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Archive for the ‘Community’ Category

If you follow my blog you know that I travel around the country for work, months at a time. I work long hours and in return my time off is really off. I’ve had the good fortune to visit some great cities and in each one I make sure and find my tribe. My tribe is anyone who engages in artistic endeavors, no matter the genre. In addition, I always make it a point to visit the local attractions such as museums and botanic gardens not to mention quilt shops and knitting shops.

My current work assignment is in Baltimore. My other blog www.manofthecloth.wordpress.com is where I focus on stitching as meditation. I was looking for a particular yarn and found that a local art supply store happened to carry this gorgeous 100% wool yarn. I made it over to the shop, found the yarn, but they didn’t have enough for my project. Little did I know, until I got up to the register, that they have back stock that isn’t on the floor. I found five more skeins of yarn and proceeded to check out.

The staff inquired if I was affiliated with the Art Institute as a student or faculty member, to receive the discount. I explained that I’m visiting from out-of-state for a work contract. Once I divulged where I lived, the two employees proceeded to tell me about all the art spots that I had to see while in town. First they were focused on fiber art, since that’s my medium, but I explained I’m open to anything art related. They gave me a list of locations, exhibitions, and venues to visit before I leave town. They made me feel very welcomed and over the next few weeks will give me things to see and do while I’m far away from home.

So who is your tribe? What makes a tribe? I find that it’s about common passions. It doesn’t matter what you’re passionate about, these folks exist all around you. Another way that tribes are formed is by common experience. I’ve worked in outpatient drug and alcohol programs and the bonds that are formed are very strong. When I worked at The Wellness Community, serving cancer patients and their families, they created a tribe. The tribe can tell you the things you need to do, see, look for, and experience, as well as where the land mines are to avoid.

I was fortunate to attend a graduate school that had the ancient Wisdom Traditions as the foundation of the curriculum. I met amazing people who were on the same pilgrimage as me. We took classes together, worked on our dissertations together, and fortunately graduated together. The experience of traveling with other seekers was amazing. It eased much of the anxiety of the process and increased my level of devotion to the work. My tribe supported and nurtured me throughout my journey.

Where we got the notion that it’s better to go it alone I’m not sure. What I do know from personal and professional experience is that having a tribe makes me feel a part of something larger than me. It gives me the sense of expansion and possibility that exists beyond what I can see in my world today.

Who makes up your tribe? How have they created a safe haven on your personal journey? How have you benefited from being part of a tribe? Be conscious of these questions and I think you’ll be amazed at the connections that are all around you!

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We meet many people throughout our lives. People come and go and if we’re lucky some of them will stay for long periods of time, even forever. This type of relationship is not only heartwarming, but can have substantial health benefits because of the mind-body connection.

Lacey Holsworth is a young girl facing a life-threatening battle with cancer. When the Michigan State University’s basketball team visited the hospital a relationship was born. Lacey and Adreian Payne bonded in a most unique way. He is considered by himself and Lacey’s family to be a part of the Holsworth family. How can you explain the relationship between a 6’10” basketball player and an 8-year-old cancer patient? It’s easy….LOVE!!!

The story was broadcast this morning on Good Morning America. Seeing Adreian and Lacey interact goes far beyond being cute. It moves us into the realm of how love and relationships can serve as a healing tool. Human connection, a sense of belonging, and empathy are some of the things that bring people together and help reduce suffering, isolation, and depression.

It would be easy to think that the benefits of this relationship are only for Lacey, but Adreian benefits as well. His heart is opened and that makes all the relationships in his life more meaningful and felt at a deeper level. The ability to express love and concern for others translates into all areas of our lives. It makes us better family members, better students, better athletes, overall, better humans!

Who has come into your life and left a lasting impression? How are the relationships in your life part of your healthcare plan? Are you aware of the people who cross your path and are meant to be part of your life from here to eternity? We’d love to hear your stories! Feel free to tell us your story in the comment section below!

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There are so many times when facing a chronic or life-threatening illness that we feel alone. It’s not a surprise because it’s happening to us and while in a state of shock, it’s hard to believe that anyone else could possibly be experiencing turmoil and confusion.

I’ve been fortunate over the past twenty-five years to work in nonprofit agencies that promoted a sense of community. We’re all stronger when we align with others on a similar path. Over the past twenty years we have seen the proliferation of nonprofit organizations that are illness specific. They provide support services and education about living with the specific diagnosis.

I was reminded of that this past week when I had a conversation with someone who recently moved to the Denver area. He’d spent years in New Mexico and moved to Denver to have a broader sense of community. He was pursuing a deeper spiritual path, but felt he needed a broader sense of community.

Listening to his story made me think about the impact of having a sense of community. Knowing that you belong to something greater than yourself is empowering. It doesn’t only pertain to having an illness; I find the same comfort in the art guild I belong (275 members). We form a sense of community and the numbers of people that attend the monthly meetings, participate in critique groups, and come together to create amazing exhibits.

This morning I began looking at organizations that provide social activities in the Denver area. The idea of being amongst others, participating and generating communal energy is uplifting. The sense of belonging it critical to our well-being. It decreases the circular thinking that often gets us in trouble because we are getting feedback from others.

What are you doing to stay connected? How does developing a sense of community provide your immune system with a boost? What is it about community that you value most? I’d love to hear about your community experience; I hope you’ll share it in the comment section below.

Looking for more information about living with chronic and life-threatening illness? Go to www.survivingstrong.com for more resources and opportunities!

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When I began thinking about the idea of being shipwrecked I thought about Tom Hanks movie, Cast Away.  All I kept thinking about were the conversations with “Wilson” the ball.  That’s what isolation leads on to do, create ways of staying sane.  If he didn’t have “Wilson” why would he be insane (or potentially insane)?  Because he’d be along and isolation makes us do crazy things.

We’re social creatures and it doesn’t matter if you’re an introvert or an extrovert, we have a need and are driven to be in contact with others.  So how does this apply to your life since your diagnosis with a chronic or other life-altering illness?  You may feel that in your circles there is no one who understands you.  There is no one in your world who knows the heartache and fear that accompanies the diagnosis of a health challenge.  You may even be questioning how can the medical community understand your journey unless they themselves have traveled the same road.

I understand your concerns and as a provider and someone who has been living with an aut0-immune disease most of his life, I can tell you it gets better.  How did it get better?  I found people who spoke my language.  I began talking to other people who had some type of illness.  For me, it didn’t have to be the same diagnosis, but someone who understands the stress and strain of a complete lifestyle change that includes doctors, medications, lab tests, and other changes to life’s routine.

When I went to graduate school and then got my psychotherapy license I focused on nonprofits that served people with health challenges.  We found that treating the body, mind and spirit helped alleviate the isolation or that feeling of being shipwrecked.  It put people in community, and that’s vitally important to health and healing.  We weren’t meant to travel this road alone.  Yes, it’s true, you have to take responsibility for your life that includes following a treatment regimen, getting enough rest, exercise, and proper nutrition.  It also includes expressing your feelings about these changes and that’s why for many support groups are vitally important.  In addition, spiritual support will take your journey inward so you can explore the questions that arise as a result of your health challenge.

Don’t end up talking to a ball named Wilson.  Find ways to connect so you don’t feel shipwrecked.  Get off the island of isolation and find a community that will support you, understand you, and make you feel a part of something larger in this crazy world.

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Welcome to Caregiver Friday!!!

Every so often I meet a caregiver who makes me rethink the idea of the superhero.  I keep waiting for this person to transform themselves right before my eyes (that is if they aren’t accustomed to changing close in a phone booth) and automatically be imbued with powers beyond imagine.  If that were truly the case there would certainly be a lot less suffering in the world.  The truth is that when you engage in caregiving you don’t do it off the cuff, as a second choice, as something to pass the time.  You take on the caregiving role out of love, friendship, respect and the belief that your energy is part of the wellness or healing equation.

The truth about caregiving is that the hours can be long, if not physically at least mentally.  It can consume your life.  It can cause you to worry beyond the boundaries you thought possible.  It can leave you feeling powerless at the times when you need to feel in control.  It can be heartwarming and joyful as a means of sharing an intimate experience in another’s life.  It can expose qualities in you that you weren’t aware of or thought were dormant.  It allows you to exercise your faith in human nature, connection to a force greater than yourself and an admiration for science you may have never known.

So what happens when you think your hardest “isn’t enough”?  I hear caregivers say “if only I could have___________________(you fill in the blank).  The truth is your hardest will always be enough, in fact it will most likely be more than enough.  The human condition is strong and fragile at the same time.  We’re given opportunities and experiences that continuously change our lives.  How can you know that your hardest is more than enough?  When you can be in the sacred space of caregiving and be totally present in that experience.  I know it can be hard to sit with pain, despair, frustration and a host of other emotions, but that’s when you’re hardest is more than enough.

I’ve spoke about caregiving and identity, and true your self-concept will change throughout the caregiving process.  It’s also true that we are fundamentally consistent in how we process information and our emotions.  Don’t you see…your hardest has to be enough because that’s all you have.  It’s not like syphoning gas out of someone else’s car.  You are who you are and accepting that will bring relief and immeasurable confidence in your actions, decisions and beliefs.  Having limitations is not a bad thing, in fact for many caregivers accepting their limitations probably saved their own lives.

It’s through out limitations that we begin to rely on community.  We come to understand that constructing 20 foot high walls, trying to protect yourself and the patient from the outside world is counter-productive.  When we accept our limitations we begin to look for those who have complimentary skills and gifts.  We begin to see that caregivers as a community are greater than the sum of its constituents.

Your hardest will always exceed expectations.  Don’t try and become something your not; that leads to disappointment and despair.  Understand that the gifts you have to offer of support, compassion and love, will serve the person you’re caring for as one more arm of their journey to wellness.  You’re an integral part of their lives, while at the same time understanding that you too have a life that is parallel to the caregiving process.

I can tell you that your hardest may not always be popular and that’s when you most need to sit with those feelings.  Limitations keep us in the human world.   We’re not born to be superheroes, we’re born to be part of a community and relationships that enhance our lives.  When health challenges enter the picture although not ideal, have to be confronted.  I know it can be all-consuming; that’s why understanding that humans have limitations proves in and of itself that your hardest is all we have and is more than enough!

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The three major networks did something unheard of Friday evening.  The three networks combined forces, resources and audiences for “Stand Up To Cancer”.  It was a combination infomercial, telethon, education forum and entertainment.  The hope was to raise money for cancer research.  The commentators kept referring to the “dream team”.  The “dream team” refers to the network of cancer researchers on the brink of amazing discoveries for cancer treatment and cure.

It’s amazing that an illness takes center stage on the major networks during prime time.  The idea that together we’re stronger was certainly emphasized along with the opportunity to bring together big entertainment names shared amongst the networks.  It is truly a tribute to ingenuity and technology when the networks for the good of the country and those facing devastating disease can be helped.

Then last night ABC showed “America Stand Up”, all this standing could make you tired.  The show was a tribue to our troops who are fighting overseas for our freedom.  It’s through their commitment and bravery that change can happen in the world.  Remember, this is about supporting the troops, not supporting the war…there is a big difference.

All in all what does this tell us.  It punctuates that when we come together we’re stronger.  It shows us that standing for something, anything is enriching and builds our immune systems.  When we feel engaged and empowered to be a part of something bigger than ourselves we experience gratitude and that feeds the soul.  The notion that we can alter the course of history is worth noting.  We’re able to bring to the public’s attention information while asking for help to make the world a better place?

What do you stand for?  How do you think it impacts your life?  How do you want to use your voice?  Share it with us and let’s stand together!

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One of the biggest challenges for those facing an illness either on the patient side or the caregiver side are the feelings of isolation.  It’s difficult when most of your contacts, friends and family, have had no or very little experience with illness.  You look for a sympathetic ear and although they mean well you probably know the blank stares that come your way.

During the day it’s easy to create diversions because there is so much to do.  It’s once the sun goes down and the world gets smaller that the sense of isolation increases.  For the patient and caregiver, trying to support one another isn’t helpful because you’re both fighting the same demon.  You try and remember what it was like prior to the illness and although your activities may not have been any different, like sitting in front the of the television, the implications of your new circumstance ring loud like bells in church steeples.

It’s important that you each set up some type of communication plan.  Care groups form to help ease the experience by cooking meals, driving the patient to an appointment or by picking up the phone and making human contact.  I know that sleep patterns are often not usual so what do you do when it’s the middle of the night, you look out your window and every light on your block is out.  Remember that with technology there is always a part of the world that is awake.  Illness and caregiving is a universal experience.  There are both those who can’t sleep who you can communicate with online and those halfway around the world who are dealing with the day-to-day challenges of facing illness.

Don’t let isolation get the best of you.  Come up with solutions to create a strong community and make sure that you utilize the resources that are provided to you (both of you).  What do you do to tackle those sleepless nights?  Let’s share so that we make the world less of a lonely place.

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