Posted in Caregiving

Are You Leaking?

I had a very interesting human exchange yesterday that wasn’t pretty, but afterwards made me think long and hard.  I’m working in a retail establishment and a woman came up to the counter asking for a manager.  Our policy is to first request what the matter is about before passing it on to the manager of the store.  She asked if I was a manager and if I wasn’t she didn’t want to speak to me.  I responded that it wasn’t necessary for her to be extremely rude.  Her response was once again rude, loud, and obnoxious.  She asked what I was going to do about it and I responded I would need to call the police and have her removed.  Once again she became mouthy saying that her sister had cancer and was treated poorly and did I want the news station to come down.  I passed her off to the sales manager because we were at an impasse.

After the woman left the counter I saw her sister who was obviously going through treatment, evidenced by the hair loss.  It was clear that the woman who came to the counter was feeling overwhelming emotions and as the Buddhists discuss, she was leaking.  Her emotions were too much for her small body to hold and it was oozing out of every pore.  The eruption was probably a result of her powerlessness to save her sister’s life; at least that’s what I would like to believe.  We all know that walking around that angry is a date with health disaster.

When I got home and reflected on the exchange I felt a deep sense of sadness for the woman who was drowning in a wave of powerlessness.  Watching a loved one become increasingly sick and incapacitated is devastating.  Knowing that the only thing you can offer is love, support, and compassion may feel like you’re not doing enough; but it’s a tremendous amount.  You may not have the cure for the disease your loved one is facing, but if a spoonful of sugar can make the medicine go down, imagine what buckets of love can do.

I wish this woman comfort in her own journey as a caregiver.  I can see that her anger wasn’t directed at me, I just happened to be in her line of fire.  Illness is stressful and stress makes us do crazy things.  If you’re leaking please find some support, or way to relieve the pressure building up within.  It will make you a better caregiver and may improve your own health!

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

What If You Were A Balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade?

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Growing up my father worked at a company whose offices faced 7th Avenue in New York, along the parade route.  The families of the employees would come and watch the parade from the warmth of the offices.  It was amazing to see the big balloons pass by, almost scary because of their enormity.  The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is still one of those things I look forward to every year.  It’s just a part of the holiday, and as I’ve grown older I’ve started to see how certain, even silly, things have a bigger meaning about how we live our lives; especially after being diagnosed with a chronic or life-altering illness.

I was discussing this idea of the parade balloons last night with a client.  I asked her, “What if you were a balloon in the parade, who or what tethers you to the ground?”  That’s a pretty tall order if you ask me (no pun intended).  If we aren’t tethered or grounded we’d just float away.  We’d just ramble through our lives, bounding around, constantly in search of something, but not really knowing what that something is.

So sit back, close your eyes (after you finish reading this post) and ask yourself how am I tethered/grounded to my life?  Who are the people who make me feel connected and loved, that grounds you.  What relationships do I have that are true, unconditional, and solid; that grounds you.  What activities, passions, causes are in your life that give you joy and provide meaning for who you believe you are; that ground you.  What are you pursuing in your life that allows you, encourages you, may even force you to go deeper into your soul (it creates a root system so you have a strong foundation); that grounds you.

I hope you’ll give this some consideration, because following the diagnosis of a chronic or other life-altering illness it’s easy to feel free-floating.  It’s common for me to hear stories from clients that they are drifting and aren’t sure where they are going to land.  Your life is big and having ways to stay grounded is crucial for your journey to health and healing.  If you’re a little short on those things that keep you grounded consider what your next step(s) might be and take one and begin that journey.  If you have any questions you can always email me at greg@survivingstrong.com

Peace to you and your family on this Thanksgiving Holiday!!!

 

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, creativity and health, Emotional Health, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

From the Words of Mary Oliver

I got out of work early the other night and decided after my knitting ritual to head out to Barnes and Noble.  I hadn’t been to the store in a long time and decided to venture out and see what they had in available.  I went through the magazines, the usual categories of books that I am most attracted to and of course the journals…I love journals.  I started to walk out the door and the header “Poetry” caught my eye.  I meandered over to the Poetry section and of course went in search of a book by my favorite poet Mary Oliver.

I found a book, opened to the first poem and decided I had to buy the book without looking at any other poem; that’s how loudly the poem spoke to me.  When I got home I found a short poem I’d like to share with you because I found it comforting, thought-provoking, and of course beautiful.

We Shake With Joy

We shake with joy, we shake with grief.

What a time they have, these two

housed as they are in the same body.

It’s amazing to think that the mind can hold two emotions simultaneously.  We don’t often think that the body has to also hold these emotions at the same time.  What happens in your body when you hold what might be considered conflicting emotions?  How does it impact your health and healing?

I often find that they compliment each other.  Having the capacity to hold these emotions that are both intense brings me to life.  It reinforce the power of our emotions and that is life affirming.  Are you facing a time of conflicting emotions or body sensations?  Let me know what your feelings are about the poem by Mary Oliver.

I’ll meet you at the bookstore!

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

Something Caught My Eye

I’m very fortunate that over the past few years since I returned to school I have met some incredible people.  These individuals are not only smart (a given), but they are kind, growth oriented, and grounded in their place in the world.  I’m friends with many of them on Facebook and fortunate that they pass along their sage advice or things that caught their eye on the news, at conferences, or just in their daily interactions with others.

One of these wise folks posted on Facebook something a doctor had said about increasing your health and wellness.  The doctor recommended that one of the ways to increase peace in your life is to finish what you start.  It seems like such a simple thing, but too many of us are like cats; we follow and chase shiny things.  What does that mean in our everyday lives?  How does that impact us if we’ve been diagnosed with a chronic or life-altering illness?

If you’re feeling desperate or feeling limited in your options you may jump from one thing to another to try to get results.  Often, we don’t give things a chance because we’re caught up in a society that rewards and encourages immediate gratification.  How long does it take to get results?  That’s what many who go one diets ask themselves.  What about finding inner peace or calm, how long does that take?

I don’t know about you, but to some degree I believe I’ll always be in search of deepened enlightenment or self-actualization (Abraham Maslow doesn’t belive many if any of us will make it, but I have hope).  What does that mean?  It means that I have to continue a spiritual practice that gives my body, mind, and spirit the space to expand.  It means I have to provide myself with a space for compassion and connection.  I don’t jump from one thing to another; I stick with one thing that I believe in my heart brings me peace and the space for an open heart.  In my case it’s a creative endeavor.  I find that I can achieve these inner places by knitting or creating art.

I’ve been in Nashville now for a few months and I have completed to knitted shawls and I’m working on number three.  I get up a little early in the morning to knit before work and I knit when I come home from work.  It grounds me and gives me inner clarity.  If I were home I’d be in my studio working on a piece of art because that place of creativity allows my body, mind, and spirit to be creative in its own right…it allows the body, mind, and spirit to regenerate itself and come up with new opportunities for health and healing.

The 12-step  programs speak about “progress not perfection”.  This is one of the reasons that I don’t hop from one self-help mode to another.  I may not get it perfect, but I’m always making progress.   Working on completing projects is a good feeling.  It’s about endings and that allows for new beginnings.  I learn something every time I begin something new.

What do you need to complete?  How do you think making a point of completing things would increase your health and healing?

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

Do You Have Spiritual ADD?

I’ve worked with many clients over the years who are on a spiritual journey.  The catalyst for this journey is usually some pivotal life experience that was in the words of St. John of the Cross, a “dark night of the soul”.  Amazing how until we’re faced with a fork in the road or held out gun point “metaphorically” we sit on the fence waiting for the force that be make the decisions for us.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the diagnosis of a chronic or other life-altering illness would create a “dark night of the soul”.  The trouble is that for many, they begin a journey and are in such shock or disbelief that the only strategy they devise is to try everything they can to feel better or get well.  I’ve had clients in the past who try yoga, meditation, self-help books, meeting with a spiritual director, creative arts therapy and a couple of others all at the same time.  The question is how do you develop a spiritual practice when you’re trying to do everything at the same time?

I want you to think of the difference between a flood light and a laser.  They are both lights, but the focus of the laser makes it more powerful.  When you stay with one thing long enough to develop proficiency you begin to see results.  I believe people try too many things in the fear that they miss an opportunity for healing.  The reality is that all they are doing is distracting themselves from the true matter at hand, getting better or well.  There is no magic bullet, but if like medication; if you don’t take the full dose you’ll never get results!

How can you focus your attention?  What do you need to do to create a sacred space in your heart and soul to find peace?  Finding peace will allow your body to send healing energy to the parts of the body that need it the most.   I encourage you to pick something that will guide your spiritual journey.  I know that creating art is my form of spiritual practice.  When I’m away from home on assignment and don’t have my art studio at hand, I knit every morning.  I find a way to ground myself for the day so I can face the day with fresh eyes and an open heart.

If you choose the path of focus instead of spiritual ADD let me know what changes in your life.  If you have questions feel free to leave a comment below and we’ll continue the conversation.

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

Was Karen Carpenter Correct?

I woke up this morning to the sound of a tremendous rainstorm down here in Nashville.  I love the sound of the rain when it hits the roof; although driving in it is a pain.  I’m one of these people who free associates and when I heard the rain, the thought of it made me think of the line from a song from The Carpenters, “Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.”  I know it’s a song, but I started to think why that may be the case.  The Monday thing I get since that’s when most of those who work outside the home go back to work, but the rainy day thing made me ask some questions.

So what is it about a rainy day that might get someone down?  I guess the gray day would be one contributing factor, and of course the inconvenience, especially if you have to leave the house.  However, a rainy day would definitely be better than no day…hopefully that’s a given.  But a rainy day gives you plenty of time for reflection.  It’s one of those times when the melodic sound of the rain can bring me into a meditative state, slowing me down and allowing me to be quiet for a time.  When I go out in the rain and I get wet it’s the tactile sensation that shocks me into an awake state allowing me to connect with nature.

Where does that leave us?  Well if this is the day we’re given, what are you going to do with it?  Are you going to allow it to get you down, or will you revel in it?  Are you willing to take a rainy day and a Monday and live it to the fullest?  How will you celebrate your rainy day whether it’s literal or figurative.  We all have rainy days on the physical, emotional, and spiritual levels, especially following the diagnosis of a chronic or life-altering illness.  Are you going to let it get you down, or can you transform it into a sunny day in your heart?  I guess that’s what we all need whether or not we’re facing a health challenge…sunny days in our heart!

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

Whatever You’re Holding In…Time to Let It Out

I had the pleasure of going out to dinner with a friend of mine last night.  We had a great meal and during dinner we began a conversation about a topic he’s passionate about.  We spent the next hour discussing our views, the possibilities, and just added to the questions we both held about this particular topic.  The evening was fascinating, but most importantly he got to tell me about his passions and expertise.  He was able to share his lifelong experiences revealing his path to date.

When I got home I began thinking about how many of us hold in our thoughts, ideas, or concerns because others may think we’re bizarre, crazy, or uninformed.  What would happen if we all began sharing our stories and there were people around willing to listen to our stories?  How would your life improve if you had someone bear witness to your life and your story?

Research has shown that when we feel heard, understood, and valued for our beliefs our immune function goes up.  This is especially important for those who have been diagnosed with a chronic or life-altering illness.  Once we let the cat out of the bag, we begin to attract others who have similar interests or beliefs.  This is reinforced in Kristel Nani’s book, “Sacred Choice”….she discusses what happens when we break with the tribe of our birth and how healing it is to find our tribe of choice.  These are critical decisions we have to make in our lives to improve not only the quality of our lives, but our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

What are you holding in that you haven’t shared with the world?  What do you need to release and give voice to that will make room for your to grow personally and professionally?  Once you release your passion and beliefs I know you’ll begin to attract those who have the same questions/beliefs but have also been concerned about sharing their story.  This is how we build community and having a community strengthens our body, mind, and spirit.  Feeling connected to others with similar beliefs and questions deepens our personal understanding and deepens our commitment to our passion.

Are you looking to delve deeper into your beliefs and expertise?  If so, begin by sharing your thoughts with one person you trust and see how it blossoms!

 

 

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

Awakenings

I often wonder if Henry David Thoreau was correct when he said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”.  We live in a culture where repression is a way of life.  We’re afraid of “being who we really are” or concerned about being shunned for following the path decorated with our gifts and talents for the “brass ring”.  Many people are in relationships that are unfulfilling or troubled.  Then there are those who have been diagnosed with an illness and are still trying be the “good patient”.

Over the past few months I have met many people who have/are leading lives of quiet desperation.  However, they seem to have one thing in common; they saw a glimmering light that was a beacon to possibility.  As I watch these individuals I’m surprised at how the pendulum has swung and they are experiencing a freedom they never felt before.  There is a light in their eyes that is exuberant, but at the same time because it’s new and untested has to mindful that it doesn’t get away from the person.

I remember the first time I saw the movie with William Hurt, “The Doctor”.  Hurt plays a doctor who eventually gets diagnosed with cancer and the tables on his life are turned.  He meets a woman, another patient, who has abandoned the “shoulds” in her life and she takes him on an adventure of “Living” that he hadn’t experienced in any other time in his life.  The trouble is like Hurt’s character in the film, most people can’t handle that amount of newness or reclaimed life in one felt swoop.

Where does this leave us?  Following the diagnosis of a chronic or life-altering illness, I’ve heard many people live life as if they were given a gift.  What you do with that gift is entirely up to you, however learning to manage this new freedom, awakening, or unrepressed living can be as scary as a life of quiet desperation.  This is when it’s important to take baby steps.  When having this awakening try new things, that’s why a “bucket list” is so good because it’s a list of possibility.  See what’s on your list and attainable, and what things need to be worked toward to accomplish.

I hope you’ll think of this awakening as part of the continuum of life and full expression is the goal.  There is a disclaimer to all this…you don’t live in a vacuum, so be mindful that others in your life still have to adjust or find ways of sharing this awakening with you.  You still need support on your journey to wellness, but you may find some new pilgrims along your pilgrimage to health and healing who will be your sherpa through this confusing and exciting time.

Are you having an awakening?  Let me know so we can be on this journey together!