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

Are You a Home Run Hitter?

One of the great things about being an artist is meeting other artists.  One of the great artists I know, Kyle Bannister, had a birthday yesterday.  Kyle’s art is devoted to baseball.  Baseball is his passion and his work of baseball players and everything else baseball is incredible.  When I wished him Happy Birthday I told him that I hope the day hit it out of the park; trying to use sports metaphor (I’m not very sports inclined) to punctuate the day.

Later that day on Facebook, Kyle had responded back to me, “I always aim for the fence”.  I got to thinking about his philosophy and his action plans for his special day and his life.  Do you aim for the fence every time you get up to bat?  You’re in the batter’s box everyday.  When you step up to the plate what are you thinking?  Do you strive to hit a home run everyday or do you set your sights lower?

You may think about everything related to sports as physical, but the truth is every sport has a huge psychological component.  Many athletes engage the services of sports psychologists to get past the blocks (like an artist) that prevent them from playing their best.  There are times when unbeknownst to us, we hold back.  Do you hold back from fear of how powerful you might be or that you won’t measure up to your own expectations of the expectations of others?

If you were going to be a starting athlete in your own life, what kind of training do you need?  Do you need to journal, speak with a coach, a therapist, or a spiritual director?  What will make you stronger emotionally?  Should you look into support groups or engage in expressive arts like dance or theater?

My hope is that every day when you step in the batter’s box you, like Kyle, aim for the fence.  Having the vision and the belief in the possibility of a home run is critical on your journey to health and healing.  You’re the star of your team…hit that home run!

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

Did You Put Your Life Jacket on this Morning?

I love watching dancers dance; I think it’s magical.  “So You Think You Can Dance” is heading into its last few weeks and the competition is tough.  As part of the programming last night they did spotlight segments allowing the audience to get to know each dancer a bit better.

One of my favorite dancers, Will, who unfortunately was eliminated last night, had some amazing insights about his life.  He shared about how difficult his life had been growing up.  He felt a bit like an outsiders, wasn’t always doing great in school, and then at the age of 11 he started dancing.

He credits dancing with “saving his life”.  Once he started dancing he had found his place in the world.  He developed new levels of self-confidence.  His true personality, his soulful self was allowed to emerge.  He became the person he was meant to become.  When you watch Will dance you can see the joy, the essence of his being, and has the perseverance to move forward with his life and his career.

So what is it that will save your life?  After being diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness that question comes up all the time.  Let me be clear; I’m not discussing what will save your physical life, although I believe that’s an outcome of your emotional and spiritual life jacket.

We all need something that gives us meaning in our lives.  We need to know that we made an impact in this world.  Erik Erickson, noted developmental psychologist, one of the stages of adult development is generativity vs. despair.  Generativity is the idea that you’re life will have an impact on the future generations.  This is why people get buildings named after them, become benefactors, and start charities.

In my life, creativity is that life jacket.  As a textile artist I get to play with color and texture all the time.  I often follow the piece with writing about it as part of the multidimensional extension of the work.  It allows me to live my life in the mode of ultimate self-expression.

I connected deeply with Will when he talked about dancing saving his life.  I don’t know what my life would have been like without my creative outlets.  It’s truly an extension of me.  What’s your emotional and spiritual life jacket?  How does it impact your life?

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with life threatening illness, Doctor's Visits, living with chronic illness

Does the Magic 8 Ball Have all the Answers?

Remember having a Magic 8 ball as a kid?  It felt so mysterious to see the answers and the direction of your life floating in green liquid.  The answers were, obviously, quite limited because there were just so many sides on the floating piece inside the ball.  It’s nothing like the Bat Computer; just put in all the information you had and it popped out the information Batman and Robin needed.

When dealing with a health challenge or some other life trauma we’re looking not for simple yes or no responses.  We’re not seeking answers that are so generic that the answer received could apply to life and death matters as much as to decisions about what brand of salad dressing to buy at the grocery store.  So what does it take to get the “good “ answers you wanted and need?

The truth is the answers can only be as good as the questions asked.  One of the things drilled into me during my psychotherapy training was the importance of good questions.  The questions needed to be open-ended, not able to be answered with a yes or no answer.  They had to be direct, no beating around the busy.  As I often stated to my clients, “Don’t ask the question, if you don’t want the answer”; truth is the only acceptable response.

What is it that you want to ask your medical team about your health?  What do you want to know about the course of your particular disease?  How much do you want to know about what’s on the horizon for treatment or research (always make sure your medical provider is up-to-date on what’s happening in the field by reading journals, attending conferences and other disease specific trainings).

The Buddhists will tell you that life is all about living in the question.  That would require every dialogue to propel you toward the next question.  Living in the question is a type of soul-searching treasure hunt with the question being the clues to the next leg of the journey.

How good are you at asking questions?  How detailed are your questions?  Are pointed are your questions?  I guess it depends on how much you honestly want to know.  Think about it the next time you ask someone, anyone a question.  Think about the answer your seeking and let that be your guide!

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Storytelling

Who Are Your Travelers?

One of my favorite books is “The Traveler’s Gift” by Andy Andrews.  I recommend that book to everyone I meet and at every talk I give, no matter the audience.  I believe the book is a great way to focus on what’s important in your life and gives some clues on how to make changes in your life if that’s what you desire.

The book is part historical fiction and part self-help.  It takes you on a journey both through time and within, exploring your soul.  The book’s main character after suffering horrible circumstances in his life has a car accident and that prompts his journey back through time.  His journeys take deliver him to meet with historical figures and they have deep conversations.  As the main character gets ready to depart, the historical figure gives him a message, the lesson he needed to learn from that individual.

The “seven decisions”, the lessons learned from the historical figures are delivered by those such as Anne Frank, Christopher Columbus, Harry Truman, and Abraham Lincoln, just to name a few.  These prominent figures impact the main character profoundly (yes I now it’s not real), but the lessons are very real and are applicable no matter what’s going on in your life.

So I started wondering, if I were the main character in the book, whom would I hope to meet from the past that would potentially influence my life.  I know that in the book the historical figures were chosen by the Archangel Gabriel, so if that were an option for me that would be great.  However, if I were choosing my own, what criteria would I be looking for and what lessons would I be hoping to learn?

I encourage you to read this book, utilize the “seven decisions” and then think about who your travelers might be?  I’d love to share this journey with you.  Feel free to enter your journey in the comment section below or email me at greg@survivingstrong.com.

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, overcoming adversity

What if You Had the Advantages in Life That a Pilot Has Flying?

Many of us get on airplanes numerous times throughout the year.  We travel on planes for business and pleasure.  We reunite with family and friends, make important presentations, and some even travel long distances for affordable healthcare.  Ever wonder about the man or woman who is flying the plane and how prepared they are for various in-flight happenings?

Do you remember Capt. Sully who landed that jet in the Hudson River?  He’s one of the most prominent heroes in our modern-day culture.  We all watched videos of the landing as it was unfolding and now for years, we’ve had various accounts of the cockpit ordeal.  He attributed the success of the landing to years of experience and training.

One of the advantages that pilots have that we don’t have for our own lives is training in a simulator.  Pilots go in and learn how to divert catastrophe within these simulators.  They are trained for many hours in strategies to avert disaster based on mechanical or weather issues.  The question is always if under pressure can they access that training and information when it counts.

What if we had a simulator for life?  What if we could enter a training facility that gave us scenarios and we learned ways to cope and if we didn’t get it right the first time we got to try again?  Following the diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness wouldn’t you like a do-over?  What a luxury it would be to train in ways to handle the stress of a diagnosis, the insurmountable pile of insurance forms, or merely what it will take physically, emotionally, and spiritually to get up each day and face life’s biggest challenge…Living!

Unfortunately, we don’t have this life simulator as an option.  We are forced to live in a world with no second takes, no do-overs, and no rewind.  We are living a life of on-the-job-training and for some that’s very difficult because they don’t have the tools to cope with their health challenge.

Creating a personal toolbox of coping strategies and a support network to rely on will help easy the stress and strain of living life in real-time.  The more life experiences you have the more tools you’ll collect.  The key is to assimilate these life experiences into your being so when you need them the most; they are accessible.  Living with a health challenge poses many new life situations that no one every told us was a possibility.  For many, it’s uncharted territory and that can be scary.

What’s in your life toolbox?  How is it helping you to cope in a world without a simulator?

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

The Confessional

I watch a fair amount of reality TV.  Fortunately for my own sanity I don’t get caught up in “Survivor”, “Big Brother”, “The Glass House”, or any of those that we may consider to be social experiments.  I tend toward the arts, like “Project Runway”, “So You Think You Can Dance”, and I’ve watched, embarrassingly, “Gallery Girls” (I’ll share my thoughts on that another time).

What all the reality shows offer is a time for the contestant to speak to the camera one-on-one in private.  The intent of these “confessions” is for the producers to edit them into the show’s storyline giving more background information for the viewer.  In addition, it allows the contestant to reveal the truth about their experience and how they view their competitors.  Trust me, it’s seldom nice, helpful, or complimentary.  It serves as a bitch session, and probably makes for good television.

Although we’re not competing with others in our day-to-day lives, what if our homes were equipped with a confessional?  Following the diagnosis of a health challenge, or some other life-changing event, there are moments when what’s pent up inside needs to come out, but it needs to be done in a safe and secure manner.  What do you want to get off your chest in the confessional?

Research shows that holding negative thoughts in your body hinders the body’s natural defenses and limits the focus of the immune system.  Years ago there was a book titled, “You can’t afford the luxury of a negative thought”.  The book’s title alone stresses that negative thoughts cost you, maybe not dollars, but certainly peace-of-mind and the ability to focus on health and healing.

You and I know that a confessional is probably not in our future, no matter how appealing the thought might be, so what’s the next best thing?  A support group allows you to be completely honest and within a safe that is confidential and safe.  It provides you with an outlet for anything and everything you’re holding back outside those walls.

Another way to create a confessional, without anyone realizing it would be to express yourself creatively.  How many museums have you gone to and seen a work of art and you get a sense for the artist’s true feelings, not matter how raw?  I hung a show at a local hospital and I held back from hanging two pieces because the theme and the colors were dark.  One piece, “Stop the Madness”, looked as if a massacre had occurred.  It was all black, grey, and red.  It had a Jackson Pollock quality to it, but had an emotional darkness that wouldn’t have shown well in a place devoted to health and healing.  However, the fact of the matter is the piece was real!  The piece was an expression of my thoughts at that time, and that’s what came out in the studio.  I was able to release the negative energy and share my emotions without taking it out on others while being true to myself.

Short of creating your own documentary, having a space where you can be free of negative feelings is imperative.  The virtual world allows us to connect with people all over the world day and night.  It allows us share our thoughts and feelings in social media, blogs, and other creative venues

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Doctor's Visits

The Dancing Doctor

Last night was the final episode of NY Med.  I’ve shared my love for these shows because they show a behind the scenes look at the places you and I fear most.  I believe that overwhelmingly these programs show the staff in a different light than we’re used to, a more compassionate, almost goofy staff going about their daily business just like you and me.

One of the cases last night was an eighteen-year-old boy with Crohn’s Disease.  Because of his illness, the young man look as if he were about twelve or thirteen, very skinny, and not as tall as one would expect an eighteen year old to be.  The goal for the young man’s surgery was to remove the scarring that has occurred over the years and as well as the damaged part of the intestine.  Watching this young man was inspiring.  What he wanted most was to be able to eat whatever he wanted and be like his friends.

The young man went into surgery with the Chief-of-Surgery at the helm and a very conscientious resident.  The surgeon aside from the Chief-of-Surgery is one of the most prominent gastrointestinal surgeons in the country.  The young man was in good hands.  The surgery was successfully completed, the surgeon spoke with the family and at the end of the show we hear that young man has gained some weight and grown an inch; an enormous success.

When they interviewed the doctor about the case he was ecstatic.  The young man was going to thrive, something that had been out of his reach while facing this debilitating illness.  The sweetest part of the interview was when the doctor began an impromptu tap dance.  He was thrilled that this young man was going to move on to have a fulfilling life.

Surprisingly, this type of lightness and humor was not what we usually see when we go to the doctor.  I’m fortunate to have some fabulous doctors, none who dance, but certainly have shared their own personal life experiences with me, increasing their level of humanity in my eyes.  I still see them as the expert, but they aren’t necessarily on a pedestal.  They are just as human as I am, and when I can connect with them on that level, my confidence level increases, and I feel part of my own healthcare team.

What would you want to now about your doctor?  Have you ever thought to ask?  My healthcare provider has physician profiles on their website to help members choose a physician they feel they can relate.  The profile not only includes their medical training, but their interests and sometimes some personal information about their family.  I utilize this information when I have to make a decision.  I’m not picking a physician who’s passion is the biking and mountain climbing; we wouldn’t have much in common, but I am impressed by the range of interests and passions of these physicians.

Do you feel it would be helpful if you saw your doctor more as a mortal than a demi-god?  What would make you a bit more comfortable with your medical provider?

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Storytelling

Where is the Story Going?

Ever begin a book and after about 50 pages wonder where the story is going?  I have friends who must finish a book once they start it; I’m not that way.  If I don’t see where the story is going and I’m not hooked I abort the mission and move on to something more pleasurable.  Life is too short to get caught up in a bad story.

Interestingly real life works the same way.  We all have a story to tell.  We all have a story that is near and dear to our hearts, but not necessarily to others; especially if we tell the same story over and over.  You may be thinking about abandoning this post right now, but hang with me for a moment.  It’s not that people in your life don’t love you, but often we’re waiting to hear coming attractions or a sneak preview of one’s life to keep us engaged.

One of the fascinating things about your life story is that for those you’ve known a long time they hold your history.  They can help you reflect and remember those times you’d probably like to forget (like the naked pictures taken of Prince Harry).  So what happens to your story following the diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness?

I’ve sat with thousands of people and facilitated thousands of hours of support groups so I’ve heard a lot of stories.  Undoubtedly one of the most powerful moments in a group is when the facilitator or another group members asks, “So what does this mean for tomorrow”?  The inquisitor wants to create a spark in the person sharing to challenge them toward movement.  We’re not talking about making major changes, but if you’re sharing something with others, they want to know why?  What is it you’re expecting from those who are listening to your story?  If you’re only intention is to expel hot air then maybe a support group isn’t for you.  However, if you share your story with others and you’re able to get a glimpse of what’s possible based on other’s stories, then you have moments of hope and possibility.

How can I spark you today to ask yourself, “How is what I’m sharing going to influence my life tomorrow”?  “What will I take from the responses I receive from those with whom I share my story”?  “How will telling my story impact the chapter on health and healing”?  “By telling my story, what’s possible when I turn the page”?

I’d love to hear your stories!  You can share them in the comment section below or email at  greg@survivingstrong.com  Also, check out the videos at www.survivingstrongtv.com.

Posted in after the diagnosis, creativity and health, Emotional Health, Living with Illness, Self-Nurture

Create a Space Worthy of Healing

I have to admit that I watch a lot of HGTV.  I’m particularly drawn to “House Hunters International” and as of recent, been watching reruns of “My Favorite Place”.  I like to see how these famous personalities create spaces that not only function for their lives, but also actually serve a purpose…the spaces are designed mindfully.

Since arriving back home from my five-month assignment in west Texas, I’ve been thinking a lot about one space in the house.  I’ve been focusing on the space that serves as my art studio and my office.  Upon arriving home from my previous assignment in Nashville, I decided I needed a real desk so I could anchor my consciousness in a place devoted to writing.  My current return has me focused on the functionality of the space for multiple purposes.  I had two big farm tables for my textile art but it took up too much space functionally and visually.  I removed one of the tables giving me room to walk around the studio without bumping into things.

I still had one problem and that was I didn’t have a space to read.  I can’t read with technical material with the television on or music playing.  I need to concentrate when I’m absorbing new material.  I also needed a place where I could knit (part of my spiritual practice) without worrying about animal hair flying around.  I decided to buy a chair for the studio/office.

Yesterday I went to a huge furniture store and began my hunt for a chair.  I had specific requirements for the chair.  Obviously it had to be comfortable, but it also had to be functional.  Functional for knitting required the chair to be armless so I don’t keep banging my elbows while creating the shawls I’ve been knitting for the past three years.  It had to have enough support since I plan on spending a fair amount of time in the chair, and it of course had to be beautiful.

Armed with my phone (with a camera) so I could take pictures I set off on my quest for a chair.  I sat in almost forty chairs looking for the chair.  I felt a lot like Goldilocks while searching for this chair, and sure enough I found it.  The chair is armless, comfortable and the fabric is neutral.  The chair is covered with types of tea; it’s from the Teahouse collection ( I drink a lot of tea so I felt it was appropriate).

Why is all of this talk about a chair important?  It’s important because part of health and healing requires you to have spaces that are calming and soothing.  Your space needs to be a reflection of you because it’s another form of self-expression.  I find that I can enter this space and my body, mind, and spirit take a break from the chaos outside of this room.  Yes, I usually have one or more animals with me, but they stare out the window or sleep; they understand the peaceful nature of the room.

I have a beautiful photograph on the wall of painted silk drying on 30-foot high poles drying in the wind, a photo taken in China.  My desk has small pieces of art and a photograph of the crew I most recently worked with in Texas.  It was a parting gift when the contract ended.  The caption on the photo is, “We make things happen”.

What type of space would you create for your health and healing sanctuary?  How can you claim a space that’s yours for spending peaceful time?  It doesn’t have to be a room, it can be the corner of a room, but it has to be yours.  It needs to be a reflection of both your soul, and the intention you set for your healing practice.

I’d love to hear about your spaces!  Share your ideas down below in the comment section or email me at greg@survivingstrong.com

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

Time Travel

What if we could get in a time machine and travel back to any point along our own timeline, from birth to yesterday…would you do it?  What is it that you would hope to accomplish by visiting an earlier time?  What would you like to impact moving forward, if you had the chance?

I’m sure following the diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness, many begin to wonder, “what if I had done ‘xyz” differently, what would be different today”?  Knowing what I know now about myself, what would/could I have changed in the past?  What could I offer my past self that would make moving forward less painful, physically, emotionally, or spiritually?

Obviously we can’t go back in time, or change the past; but you do have the supreme power to change how you live your life moving forward.  Every day that you learn something new, you get to import that knowledge into the cells or your being and allow that wisdom to prepare you, instruct you, and protect you as you move forward with your health challenge.

It would be great if we could enter a time machine and alter our bodies in the past with the hopes of preventing disease, but science hasn’t taken that huge leap, not quiet yet.  What we can do is take our experience and use it as a filter for everything we plan moving forward related to our bodies and our minds.  We can have an impact on how we live our lives tomorrow based on the sensory lessons and real-life experiences we encounter daily.  The question is, “Are you open to learning”?

It’s easy following the diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness to become stuck and feel that you have limited opportunity to influence whether or not you get better or get well.  I would say it depends on how you define getting better or getting well, and what components make up how you’re feeling whether it’s better or well.  Of course there are scientific medical tests that will give you numbers, but how are you feeling?  Your numbers may be great, but are you feeling better?  How will you get your body, mind, and spirit in alignment?

Having the capacity to change the past would only serve you so far without the knowledge you’ve achieved along the path of life.  Starting today can you take note of the daily lesson and come up with a plan that allows you to implement that lesson tomorrow to increase your quality of life?