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Archive for the ‘coping with life threatening illness’ Category

I watch a lot of interviews because I believe they give a behind the scenes look at people’s lives and circumstances.  It’s similar to what Andy Andrews shares about autobiographies, no one ever wrote an autobiography who didn’t succeed.  The same can be true for interviews, only those who overcome challenges (I’m not referring to celebrities, it’s all walks of life) get interviewed.

Jake Gyllenhaal’s new movie “Stronger” about Jeff Bauman who survived the Boston Marathon bombing was the focus of the interview.  When asked about his process he shared advice from an acting teacher, “The target draws forth the arrow”.  What do you think about when you read that statement?  It shouldn’t be a surprise that when I heard the quote I jumped for a pad and paper because these words of wisdom will make you think about how you take on life’s challenges.

When faced with a life challenge, especially a chronic or life-threatening illness there is a primary target…wellness!  It’s similar to the saying Keep Your Eye on the Prize!  When we have a target to focus on, we are given something to aim our physical, emotional, and spiritual energies.

The doctor gives us the target.  The moment you hear the words “I’m sorry to tell you but…” you become an arrow.  You are summoned to take aim and make conscious decisions.  It will take the momentum you absorb from friends, family, medication, and faith to propel yourself toward the target.

Champion 24-Inch Bullseye Archery Target (2-pack)

There is something empowering about picturing yourself as an arrow, moving with force and speed toward a desired outcome.  My ongoing reminder is, you may not get well, but you can always get better.  Remember a target has rings with the bulls-eye in the center.  What do the outer rings mean to you?  What if you don’t hit a bulls-eye the first time or ever?  What level of comfort do you have focusing on other aspects of your life if wellness isn’t in the cards?

I hope when picturing yourself as the arrow, you equate it with being a real-life superhero.  Your journey is unique to you!  The outcomes may or may not be within your control, but where do you have control?  You have control over your determination, perseverance, and attitude.  You have the right to create a relationship with your doctor that is both respectful and honest.

We will all have targets that arise in our lives because challenge is part of the human experience.  The arrow you become shapes your narrative.  Your narrative is the force behind your momentum…keep it going!

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We live in tumultuous times and it’s scary waking up every day with so much uncertainty in the world.  The truth is, even when things are in alignment politically, socially, and atmospherically, the person we are is always in the uncertainty zone.  How is that possible?

We’re complex beings physically, mentally, and spiritually.  If you look around your community, watch the news, or truly listen to the stories told by your friends and family you come to understand the depth of our complexity.  Unfortunately, along with complexity comes fragility, that sliver of vulnerability that exposes our human Achilles heel.

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My father called me a couple of days ago and opened our conversation with, “You know I’m at an age where a lot of people I know are dying.”  If nothing makes you vulnerable (at least in your own mind) mortality usually creates an emotional and spiritual gash in our armor.  It makes everything frighteningly real.  It exposes our imperfections while simultaneously accentuating our strengths.

We greet one another with the age-old question, “How are you?”  What are we really asking?  If you ask the question, are you prepared for the truth? I like the question “How does it feel to be you right now?”  It’s a question of connection.  It gives the person you’re connecting to the ability to be in the moment.  It gives each of us the opportunity to understand what it’s like to live in the body, mind, and soul of another human being.

I was involved in an ethics discussion about the interaction between doctors and their patients.  We were exploring the idea of empathy. When we have these discussions, the debate is often about sympathy and empathy.  Noted anthropologist, and one of my mentors, Angeles Arrien expanded the continuum.  Her research and experience shared that sympathy amplified suffering because it emphasized the pity we felt for the another.  Sympathy often comes from the vantage point of “better you than me”.   When we’re empathetic, we end up doing the work for the other person, letting them off the hook because we take on the pain.  However, if we feel compassion we don’t have to go into the emotional state of the other, but we can be totally present.  The state of presence is healing.

Where are we going with all of this?  I want to be present with you.  I want to know what your life is like right now because it’s your true story.  When you share how you are right now there’s an aliveness we can experience any other way.  Let’s shift our perspective and begin asking this very important question and see how our experiences with others change and deepen.

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We all have that moment when we look in the mirror and truly see ourselves for the first time.  It might be the day of a big birthday, graduation from school, or for some, the diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness.  It’s a moment when clarity mixes with curiosity.  A split second when you ask the question, “Who am I?”

I spend a lot of time in my studio and I listen to podcasts to keep me company.  This is a recent shift because music used to be my go-to studio mate, but there’s so much to learn that the podcast has been like being in a virtual classroom.  Listening to podcasts coupled with watching interviews on the DVR gives me plenty of material to convert into creative iterations of my life.

On Super Soul Sunday Oprah interviewed Pastor A.R. Bernard.  A pastor for forty years he has one of the largest congregations in the country.  Well-spoken and thoughtful, he gives you the feeling like you’re sitting in his study ready to experience an epiphany.  He turned to Oprah and said, “Every personal crisis starts with an identity crisis!”  Can you think of anything more poignant when considering the diagnosis of an illness?

When we couple the question of mortality, quality of life, and identity in one equation we’re faced with a big challenge…who are we?  What makes us who we are?  What do we need to learn?  How will this/these experiences change my life, change me?

I’ve facilitated thousands of hours of support groups over my twenty-five years as a therapist.  The question of identity is center to a diagnosis.  All too often people surrender to a label.  All the qualities they embodied prior to the doctor saying, “I’m sorry to tell you….” disappear into thin air.  There is a tendency to redefine ourselves by our diagnosis, our side-effects, even our limitations.  What would happen if we redefine ourselves by adding qualities instead of subtracting them.  Imagine adding qualities like determined, dedicated, self-loving, and conscious to your personal identity!

If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a hundred times in these posts, “We may not get well, but we can always get better.”  So how has your identity been altered?  What do you see in the mirror that you may not have seen prior to your diagnosis, or other life challenge?  What new qualities will you inhabit with your ever-evolving identity?

We’re all in this together…I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Do you remember taking algebra and having the constant in the equation?  Constants are important because they create stability.  When we have constants in our lives we have a sense of safety and security.  They say, “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.”  I started thinking about what’s constant in my life because I work all over the country and it feels like things are constantly changing.  Knowing someone at home loves me even if I’m not there is critical to continuing my work away from home.  Experiencing support in the form of life updates keeps me in the loop even when I step out of the circle physically (but never emotionally or spiritually).

I was listening to an interview with Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron where she shared, “The sun is always there-sometime clouds are disguising it, but it never leaves.”  That’s the simplest way to describe object constancy, knowing something still exists even if we can’t see it.  How is that possible?  We experience the world through multiple senses and on top of that we have our innate sense of intuition.  When we pair all these sensory and experiential aspects we build a spiritual nest where in our hearts we know we’re protected.

I’m not sure why, but many equate constant with boredom.  You here things like same s**t different day.  If we’re coming up against the same challenges repeatedly and you think that’s a constant there’s a problem.  Incurring the same obstacles over and over is insanity.  It’s in that moment that changing your strategy is critical to moving forward.  The constant experiences in your life should be the things that support you, encourage you, provide you with a sense of security and allow you to take some risks to hopefully improve your pilgrimage to health and healing.

Remember, the sun really is there even if you can’t see it and so your humanity!  The world needs you!

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Valentine ’s Day is right around the corner and stores are displaying merchandise and cards for the occasion.  I started thinking about the messages sent by some of the big companies like Ma Bell and Hallmark and what’s been lost with the invention of Facebook and other social media.  Ma Bell wanted us to “Reach Out and Touch Someone”, and Hallmark told us buying cards, “When You Want to Send the Best”.  These two company taglines spoke more, to me, than just about commercialism, but how we interact in the world.

I’ve watched the number of birthday cards dwindle significantly over the past four years.  I used to have a mantle full of cards, and now it’s down to a select few.  Don’t get me wrong, I get plenty of Happy Birthday messages on Facebook, but it’s different.  We no longer have to plan on how we interact.  We are now able to wake-up in the morning and see who we need to send a birthday wish, congratulate for an achievement, or commiserate about a dilemma.  What happened to sentiment?  Have we lost the ability to connect more than electronically?

I sent out a bunch of cards today because there are people who I haven’t spoken to in a while that I wanted to send a special message.  I want to appreciate certain people who have supported me, kept me in the loop of their lives while I’ve been traveling the country.  It gave me an opportunity to say I took the time to spend a few minutes devoted to connecting with you.  I know I may be a bit over the edge, but social media has left too many people connected to others with only a dotted line, and they’re still lonely.

When going through difficult times we need to make those phone calls, send those calls, and show that we’re making an effort and that this person matters to you more than just a count on your Facebook page.  Illness, divorce, death, financial struggle to name a few are life events that require deeper connections to emerge with a sense of peace and to have the ability to continue on life’s pilgrimage!

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We all need people on our side when things get rough.  We all face adversity and in those moments of despair, challenge, and simple questioning it’s important to know who is on your side.  I’ve seen the best and worst in recent days and I’d like to share both accounts with you.

I work with a woman who is currently one-thousand miles away from home.  Her husband and three children are home and she’s in contact with them throughout the day.  Recently, her daughter was accused of cheating while taking a final.  The teacher believe she saw the young woman looking down at her cell phone during the exam.  As luck would have it, the young woman’s phone was taken the night before by her father, so the cheating on those grounds was an impossibility.

What hurt the most is that the teacher accused the student in front of the class.  My colleague called the school, spoke with the administrators and got to the bottom of the matter.  The administrator agreed that the cheating would be expunged and then asked my colleague what she felt would be appropriate to rectify the situation.  My co-worker said that since her daughter was accused before the class, an apology before the class and the administrator agreed.  How’s that for knowing that someone is on your side.  This young woman knows that “right” is on your side and that there are people (her parents) willing to go to bat to defend her honor and integrity.

On the flip side is another recent turn of events.  Management for a company was challenged by their client about a business practice.  In turn, the upper echelon sent the front line managers and accusatory email with the tone of a reprimand.  I don’t know about you but my leadership training has always taught me that before taking action you get all sides of the story so you have a clear picture of the situation.  In addition, you hired your staff for a reason and if your client is having concerns don’t you have enough respect for your own staff to address them in a respectful and inquiring manner?  I heard the story and imagined myself in that predicament.  I can’t imagine feeling like my own company was against me.

So how does all of that related to the theme of Surviving Strong?  It’s critical that you believe your support team, both medical and personal are always on your side.  I remember reading Jerome Groopman’s book How Doctor’s Think, the story in the introduction of the book tells it all.   He tells the story of a young woman who was diagnosed with an eating disorder and for twelve years she was passed from one doctor to the next searching for the root of the problem.  It wasn’t until the last doctor set her records aside, took out a clean pad of paper, and asked her tell her story from the beginning.  He was on her side.  He knew that if he was going to help her it was imperative that he believe in her and her story.

In order to achieve peace of mind, strength of body, mind, and spirit, and a sense of community knowing who is on your side is important.  It’s a crazy world and knowing with your whole heart that you’re not in this alone can make or break your journey to health and healing.

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Recently I took a Trans-Atlantic cruise from Barcelona to Fort Lauderdale. After stopping at a few ports it was time to cross the Atlantic Ocean, a journey that would be seven days across the sea. The trip was fourteen days so there was plenty of time to interact with other passengers along the way. It’s not uncommon to become friendly with people you see over and over throughout the trip. On the last day when everyone is getting ready for departure we say our goodbyes. One person shook my hand and said, “Have a good life”. I walked away and began to think about this interaction. It left me wondering about the people we meet every day and the impact they have on our lives.

Unless you meet someone and make plans to cross paths in the future it’s likely you’ll never interact with those you meet along your life path. I found it interesting to exist in a microcosm of the world.   Twenty-eight hundred passengers and about fourteen hundred crewmembers created a city on the sea. The people I gravitated to I met at activities such as lectures and other scheduled meetups. Two weeks gives you plenty of time to maintain ongoing discussions in an attempt to get to know the others on the ship.

It’s not as if you become friends with everyone you meet, but you do have an affinity for certain people. You seek these people out because they become your onboard social network. It makes the trip more enjoyable, and in some cases friendships do develop.

It was the statement, “Have a good life” that made me consider who enters and exits my life over time. There are people who I have spent a lot of time with and over time when the group disbands the associations remain in tact through Facebook and other social media, but the day-to-day interaction seems to dissipate. How do we measure the impact and the lessons learned from those who enter and exit our lives? What is it that these people we gravitate to are sent to teach us on our journey of life? How can we make the most of the interactions we experience and develop a deeper understanding of our social nature and its impact on health and healing?

I’m grateful for the people I met, the stories I heard, and the experience of sharing the gift of travel with wonderful people. I was happy to deepen friendships with those I have traveled with before and extend my social circle with those I met who I know I’ll see again. I’m grateful for the life lessons I learned through anecdotes and activities. It’s important to know that all we want for each other is to “Have a good life”, but to hear it is reassuring!

Looking to further your journey of health and healing?  Visit http://www.survivingstrong.com

Want to explore how to have a good life through creativity?  Visit http://www.timetolivecreatively.com

Follow me on Twitter: @GregKatz2

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