Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Doctor's Visits, Emotional Health, Empowerment, Healthcare, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness, newly diagnosed illness

Truth Be Told

We teach children to tell the truth.  We take an oath to tell the truth when we get on the witness stand.  When we watch Superman, we hear “Truth, Justice, and the American Way”.  We’re caught up in the premise of truth and yet when we go to the doctor, we often hold back telling the truth.

Let me be clear, omission of facts (data) is not living your truth.  Minimization dilutes truth!  Trying to be or act the way our provider expects us to be/do diminishes our truth.

This is what I’ve learned after being a patient advocate for over twenty years.  If you don’t tell the truth, the raw, nitty gritty details, your healthcare provider is working with insufficient data.  If you don’t give your provider all the information, it’s like leaving ingredients out of a recipe…what a disaster.

Truth is a two-way street. If you aren’t honest with yourself, how can you be honest with your provider?  If you’re having a flare, don’t just believe it’s a passing thing and doesn’t need attention.  If you’re in pain, don’t dumb down the number on the 1-10 scale so the provider thinks you’re brave and can handle the pain with minimal intervention.  The opioid crisis is predicated on a lack of truth, making providers hesitant to prescribe narcotics for pain.

Truth is a funny thing because many believe it works on a sliding scale.  I want you to ponder the idea of truth on a sliding scale when it comes to your health and well-being.  I’ll give you an example.

One of the times I went to therapy, I was seeing a Jungian analyst.  He was a highly competent psychologist and I liked him a lot.  I trusted him.  After eighteen months of seeing him I walked into my session and initiated termination because I felt “healed”.  He was persistent in asking me if I truly believed what I was saying.  I’m stubborn!  I left therapy, telling myself I was healed.  Nine months later I was driving and pulled into a gas station to use a pay phone (I’m dating myself) and called him.  He answered, the first words out of my mouth were, “I need an appointment, I’m crazy” (not in the clinical sense, in my personal experience of how my life was going.)

I learned a lot about truth telling from that experience.  I learned that telling the truth didn’t diminish my worthiness or my life in my therapist’s opinion.  By telling my truth, I healed more quickly.  Best outcome was I felt lighter walking in my own shoes.

I encourage the patients I advocate for to be honest with their providers.  There’s a caveat here, sometimes patients feel they are telling the truth because they don’t remember/recall the complaints they’ve had between appointments.  It’s interesting that we believe an episode or experience isn’t important to tell the provider.  Every aspect of your health experience is important to the provider.

What’s the first truth you’ll tell?

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Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Emotional Health, Healthcare, Living with Illness, overcoming adversity, Spirituality and Health, Storytelling

How Does It Feel to Be You Right Now?

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.

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

What Makes Us…Us?

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!

Posted in coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Emotional Health, Empowerment

The Constants In Our Lives

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!

Posted in coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Emotional Health, living with chronic illness

Have A Good Life: Lessons from Vacation Part 1

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

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

We Walk This World As Pilgrims

We’re familiar with the pilgrims of the Middle Ages struggling to make it to the Holy Land. They overcame many obstacles, fought wars, and hopefully in the end found peace. There are many who make pilgrimages for personal reasons; physical challenges and healing of health issues, emotional freedom, or attaining spiritual enlightenment. The truth is that we walk this world as pilgrims because we’re all in search of something, even if you’re not aware of what it is in this moment.

Last night I facilitated a call for students working on their doctoral dissertations. I believe these students are on their own personal pilgrimage. They are expanding their personal and professional boundaries. They are taking on a pursuit that will change their lives forever. They are creating a soapbox on which they will stand for the rest of their lives. As someone who has completed this process I am honored and privileged to serve as their Sherpa, carrying the heavy load when necessary giving each pilgrim the space to move forward on their journey.

Richard R. Niebuhr, noted scholar from the Harvard Divinity School, stated “Pilgrims are person in motion, passing through territories not their own-seeking something we might call completion, or perhaps the word clarity will do us well, a goal to which the spirit’s compass points the way.” When we set out on a pilgrimage we have a nagging question that keeps showing up in our lives and is demanding attention. Many believe that the “good” life is one where we have a sense of completion. We have tackled the challenges set forth by that whisper in our ear nudging us to take action in our lives.

Roger Housden in Sacred Journeys in a Modern World writes, “Whatever its destination, what sets a sacred journey apart from an every day walk, or a tourist trip, is the spirit in which it is undertaken. It is sacred if it sensitizes the individual to the deeper realities of his or her own being, and those of the world in which we live.” Our pilgrimages are sacred because it’s part of our narrative. It is a catalyst for change. As Pilgrims we are making conscious what has been seeking a voice, an answer, or possibly leading us to new questions.

I’ve sat in many counseling rooms with those facing life-threatening illness and each person’s pilgrimage had similarities, seeking hope, some sense of control over their lives, and empowerment. Since not everyone who is diagnosed with an illness recovers, some individual’s pilgrimage is seeking a good death and making sure they do not have an unlived life.

Whatever your pilgrimage I hope you make each step a conscious one. Your pilgrimage will keep you consciously engaged in your life opening your body, mind, and spirit to new heights. Set out on a pilgrimage and experience the wonder this journey to the depths of soul will reveal!

Facing a chronic or life-threatening illness and looking for education, support, and inspiration?  Visit http://www.survivingstrong.com

Want to take an Art and Healing pilgrimage?  Visit http://www.timetolivecreatively.com

Follow me on Twitter: @GregKatz2

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

The Anxiety Fugue

Yesterday I talked about taking my black lab, Tashi, to the vet because of her trouble walking. I wrote about needing cue cards because the questions I should have asked escaped my consciousness in the midst of the exam. What caused my lapse in consciousness? What is it that prevented me from following my own protocols that I’ve set in place for my own healthcare when it came to Tashi? Anxiety!

Anxiety can be an overwhelming tidal wave of angst. It causes panic attacks and evokes a stance of fear. I don’t find myself to be an anxious person, but when anxiety does strike it strikes hard. It’s not invited. It’s a party crasher to our lives. I’ll give you an example.

I’ve got asthma. It’s under control with the use of a couple of inhalers. I am under a doctor’s care and have had numerous pulmonary and cardiac tests to insure that I’m getting the right care. I don’t know if you’ve ever had trouble breathing, but the anxiety of not being able to breathe, for me, is worse than not being sufficiently oxygenated. There is an anxiety of doom and potential death.

Prior to taking Tashi to the vet she was having trouble walking. She was agitated and would move around the house quickly and without purpose. Her back was hunched like one of those black cat pictures you see at Halloween. You could look in her eyes and see the angst she was feeling.

Watching Tashi struggle evoked my anxiety. Instead of waiting for the exam I was already struggling with her impending euthanasia. For me, in that moment, there was only one ending to the story and that put me in a tailspin. By the time I got to the vet I had forgotten my own medical exam process. I didn’t have enough clarity of mind to ask the questions I knew in my heart needed to be asked. It wasn’t until I got home that the fog cleared and the questions surfaced.

When anxiety strikes it can be debilitating. This is why when facing a chronic or life-threatening illness it’s important to either record your doctor’s visit or bring a family member or friend as a witness. There are too many of us who miss vital information when the anxiety fugue hits and when it comes to our health and healing we don’t want to miss anything!!

Experiencing Anxiety?  Facing a chronic or life-threatening illness?  Visit http://www.survivingstrong.com

Want to alleviate anxiety through art?  Visit http://www.timetolivecreatively.com

Follow me on Twitter: @GregKatz2