Posted in Caregiving, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, overcoming adversity, Relationships

Releasing Your Secrets Can Be Your Gateway to Freedom!

We all have a vision of ourselves that serves to provide us an identity. Cooley, a noted sociologist, devised the “Looking Glass Self”. His theory says that we see ourselves from multiple angles. He believed we see ourselves in one way, then there are the ways others see us and finally how we perceive others see us. It’s like standing in the dressing room of a clothing store and seeing yourself from all angles. The amazing thing is that he didn’t account for the secrets we hold.

The releasing of secrets can be your path to freedom. If you look at those facing addictions; it’s the secrecy that holds them prisoner. Releasing the secret provides a path to recovery.   However there are times when the focus of our secrets is not connected to shame, but the belief that we’re sparing others from experiencing the same pain you are facing the diagnosis of a chronic or life-threating illness.

John Churton Collins, a British literary critic, said, “If we knew each others secrets, what comfort we would find.” The secret of pain or symptoms prevents those closest to us from feeling taxed, or at least that’s what you believe. You look around at all those who have been caring for you and you ask yourself, “Can I burden these loving and supportive folks with one more request?” However, keeping those secrets can seriously jeopardize your health.

I understand that you believe these secrets are protective of the relationships you have with caregivers, but the truth is these secrets strain the relationships. Caregivers are there to help and when you keep secrets about pain and suffering caregivers may experience a sense of guilt for not having the mindreading abilities of The Amazing Kreskin.

The other aspect of keeping secrets about your health is that you have the chance of having minor symptoms become a serious matter that could compromise your life. When facing a chronic or life-threatening illness symptoms are not minor. They are your body’s way of saying pay attention to me. They are the outward signs that you need to change the dialogue in your head to a dialogue with your medical team. Keeping secrets from your medical team can result in severe consequences.

The real question is, “Who are you really protecting when you don’t share your secrets of pain or symptoms?” In most cases you’re protecting you. Having these symptoms or pain means something is wrong and as long as you keep it a secret it doesn’t really exist or you believe these symptoms will pass if you give it time. Why are you willing to sacrifice your well being when sharing your symptoms can bring relief and actually cut-off further damage to your body.

Secrets are good when you’re trying to do something nice for someone like a birthday party, but when it comes to your health, secrets can be your demise. Seek freedom and release those secrets!

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Posted in care for the caregiver, Caregiving, Emotional Health, Relationships, Self-Nurture

The Caregiver Experience…How You Can Channel the Amazing Kreskin?

Do you remember the Amazing Kreskin? He was best known for, what we believed was, reading minds. So many of us would see him on television and wonder how he was able to achieve these monumental perceptions and knowledge of what the subject was thinking.

If we were able to read minds life would be so much easier. The capacity to anticipate the needs of others would be a saving grace. Understanding what others need doesn’t have to be a circus sideshow; it needs to be rooted in communication and honesty.

When facing a chronic or life-threatening illness, especially when going through treatment, there are needs and desires that ease the discomfort of this part of the journey. The person who is taking medications may result in mood or behavior changes. These changes can cause tension and make you, the caregiver, feel like you’re living with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This is disconcerting and causes you, the caregiver, to question your role in the life of the patient. It also makes you question the sacrifices you’ve made because you’re feeling under appreciated.

Caregiving is a role in life that is often like being the producer and director of a theater production. You may be the coherent one during doctor’s appointments keeping track of the medications, lab orders, and doctor’s appointments. You become the Director of Transportation as you get the patient back and forth from all their appointments.

In all my years of clinical work the one aspect of the family dynamic that creates the most friction is when the person undergoing treatment is not anticipating what the patient needs. You are responsible for being the advance person, and you thought the President of the United States was the only person with an advance team.

Because there is so much “we” time when caregiving, you may feel as if you’re losing your sense of individuality. Everything is filtered through the lens of the illness. It’s crucial that you take some time to keep yourself an individual. The person undergoing treatment may use the guilt card wanting to keep you close, and even when you make plans for a surrogate caregiver, that guilt often hangs heavy over your head. Don’t give in to the cloud of guilt! The person undergoing treatment has survived difficult treatments and side effects from medications; they’ll survive you taking an hour or two for a yoga class, a meeting of your book club, or some creative time in your art studio.

It would be wonderful if we all had the mind reading gifts of the Amazing Kreskin, and in many respects you do. You’re not the caregiver because you’re a stranger; you’re near and dear to the person facing the diagnosis. Whether you believe it or not you do have mindreading capabilities. You know what the favorite foods, television programs, and genre of books is of the patient.

It’s amazing that you can anticipate what the patient needs, and yet many caregivers haven’t a clue about what they need to continue on the caregiving journey. This is one of those times when a caregiver needs a caregiver. I urge you to enlist a friend or family member to keep you grounded and to serve as your touch with reality. This person will be your mirror so you can be alerted when you need rest, a break from the illness arena, or just a reminder of who you are as a person in the world, aside from illness.

You are the Amazing Kreskin, or maybe we can say you’re simply Amazing!

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Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, overcoming adversity, Spirituality and Health

You Never Know When Angels Will Appear!

Who’s watching over us? We all face challenges in our lives and there are times when we need someone looking over us. The amazing things is that the help you need may just appear because of some connection beyond our modern day explanations.

There was a news report this morning about a man in New Zealand that was doing a sixteen-mile charity swim. At one point during the swim a great white shark made its presence known to him and the team escorting him. This would be a scary time for anyone, but swimming with the possibility that you’re about to be attacked is either an incredible display of courage or stupidity. On the other hand, what if he knew or believed that he would be protected and simply continued swimming.

The next thing that was captured on the video was a school of ten dolphins that began to swim along and around the charity swimmer. These dolphins swam beside the swimmer escorting him through what could have been a treacherous ordeal. The great white shark left the area making it safe for the swimmer to continue his mission. Why did the shark leave? The explanation is that the shark couldn’t tolerate the noises made by the dolphins so the shark went to look for other prey.

The appearance of the dolphins couldn’t be scripted. There are those who may believe this was divine intervention. It could be considered a miracle, coincidence, or science. How it’s defined isn’t the focus of our dialogue; it’s the jumping off point for exploring who or what is protecting you on your journey.

Are there times when you’ve felt protected but couldn’t explain the circumstances? Are you aware of being protected? How do you manage those moments when you feel challenged or at risk?

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Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, overcoming adversity, Spirituality and Health

The Signs Are Everywhere…Are You Open to Them?

How many of us are waiting for a sign before we make a decision, jump into action, or change the course of your life? I think about the movie Under the Tuscan Sun when Diane Lane’s character wants to buy this run down house and she’s speaking with the old woman selling the house. The woman is very clear that she can’t sell the house because she’s waiting for the sign that the right buyer of the house is standing before her. As Lane’s character is leaving, a bird craps on her shoulder. Immediately, the old woman screams (in Italian), “that’s the sign”, and Lane’s character buys the house.

This idea of signs is intriguing to me because they are often found in the most unique ways. It’s not as if there’s a billboard on the side of the road that gives you the answer to an important issue or question your grappling with; it’s not that simple. For many, the sign doesn’t appear until there we surrender after a journey of inner darkness, inner denial, or inner doubt.

Earlier this week I mentioned David M. Howitt’s book Heed Your Call. After spending countless hours working at a corporate law firm, working long hours, feeling desperate to get out but no exit strategy Howitt’s sign appeared. He was working on a holiday weekend late into the night when he went to use the restroom. In the stall on top of the toilet tank was a tube of Preparation H, a product used to alleviate the symptoms of hemorrhoids; that was his sign. You may be laughing, as did I, at the moment of his epiphany, but he took it seriously and it was the springboard for him to propel to freedom.

Have you been asking yourself questions that don’t present with easy answers? Has your diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness or other trauma presented challenges that make you feel like you’re in a ditch with no clear-cut way to escape? Are you open to the signs that may present themselves at any given moment?

If you’ve had the experience of receiving a sign share it with us, let’s share our experiences as we build a vibrant health and healing community.

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

No One Is Immune From Worry

I’ve been working in the field of chronic and life-threatening illness for over twenty years. Sitting in an amazing number of support group meeting rooms I’ve been witness to stories about how the participants came to know of their diagnosis. The stories all included a common component, the moment they knew something was amiss worry set in and accompanied them along the path to diagnosis.

Over the past couple of months I’ve been having a number of pulmonary symptoms. My breathing has been labored and simple exertion has sent me running for my inhaler. The inhaler is supposed to be used as a rescue measure; I needed a lot of rescuing. This problem breathing sent me to the doctor and on the odyssey began.

While telling the doctor my story he decided to do an EKG. Prior to entering the doctor’s office, I never considered the notion that it could be my heart. I felt my blood pressure rise. I wasn’t concerned with the test; it was more the element of surprise that created this sense of panic. The test was easy and fortunately it didn’t show any abnormalities. Then came the next surprise, he was sending me for a nuclear stress test.

Along with the test for these problems I was due for a colonoscopy, the joys of reaching fifty (actually I’m a couple of years late). I was given the laundry list of prep for the test and then set off to the GI department. The doctor came in and explained the procedure and then asked if I had any questions. I explained that I was a medical social worker and knew the process. I also told him that I couldn’t change the results of the test as I was laying on the gurney. I would await the results of the test and at that point in time I would take whatever actions were necessary.

I was telling my mother this story and she said, “I bet your doctor wished he had a hundred patients like you.” I had a calm and recognition that at the time of the test I couldn’t change the results. My body would do or done whatever it was going to do and the only “control” I would have would be how I handle the findings/results.

So why did the initial tests cause worry and the colonoscopy didn’t result in the same angst? The EKG was a surprise. I wasn’t surprised by the pulmonary tests, but the cardiac tests caught me off guard. The same with the colonoscopy; it was scheduled and I prepped for it so I was prepared for the test itself, the results remain to be determined.

It doesn’t matter how prepared we are, there are things we will worry about. Worry tends to be a useful emotion because it never changes the outcome. The only thing worry does it raise blood pressure, make us anxious, and propel our mind into a spiral of “what ifs” that ends in creating worse case scenarios.

We’re not immune to worry. How we handle the worry is the only control we can ever possess. Understanding what our worry triggers are can help as we move through life. It allows us better understand our psyche. We become more aware of our fragility and that is a scary process. There is a difference between fragility and vulnerability (something to be explored down the road). Fragility leaves us exposed to what we perceive as harmful to the body, mind, or spirit.

What do you tend to worry about? How do you handle that worry?

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Posted in coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, overcoming adversity

How Do You Interpret Life’s Challenges?

There are certain sayings that give me pause when I hear them because they call into play the master plan of the Universe. The one that I have a hard time hearing is, “Everything happens for a reason?” To me, that phrase implies the Universe providing us with the biggest question of our lives and trying to make sense of challenging times. Would it make it easier if there were a reason for everything, or would it complicate the issue?

I started reading David M Howitt’s new book, “Heed Your Call”. Howitt states, “Most of us interpret being blessed with challenges as being dealt a bad hand.” So is it possible that challenges are blessings? Do they encourage us and challenge us to try something new? Are there degrees of difficulty in the challenges that present themselves in our lives?

I ask this question because I’ve sat in hundreds of support groups for those facing chronic and life-threatening illness and the notion that a health challenge is a blessing perplexes me. I do understand that a gift can be found within the challenge, in this case an illness diagnosis, but the illness itself as a gift I still question.

There is one aspect to Howitt’s quote that I like, and that’s the notion that we’re blessed to be or do better in our lives. The idea that we’re faced with challenges to overcome something we’re avoiding, or something we wholeheartedly desire is truly a blessing. We do become stronger when we conquer a challenge. The number of people who climb Mt. Everest every year is amazing. Each climber is striving to reach the mountains summit as well as the summit within their own physical, emotional, and spiritual being.

I do agree with Howitt that attributing a life challenge as being a dealt a bad hand serves no purpose. I often joke about being my family’s genetic dumping ground. I don’t say that out of anger, but it is a fact that I seem to be the repository for many of my families health shortcomings. Fortunately, since I’ve was a child I’ve had support and love allowing me to face each challenge as it arises making me the resilient being I am today. Did I know as a child that these challenges were blessings? I often wonder if I learned to consciously filter all of life’s challenges through the lens of resilience. It provides me with great comfort in that belief.

How do you filter your life’s challenges? Are you on the side that life’s challenges are a blessing or a bad hand you’ve been dealt? I hope we can start a dialogue and explore this further.

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

Are You Sleeping?

Sleep is crucial to living. If we didn’t sleep we wouldn’t dream and that would lead to psychological distress. Sleep is also pleasurable and a way to rejuvenate the body, one of the key ingredients to health and healing. However, physically sleeping is very different than emotional or spiritual sleeping. Like me, if you’re living life trying to stay in the question, then the question we need to ask is, “What will awaken you to the fact that you’re asleep?”

The self-help books and your therapist would probably equate emotional sleeping with denial or detachment (as a possibility). What if being emotionally asleep were deeper than the need to separate from our experience? What if being emotionally asleep was actually something along a continuum. Is it possible that the emotional sleep scale runs the gamut from coma to exhilaration/mania?

On the other hand, what about being spiritually asleep? So many in-industrialized western societies lead lives of quiet desperation, according to Henry David Thoreau. What keeps us asleep? Are we culturally driven to be spiritual narcoleptics? Similar to emotionally sleeping, does spiritual sleep live on a continuum from spiritual narcolepsy to spiritual insomnia? Again, what will get you to ask, “What will awaken me to the fact that I’m asleep?”

Unfortunately it often takes a negative experience, even to the extreme of a trauma for many of us to awaken from that sleep. There is a jolt to the body, mind, and spirit that begins an energized projectile to the awakened state. If you go to any bookstore look at the number of books that speak about the transformation experienced after being diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness, the numbers will astound you.

The awakened state can be a scary experience. Living in this state of heightened experience and awareness fills us with questions. These questions are the path to freedom.   The great thing about questions is that they get you to come up with different scenarios, answers, or possibilities. Questions keep us engaged in our own life experience. They are the carrot on the stick that draws us forward until we develop the ability to be self-propelled to mind-body-spirit transformation/healing.

What awakened or will awaken you? Share your awakening experience in the comments section below and let’s start a conversation.

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