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

Sometimes We Need A Swift Kick In the Pants

I remember when I was in graduate school I had a very wise professor for family therapy.  He had been a therapist for a long time and predominantly worked with difficult families.  He always told us, “When you’re dealing with a client that is pushing back hard…pat them on the back before you kick them in the pants.”

I’m out of school over 20 years and that sticks in my brain, why?  Because it works!  I can’t tell you how many times in my career I have been able to work with clients, staff at nonprofits, or corporations by giving them “a pat on the back, before I kick them in the pants”.  It’s a kinder and gentler approach to life.

Well, I got my kick in the pants last week, an until now no one really knows about this moment.  I’ve been working on my dissertation, but having a difficult time getting motivated over the past few weeks.  Last summer I was asked to be a part of a study by one of my fellow students who is doing her dissertation on students doing their dissertation.

Everyone in my life has been so supportive, but not challenging me to push forward, but then I got the email.  The email was from my friend who lovingly was sharing her dissertation in which I’m included.  FINISHED!!!!!!!  Now I’m thrilled, elated, happy, and yes a bit jealous, but that was my kick in the pants to throw coal in the engine, get it revved and finish my work.

Since your diagnosis with a chronic or other life-altering illness, what have people been coddling you about, and what do you need a kick in the pants to get you to do?  For instance, many Type 2 diabetics can eliminate the need for medication if they truly lose weight and exercise.  What exercise, sleep habits, or spiritual practices will give you that edge toward getting better or getting well?

This shouldn’t be about shaming you into something, but reinforcing the desire for health that lies within.  It shouldn’t be about jealousy if you can have what someone else has  (in my case my degree).  It means I have to shift my priorities, make time to do the work, make myself more accountable to my dissertation advisor, and probably get more rest.

This isn’t a challenge.  This is the encouragement and support you need to take a step back and re-evaluate where you on your journey to health.  You’re the navigator and this is the time to plot your course for health and healing.

Posted in art and healing, creativity and health

Method to the Madness

Welcome to Art and Healing Wednesday!!

I had a friend over for dinner last night and we were talking about some of the art opportunities in town.  He mentioned that the big art museum in town has sold some of its “masters” and has purchased more contemporary and abstract art.  He was disappointed, I believe, because he doesn’t understand modern/abstract art and he felt comfortable because the old “masters” are more reliable.

If you’re not sure about contemporary/abstract art I recommend that u read the book, “Why a Painting is Like a Pizza”.  I too didn’t understand the nuance of abstract art, or why a canvas painted all in green is priceless.  The book walks you through the steps so you can put the artwork in a context…there is a method to the madness.

It’s for this reason that I encourage you to create.  I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met over the years who tell me they aren’t artistic.  There was a study done that I read in “The Crafts Report” magazine.  The study asked kindergarten children how many of them were artists; the entire class raised its hand.  They asked again in fourth grade; only about half raised their hands.  Then they asked a high school class and only two students raised their hands.

It’s unfortunate, but artistry and creativity is not valued enough in our culture.  Being creative is a release for everything we think, feel, and experience.  Our story is what makes this world diverse, interesting, and vibrant.  Crayola keeps creating new colors for a reason; because the box of 64 wasn’t enough.

Following your diagnosis of a chronic or other life-altering illness you need to express yourself.  Your creativity can be the best detoxifier your body has so why not strengthen your creative muscle.  Just like any other muscle it needs to be used so start small and grow into your creativity paws.

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

Are You Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

I’ve worked with the public for years in many different capacities.  I’ve worked in retail, the food industry, the hospitality industry, the non-profit world, and as a consultant.  As a psychotherapist I’ve spent twenty plus years studying and observing people to see what motivates people to do certain things and to understand what motivates us to change.  I’m learning about an entirely new species of people, those who suffer from the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde syndrome.

These are otherwise rational and I’m assuming nice people who under stressful or fearful situations become rude, verbally violent, and quite irrational.  I’m consulting for a company that has been around for 30 years and is going bankrupt.  The consumers are afraid that they won’t get what they are owed and when they phone in they are monsters. 

When I started to pull myself away from the screamfest and take a step back to see what’s motivating this behavior it became  clear; these people are afraid.  I don’t have time to explore their fear on the phone, only time enough to be the brunt of their discontent.  I wonder what would happen if I could explore this fear with them; I think it would calm the savage beast.

Now let’s talk about you and me.  Following our diagnosis of a chronic or other life-altering illness when do you exhibit signs of Jekyll and Hyde syndrome?  Maybe the doctor has to reschedule an appointment of is running late.  Perhaps there was a mix-up at the pharmacy and it will be an extra day till your medication comes in…that would cause fear. 

How is fear triggering behaviors you wouldn’t normally exhibit?  I ask this because for those who work with the public, the irrational behavior drives people away at a time we want or need them the most.  They do say that you get more flies with honey than vinegar.  The funny thing is we don’t feel any better after we’ve exhibited these irrational behaviors triggered by fear and to top it all off we may have alienated those we would want to be on our side.

The other factor to consider is what that type of expression of anger does to the cortisol levels in your system.  Cortisol is not a good hormone and when we show this irrational side it floods our system.  We end up doing more harm than good, even if we get what we want from the other person.  What’s the solution?  Before you engage in battle take a deep breath and understand or feel the fear.  Once you can name it and claim it; you can take a different approach so you’re more successful in getting what you want or need.

You’ve already been diagnosed with one illness, do you really want us to diagnosis you with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde syndrome?  Sometimes I think this one is more harmful and harder to cure…it’s possible, but you have to explore the fear.

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

When the Rules of the Game Change

I’ve been involved in the lives of those with chronic and other life-altering illness for over twenty years.  During that time I’ve become a pretty good observer of people as they go through the illness process. 

Yesterday I was watching one of my co-workers who within the last year was diagnosed with cancer.  The cancer is in his spine and the doctor’s have told him they can treat it like a chronic illness, but they won’t be able to put the cancer into remission.  When I was watching him at work I asked him if he was okay because his stride was different, and he had a slight edge in his face.   I asked him if he was in pain and the answer was a definite, YES!!

We began discussing pain medications and patches and they don’t seem to be taking enough of the pain away.  He’s in a job where he’s on his feet 10+ hours a day and is walking back and forth across a 60,000 sq ft. store.  Finally he turns to me and says, “Maybe I should just go out on permanent disability”. 

I stopped and asked what was holding him back and there wasn’t an answer.  I knew the answer and I bet you know the answer as well (as did he).  If he goes out on disability the rules of the game change.  The relationship he has with his body and the cancer change because the committee in his head is saying that the cancer is winning.

I’ve discussed many times that not everyone will live till their 120, nor will everyone get well, although they may get better.  Illness progression does mean that adaptability has to be your middle name.  However, if the rules of the game change learn the rules and play the game to the best of your ability.

My immediate thought was for him to go out on disability, ease the tension in his body, mind, and spirit and hopefully that would allow the pain medication to work better.  If that weren’t the case he could ask the doctors to increase the pain medication levels; the side effects may increase, but the pain would be eased.  The hope is that somehow he can increase his quality of life.  I know he loves his work, but it may be time to love himself more.  It may be time to focus on relationships and hobbies, and enjoy whatever days he has without pain.

The game will change, we just have to learn to live in the gray zone and figure out a way to learn the new game quickly and become a master at the new game.

Posted in Caregiving

Caregiver Learning Curve

Welcome to Caregiver Friday!!

Since I got to Buffalo for this consulting job I’m doing I’ve had a steep learning curve.  I’m a guy that doesn’t really like numbers; all I remember from accounting in college is that debits on the left and credits on the right.  I don’t balance my own check book (no I don’t believe if I have checks I must still have money), and yet my day revolves around balancing an invoice register…this I’ve had to learn.

On the other hand, my caregiving skills I believe are innate.  Maybe it’s a primal thing and I’ve just got those animal instincts well ingrained in my body, mind, and soul.  I’m on most of my family and friends Durable Power Attorney for Healthcare because they all know that I will be able to carry out their wishes if necessary.  I was a Resident Assistant (RA) in college in a dorm of freshman when I was a senior.  I was a big brother to a young boy with severe psychiatric disorders and the list goes on and on.

So is caregiving nature or nurture?  I believe it’s both.  There are those that will inherently assume the caregiving role and when the time comes the act of caregiving may be a bit easier, not the actual emotional/spiritual turmoil of someone they love become ill, just the role of caregiving.  Those who learn to be caregivers have that steep learning curve I mentioned at the beginning of the post.  They are just as effective, it just takes a bit more work in the beginning to nurture that inner caregiver till it blossoms.

I want to be clear, one isn’t any better than the other; they’re just different.  I just assume that I’ll be the caregiver for my parents someday even though my brother lives 30 minutes from them and I live 12 hours from them.  It’s an unspoken (well at this point it’s pretty spoken) understanding that caregiving is in my court.

Just wanted to open the discussion to see what your experience has been in the caregiving arena.  Any thoughts?  You can mail your ideas, questions and stories to greg@survivingstrong.com

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

Why We Have to Laugh

Do you read the newspapers?  Do you watch the news on television?  Do you listen to the radio in your home or car?  If the answer is yes to any or all of these then you you’ve been exposed.  You’ve been exposed to negativity, despair, anger, hostility, fighting, animosity, and the rest of the negative emotions and actions that plague our world.  Just ask yourself this, “When I’m finished being exposed to the media, friends or co-workers conversations about the world, or the statistics of the prognosis of your diagnosis, how do you feel?”

If we follow Newton’s laws of physics, energy can’t be created or destroyed.  If that’s the case, what happens to the negative energy you’ve been exposed to?  If we did a scan of your body could we see that spot of negativity on your organs, or your brain?  Not exactly, but I bet it shows up in your lab results or how you feel physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Fortunately there’s an antidote to all this negativity energy.  It’s kind of like math, a negative is balanced out by a positive and what’s the best positive?  Laughter.  I was at work yesterday and we were having a great day, but one of my co-workers made a comment that had me rolling in the aisles.  I had tears streaming down my face and I felt like I’d lost 10 pounds and was 10 years younger.

This is the reason that movie production companies make comedies and they do well, because we need to laugh.  We need that moment biochemically, physically, emotionally, and spiritually when everything shifts.  We release the pent-up emotions we’ve been holding because, believe it or not, as adults we can’t hold two emotions simultaneously.  You drop the luggage you’ve been carrying around and feel lighter.

The ramifications are that you’re physically, emotional, and spiritual body is carrying less so it’s working more efficiently.  You’ ve allowed the mind-body connection to focus on its work; the work of health and healing.  You’ve ignited the immune system allowing it to protect you from other illnesses and work toward making you better or well.

Does laughter cure everything?  Probably not, but ask Norman Cousins, author of Anatomy of an Illness, who found watching Marx Brothers movies, that 20 minutes of a good laugh, gave him 2 hours pain-free.  If you ask me that’s a pretty good return on your investment.

Want to get started laughing?  Have a joke or a story  to share so we can all laugh with you?  Send it to me and at greg@survivingstrong.com and I’ll put up stories and jokes on the blog so we can all laugh.

Posted in art and healing, creativity and health

What Color is Your Parachute?

Welcome to Art and Healing Wednesday!!

Richard Nelson Bolles wrote the famous book on finding a job titled, “What color is your parachute”.  It gets updated every year and has been a help to millions who are looking for work or looking to change careers.  As an artist I think of that title in an entirely different fashion.

When I hear “What color is your parachute” I think of color like a box of Crayolas.  It makes me start to think about what colors do I use or am I drawn to based on my mood.  How do I use color to influence my physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being?  How can color help me on my path to health and healing?

I’ll add one more dimension to the discussion because I’m a textile artist and for me, its color and texture.  Different fabrics or treatments change the feel of the fabric and allows me to express my personal and artistic point-of-view.  It’s the point-of-view when expressed makes me feel heard. 

If you’re not sure what colors you’re drawn to simply open up your closet and see what color(s) you generally wear.  I’ve got a lot of brown in my wardrobe, but I also have a lot of warm colors.  Most of my t-shirts are red, orange, and yellow.  I like heat, not only in temperature, but in the intensity with which I live my life.

I like punches of color because I like hidden treasures or surprises.  I’ll wear an outfit that’s all grey and black with a sunshine yellow t-shirt peaking through.  I do the same thing with my art.  Over the years my palette has changed and I’m finding that my physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being is represented in the colors I’m using.  I generally stick with a color palette for a while so I can tell the entire story. 

When you think about what color helps ease your landing when you’re falling what would it be?   What colors would you like to incorporate into your life that will promote health and healing?  How would you like to use color to promote the stimulation of your immune system?  What do you want to tell the world about the color that is your parachute?

Let me know because I love color and I definitely believe it can enhance and enrich your life on all levels.