how through hospice you can maintain control of your care with a little help from those who understand end-of-life care.

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

Victim or Survivor?

Working with the public I get to see a lot of colorful characters on a daily basis.  I met two women  yesterday that are facing serious illness, but doing so with a conviction that will aid their health and healing.  I watched one of the women, young, who due to prednisone has gained over a 100 pounds in six months and is no experiencing bone fractures.  Her spirits were high even being in pain, and her family was ultra-supportive of her needs.  Both of  these women had a great sense of humor at a time in their lives when many would be sitting in the dark at home.  That’s when the famous proverb flashed into my head, “It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”

I find that thought extremely powerful.  It implies we all have a choice about how we handle each and every situation in our lives.  If you curse the darkness following your diagnosis of a chronic or other life-altering illness your world view is of being defeated.  What I’ve come to understand about those who choose to curse the darkness is the fear of seeing themselves (and I don’t mean physically necessarily) in the light.  The “light” accentuates our traits, gifts, and thoughts.  It brings our true selves to the forefront of our consciousness.

When facing a health challenge cursing the darkness leads to expressions like, “Whoa is me” and “Why did this happen to me?”  Those thoughts may be prevalent at the beginning while your still in shock about your diagnosis, but I can tell you as someone who has had an auto-immune disease for over thirty years, those thought patterns are the surest way to bring you down.  They are the road to unhappiness and defeat.  They challenge you on the physical, emotional, and spiritual levels depleting your energy and robbing you of an opportunity to get better (remember there’s a difference between getting better and getting well).

I hope you’ll choose to light a candle and illuminate your path to health and healing.  I hope you’ll shed some light on your challenge so you can acknowledge like the two women I met yesterday how to still live life in the face of adversity.  I hope you’ll light a candle so you can give your body, mind, and spirit every advantage in overcoming your health challenge.  If you’re still cursing the darkness and reading this post, allow me to hold the candle for you until you’re ready to light it for yourself!!

Posted in Caregiving

C-A-R-E-G-I-V-E-R Part 9

Welcome to Caregiver Friday!!

It’s hard to believe that this series is coming to a  close.  Writing the 8 previous entries has allowed me to reflect on all the caregiving stories I’ve heard over the past twenty years.  It has also allowed me to take note of the aspects of caregiving that seldom get talked about, the magnanimous gestures by caregivers for those needing your love, support, and assistance.  It is often a thankless job.  One of the greatest things I ever witnessed was a  doctor thanking the caregiver for being so present to the situation and showing commitment, perseverance, and love throughout the patient’s journey to health and healing. 

I felt it was only right to close this 9 part series with an aspect of caregiving that is often overlooked and yet I believe makes you, the caregiver, an invaluable component of the patient’s care.  It is also the reason your relationship with the patient and the care team is so crucial.  What’s the final aspect of the series?

R is for Realistic

I can’t think of any greater gift you can give the person you’re caring for than the gift of reality.  It’s so easy for many people after being diagnosed with a chronic or other life-altering illness to be all “pie-in-the-sky”.  You, the caregiver, are often more firmly planted in the reality of the day.  You’re in tune with the patient’s needs, the concerns of the patient and the care team, and you try to find a happy balance between all concerned parties.  I want to make one thing very clear; I don’t believe that being realistic means you’re pessimistic in any way.  Sometimes being realistic prevents the patient from undue stress and strain, not to mention endless let downs from misguided expectations.

If anything, as the person who holds the “reality” card you’re in a great position to be optimistic because you’ve developed the capacity to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.  It’s interesting about the optimist/pessimist debate because often I’ve found that the patient wants to stop treatment, but the caregiver believes so strongly in what’s possible that the deep dialogue takes place about love, commitment, and end-of-life care.

I hope you’ve been able and willing to take in all aspects I’ve discussed in this 9 part series.  It has been an amazing journey to be able to honor your presence as a caregiver.  I know I’ve done it before, but once again I’d like to say, THANK YOU for your tireless efforts to ease the transitions of the patient from someone who has been well to someone who is health challenged.  I want you to know that there are resources for support that I hope you’ll take advantage of in your community.  You can further your own journey by going to www.survivingstrong.com and signing up for the “Courageous Caregiver” e-course.  It’s a series delivered over the course of three weeks and allows you to explore caregiving even deeper with follow-up questions along the way.

It’s been an honor and privilege to accompany you on this journey.  I look forward to spending more time with you in the future!

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

You Are A Character

Many of my family and friends read fiction (I’m a non-fiction guy).   They read fantasy, science fiction, and mysteries and they get especially excited when an author writes a series.  You hear people who enjoy a series referring to revisiting with their friends.  Some of these authors are writing five, six, or  more books, a thousand pages a piece so after six-thousand pages I guess you’d know the characters pretty well.  There’s a lot of thought that goes into creating a series because as Stephen Covey states in, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, you should begin with the end in mind.

Obviously your life isn’t fiction.  It’s clear that even if you were living a “fantasy” life things change when the doctor gave you your diagnosis although you may have lived in the land of make-believe not wanting to admit the truth.  You don’t plan your life the way an author plans out a series, but what if your life were a series?

From the time of your diagnosis you have the opportunity to re-write your future.  You are obviously going to have challenges along the way, but if you think like an author, how would you get yourself out of a predicament?  What would you do so that in the end there was resolution.  I want to be clear that I purposely did not write “a happy ending” because not everyone will survive an illness.  I’ve also been quite clear over the past few weeks that there’s a difference between feeling better and getting well.

What do you want your story to look like?  What changes will you have to make as you tell your story?  What new people will come into your life as a result of your diagnosis?  I remember the movie with William Hurt called, The Doctor , where he plays a doctor who gets diagnosed with cancer.  He meets a woman who is going through treatment and she shows him a world he’d never seen before full of beauty, laughter, and awe.  What impact will these characters/people you meet along the way have on your health and healing practices?  What would you like to learn so that you seek someone like Yoda in the Star Wars films?

We have tremendous opportunities to rewrite our story.  Even if you don’t feel as if you could write the Great American Novel, you can write the best story about your life and have others read it by watching how you life your life.  Okay, so maybe it’s not a book, perhaps it’s a sitcom or a drama that continues from season-to-season. 

It’s your life, your story, and you get to be the author.  How will you end up on the best seller list?

Posted in art and healing, creativity and health

What You Have in Common with Michelangelo

Welcome to Art and Healing Wednesday!!

When I give  talks on art and healing I am often approached by people who tell me they aren’t artists.  They explain as I used to that their stick figures even look a bit deformed.  They questions their artistic ability but fortunately still hold on to the realm of possibility about their creativity.  I’m always excited when people believe in their creativity because aside from great art it’s also a key ingredient in good decision-making, but back to art and healing.

I completely understand the hesitation when it comes to creating art.  I was a traditional quilter for many years until I had a glorious opportunity that changed my life.  The local quilt shop was having a one year color class for quilters.  Every month we would discuss a particular aspect of color theory and then we’d have to create a piece that represented that aspect of color theory.  I always felt that my use of color was good, but I wanted to use it as an exercise in design.  I made a pact with myself and before others that I wouldn’t use a pattern any more; every month I would create my own design…and that was the start of my art adventure.

So what about you and Michelangelo?  When you read account of Michelangelo creating the sculpture “David” he was quite modest about his accomplishment.  He would explain that the sculpture was already in the block of marble and all he did was remove the excess from the block to reveal the glorious piece.  What if we all approached our creative/artistic sides with that sense of modesty?  What if every piece we wanted to create was already created within us or within the item your using to express your creative idea?  It would be like me saying that the piece of textile art is already in the fabric and all I’m doing is placing the pieces where they know they should go.  It creates a beautiful work of art and takes some of the pressure off of having to be “the master” artist.

What if your life were the same as Michelangelo’s “David”.  I’ve studies with one of the greatest minds of the 20th and 21st century, Jean Houston.  When she teaches her Social Artistry program she discusses “entelechy”.  The idea that within is everything you’re supposed to be.  The example she gives is an acorn.  An acorn has everything it needs within the shell to become an oak.  It has all of nature’s mapping to become something glorious and mighty.  Your were created with the same possibility. 

You’ve had experiences that allow you to create masterful pieces of art.  It doesn’t have to be something that would hang in a museum; it could be a dish you’ve created to cook.  It can be a song or an interpretation of a song that fills your heart with joy.  It can be what starts off as tapping your foot and becomes a movement that allows the body to express itself fully.

Why is it important that we unveil our creative expression?  If we don’t express ourselves we end up keeping things bottled up and that’s not good for our immune system.  The more we express ourselves the greater the opportunity has to utilize its energy to focus on health and healing.   Your ability to express yourself creatively is no different from the drain the surgeon places in a wound following surgery to allow what isn’t need to flow out of the body.  We’re talking about a different type of drain, one a lot less painful, more joyful, and equally productive. 

I hope you’ll give yourself the gift of unearthing what lies within just as Michelangelo did with “David”.  I believe this will be the start of a deeper journey to health and healing.

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, Healthcare, living with chronic illness

Chronic Can Be Costly

In the old days, before your diagnosis of a chronic or other life-altering illness, when you got sick you may have gone to the doctor, paid for an office visit and lo and behold you got well.  There weren’t repeated trips and co-pays for office visits.  There weren’t endless tests or supplies needed, maybe a bottle of Tylenol.  The cost was minimal financially, and the cost emotionally and spiritually was minimal too.

Then you were given a diagnosis by the doctor and everything changed.  You began to see your doctor more than you see some of your friends or family.  Your new inner circle consists of lab technicians, insurance personnel, and your medical team.  Chronic illness is expensive.  Let’s take Type 2 Diabetes as an example.  It not only about the costs associated with a change in diet, but the meter, the lancets, the test strips, and the follow-up lab work with the doctor.  There is no end to the costs and for many this becomes a financial and thus an emotional burden.

This week the New York Times Online ran an article about the cost of Type 2 Diabetes.  They state, “Already, this incurable and often debilitating illness costs the country’s health care system a staggering $174 billion a year.”  They go on to say that because of the personal cost of managing the disease only about 25% of Type 2 Diabetes patients are getting the care they need.  Don’t you think that’s shameful?  Doesn’t the healthcare system and the powers that be understand that by not taking care of those with Type 2 Diabetes you end up taking care of patients with heart, kidney, and circulation problems.  Does paying for test strips and meters costs less than having to hospitalize someone to amputate a limb?

The New York Times cites Consumer Reports Health in a report they produced stating that, “diabetes patients spend an average of $6,000 annually for treatment of their disease.”  When you think of the cost, understand that these are net dollars.  As a “civilized” society can we continue to look the other way and not treat those who need our help.  Yes, there needs to be a partnerships and Type 2 Diabetes patients need to do their part (just as my mother is doing) by eating properly and getting enough exercise.  It has to be a partnership, but a true partnership, not one in name only.

If you have  a chronic illness what has the cost been to you?  I’m not only talking about the financial cost, but the emotional and spiritual as well.  Let your voice be heard!