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

Who Really Sees You?

We’re in one of the greatest spiritual and social struggles of history.  We’re fighting the fight between putting on a persona in order to live life the way society thinks we should live it and the desire to live life authentically.  It’s a continuous duel that plays havoc on your soul because every day requires taking on new challenges and the need to develop strategies for living authentically.  What do you have to abandon socially, politically or economically to live more authentically?  How will you know when others see you for who you really are?

It’s easy to live the life of multiple personas especially when confronted with a chronic or life-threatening illness.  There is a tug-o-war between wanting to be strong and heroic and cry like a baby while being vulnerable.  In many cases neither of these personas is seen by the world.  What is seen is a reasonable facsimile of your true self.  If you live with too much bravado you may keep others at bay because they are thinking you don’t need their support or help.  Living from the place of ultimate vulnerability may frighten people because this fragile persona may need too much and they may not be prepared for the journey.

The truth is you own both of these extremes on the continuum.  So who really sees you?  Who is the person(s) in your life who can see through the false persona and see all aspects of the real you?  How did this person develop that skill?  Many rely on long-term relationships as the foundation for being seen.  Having history with someone gives you lots of data allowing you to sift through the act and cut to what’s truly real. 

The struggle emerges because we all want to be seen.  There isn’t a living creature on this earth who doesn’t want to be seen for their own magnificence.  The best way to allow others to see you is for you to take a good look at yourself.  Get to know who you are with all the positives and negatives you can conjure up.  It’s our complexity that gets in the way.  When you live a simpler life, not referring to things, but a simpler inner life you’re easier to understand.  When you aren’t covered up by layers of falsehoods or shoulds you’re more accessible. 

Being seen allows you to take a deep breath and then exhale deeply.  As you exhale sink into your authentic being.  Release the pretense of the life you’re living and give up the duel.  There are no winners in a duel so fighting to the death isn’t a win.  On this journey to wellness having the mindfulness to release the false persona releases you into the wild of what’s possible.

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

When Are You Most Yourself?

Ever feel like you have multiple personalities?  You have to be the strong fighter when facing your family and friends.  When you go to your doctor your become confused and anxious.  There’s a host of other scenarios and in each one you take on a persona either to make yourself feel better or make someone else feel better.  Do you really enjoy living like Sybil?  Living as a medical multiple personality is confusing and exhausting.  Do you even recognize yourself?

When you’re facing a chronic or life-threatening illness your identity once defined, by many, by their job, their parenting status, or their religious affiliation are now identified by all those plus your illness.  How do you balance all these sides of yourself?  Is it possible to be your true self in all or any of these arenas?  The big question you need to spend time contemplating is “When are you most yourself?”  This is the you that when you peel back all the layers the true you shines bright.  It’s the times in your life where there is a clarity of body, mind and spirit allowing for peace of mind.

Being your true self is effortless.  It’s the place in your soul where you can relax and enjoy the ease of living.  When you’re most yourself you have the opportunity to release what doesn’t serve you and that’s your decision, no one elses.  Having the capacity to be your true self puts others at ease because they aren’t responding to a made-up character.  They are responding to the most pure essence of your being.  They in turn are able to be themselves and that allows for the best of all relationships.

I encourage you to be not only the best you, but the most you.  Find that person within and life gets easier.  Experience that part of your being and boost your immune system and in turn your health and peace of mind.

Posted in authenticity

What’s Your Message to the World

You were born with more than a body, you were born with a soul.  The soul has a mission and that mission is the guiding light by which you live your life.  I’ve met thousands of people over the past twenty years whose message has changed once they were diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness.  It changed not because what they talked about necessarily changed, but how they talk about it has changed.  There is more meat behind everything they say.  The platform gets clearer and more easily understood by each and every person you meet.

It’s been said that the most memorable messages are those that come out of  “making your mess your message”.  Your health challenge is certainly a mess, but the message that emerges, maybe even erupts is like a having a new North Star.  There is a definite guiding principle for our life that you may not have had before the diagnosis.  This isn’t about debating if the diagnosis was a gift or not, but what happens when you become more authentic in your message. 

Yesterday’s post was about the jolt better known as your diagnosis.  When you get your jolt did your message change?  Did your level of gratitude increase?  Once the shock wore off, did you gain a sense of clarity that may have been just beyond your reach prior to the diagnosis?  What types of conversations do you have now and do they differ from the conversations you had before the diagnosis?  It’s not uncommon for the cocktail party talk to get thrown out the window.  It’s not necessary to keep the focus of every conversation on the diagnosis, but what about your definition of family.  What about how you want to improve the planet?  What about the education of your kids?

There are really important things to discuss in this world.  Do you have time to talk about the weather?  Your message is important and needs to be heard.  What are you going to do to get the word out?

Posted in after the diagnosis, authenticity, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Emotional Health, Integrity, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness, Spirituality and Health

Which Way to Run

It’s a big week in the United States; the inauguration of the 44th President.  There have been a number of speeches and parties over the weekend but everyone is waiting for the swearing in of the President and then that’s when the real work begins (of course once we see what Michelle Obama is wearing to the balls).

It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about our nation or our bodies, during difficult times we scramble for answers or solutions to the challenges that we face.  It’s sometimes difficult to know if we’re running away from something or running towards something.  When facing a chronic of life-threatening illness, how do we know which way to run?  The answer is simple, always run towards yourself.

You can’t make a bad decision when you decide to take the time to explore who you are.  You can’t go wrong when you choose to explore your passions and your fears.  The time is never wasted when you review the talents you offer the world.  These are all things that many of us take for granted when we’re healthy, but once hit with the diagnosis come into play in a more conscious way.

If you think of trains running on a track there is often a point where there is a switching station.  This is often where a single track becomes a two lane road so trains in opposite directions don’t collide.  There comes a point following the diagnosis when you are faced with that same switching station.  Many following the diagnosis run away from the illness, that’s natural, but there comes a time when you have to make you the priority.  Getting away from the illness can’t be the motivation because we don’t all get to escape the illness.  Running towards the authentic you will allow you to leave the harsh emotional and spiritual aspects of the illness in the dust.  It will provide a level of understanding and comfort you may never have previously experienced.

What actions will you take the allow you to run in a healthier direction?  How will you know when you’ve made the switch from running away from something to running toward something?  How has it changed your perspective on your illness?

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

The Relationship Between Depression and Illness

An article on Comcast cited a report form The American Heart Association that both heart attack survivors and those in the hospital with heart problems have an increase in depression compared to the general population.  They state that heart patients are 3 times more likely to suffer depression than the general population.  Their recommendation is to screen heart patients for depression more often, even routinely.

The truth is that many or most illnesses are accompanied by some degree of depression at one time or another.  The recommendation for screening is important and should be included in all follow-up exams no matter your diagnosis.  Just as your weight, temperature and blood pressure are measured at each visit, it should be part of the protocol to screen for depression.

Diagnosing depression is important because left untreated many patients experience a decrease in their quality of life.  They have increased levels of hopelessness and they begin to wonder why they even entered treatment.  There are a lot of causes for depression so that’s why screening is important.  Of course, once you’ve been screened, it’s up to you, the patient, to follow up with treatment.  Some doctors who are not psychiatrists feel comfortable prescribing anti-depressants but not all.  Meeting with a mental health professional may be necessary.

I’m also a strong proponent of support groups.  It’s often beneficial to attend groups with those who have the same diagnosis.  It makes it easier to offer education and resources when the group is illness specific.  What these organizations or groups can do is reduce your feeling of isolation.  It ends your “terminal uniqueness”, the feelings of despair rooted in the feeling that you’re the only one in the world suffering with this health challenge.

When we look at the mind-body connection the evidence is clear that depression is bad for the immune system.  It lowers your immune function making treatment less effective and opens you up to more infections and complications.  We have an epidemic of depression in our culture aside from those facing chronic or life-threatening illness, having the illness adds one more layer of complication.

There is hope for those suffering for depression.  If your doctor isn’t screening for depression then one way of Surviving Strong is to bring your emotional distress into the exam room.  Let your doctor know how you’re feeling.  It’s okay to coach the doctor who isn’t asking about depression to include it in each and every follow-up exam, at least for you.  You may be wondering how you would do that in a depressed mood.  What we’re talking about is honesty.  If you’re honest with your doctor it won’t take a lot of energy.  It will take some courage because being honest is often difficult especially if you think you’ll be judged.

Believe it or not many doctors treating patients with illness are not surprised at all by the reports of depression.  You might wonder if that’s the case, why don’t they ask about it.  The answer is, doctors like to ask questions about things they have answers to.  They may be able to replace four valves in your heart, but be unable to help mending a broken heart emotionally.

If you’ve dealt with depression since your diagnosis, what have you done?  Who have you received support from?  What would you like to have known before embarking on the journey out of depression?

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

Every Person Has a Legacy

It was very sad to hear that Paul Newman died Friday after facing cancer.  Looking at all the news stories it’s amazing all the ways that Paul Newman had come into our lives.  The most obvious is his film career and his marriage to Ms. Woodward.  He’s also noted for race car driving and if that weren’t enough a brand of foods promoting healthier ingredients.  He started camps for children with life-threatening illnesses.  That’s a pretty big legacy.

When diagnosed with an illness one of our thoughts is often “How will people know that I was here?”, or “What mark will I leave on the world?”  These are important questions but aren’t tied to how much money you have or what you donate to causes.  Your actions can serve as your legacy.  When your words and actions match you leave a lasting legacy.  When people who know you believe you are an authentic person, that’s a legacy.

Often one of the legal parts of a life-threatening illness is a will.  The will distributes your earthly assets.  What about another type of will, a living will that doesn’t refer to medical treatment, but the values you hope you leave behind.  Leaving behind or stating clearly while you’re alive the values you hope to have demonstrated is a powerful gift for those in your life.  It can be the foundation for others to base their lives.  It’s a powerful legacy because it lives in the hearts of the people you care about.

If you have the money and want to build a wing of a hospital or put your name on a building, that’s great.  If you want your loved ones to know the importance of a good work ethic, kindness, compassion, family and love then all you have to do is share your hopes and reflect on your actions.  It’s very powerful!

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

Caregiving and Identity

Welcome to Caregiver Friday!

Prior to becoming a caregiver did you really have a sense of your identity?  I know many woman who have been mothers talk about being the chauffeur, chef, organizer, etc. and those are the roles that are incorporated into being a mother.  Identity plays an important role in our daily lives.  It’s often the way many of us define ourselves and base our actions on those roles.  When someone you love gets an illness diagnosis you’re already playing many roles and then you get hit with caregiver.

Think about what it means to be a caregiver aside from the obvious.  The roles whether you’re a woman or a man are very similiar.  The roles include, spouse/partner, friend, confidant, chauffeur, chef, housekeeper, entertainer, cheerleader, advocate, nurse, just to name a few.  If exhausted reading the list, think about the exhaustion you feel on a daily basis.

I have a personal note to share and my hope is that you’ll avoid doing things the way I’ve done them.  I used to (notice the past tense) do things the hard way.  I would take the long road, the difficult road the tiring road and then share my experiences.  One day my therapist turned and asked me why I was willing to wear struggle as a badge of courage.  That stopped me in my tracks and decided that’s not the role I wanted to play and I worked hard to change that role.

Our identities are what we cling to because we believe they define us.  In reality, what defines us is knowing, understanding and believing that the roles we take we do out of love and often need.  We assume the various roles as a declaration of compassion.  We assume these roles because that’s what we’re made of, the desire to reduce suffering and pain while allowing someone facing a health challenge to maintain their dignity.

Taking on the role of self-preserver is not a bad thing.  Finding ways to acquire respite care shows how in touch you are with the caregiving process.  Indulging in a special treat for your hard work is not different than rewarding yourself for any other achievement in your life…it’s about self-loving tender kindness.  It’s about discarding the “shoulds” and living with the “this is what I’m capable of”; that doesn’t show lack that show understanding and integrity.  Understanding your limits is a strength not a weakness.

When going through the list of roles expand upon your identity.  Don’t only focus on the action, but the intention or the message you’re sending to the care recipient through your actions.  Consider the qualities it takes in you to fulfill the roles that make up your identity as a caregiver.  You’ll be surprised at the life affirming realizations you make when you go a bit deeper than simply stating your a caregiver.

How do you deal with you caregiver identity?  How has it changed your life?  We’d love to hear how you are managing your life as a caregiver.

I’ve launched a new site that will have short videos packed with information.  Go to  Let me know what you think, new videos will be put up every Sunday.

Posted in after the diagnosis, authenticity, Community, coping with life threatening illness, Having a Voice, Integrity, Living with Illness, Partnerships, Personal Conviction, Relationships

Your Circle of Influence

Ever wonder how many lives you touch?  Many believe that only those of a certain status can influence the life another.  This past Friday, Professor Randy Pausch lost his battle with pancreatic cancer.  His “Last Lecture” became an Internet phenomenon.  Then we had the opportunity to see him on Oprah.  If that weren’t enough his “Last Lecture” became a NY Times Bestseller.  He inspired many people both sick and healthy to live life differently.

If you’re facing a health challenge your circle of influence is greater than you realize.  You may not have a television special done about your life, but is that how we measure the influence or the mark we’ve made on the world.  Every day we have contact with people and it’s our inner nature that leaves an indelible mark on the lives we touch.

So maybe you’re not a TV personality, so let’s focus on who you are.  Think about who you have contact with on a regular basis and what part you play in their life.  It could be as simple as helping a child who has fallen at the playground get back up.  Perhaps you decided after you’ve retired to join the Peace Corps or Americorps or began volunteering in your community.  Perhaps in a year like we’re in now you’ve decided to put on your political hat and become part of a campaign.  You may have chosen to save the lives of animals who without adoption would be euthanized.

It’s not about your degree of fame that determines your level of influence; it’s the conviction in your heart that is the beacon of hope.  If nothing else, when you are facing a health challenge, hope is the key.  When you’ve been diagnosed with an illness you do have a choice about how you will live your life.  You can live life isolated and as a victim or you can see what being a part of a community and striving to make the most of each day can do for your health and the health of others.

You have more influence on the world than you can imagine.  You share your values with those at the grocery store, coffee shop and daycare.  By sharing who you are and living life in partnership with others you rub off on people.  We all want to make sure we leave a mark on the world.  If you don’t listen to Randy Pausch’s lecture or read the book or watch the You Tube of his talk, think about the change you want to see and be in the world.  Don’t wait till you’re better, doing something incredible will improve your health.  It doesn’t have to be a world wide web sensation…keep it simple and the impact will be huge.

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

You Are Not Your Illness

I’m amazed at how many people following a chronic or life-threatening diagnosis abandon their identity for that of a sick person.  The thing I want you to understand is that this is a component of your life, not who you are.  The disease is something you have, not something you are.

I used to run a program for folks who were HIV+ or had an AIDS diagnosis.  During support group meetings members would say “I’m HIV” referring to their positive status.  One day it dawned on me that they weren’t HIV, they had HIV.  There’s a big difference between the two and if the lens you use to identify yourself focuses on you as the disease you’re literally fighting an uphill battle.

I understand how this shift in thought might be easier for someone who has a chronic illness, because they incorporate the illness and treatment into what needs to become a normal life.  Those with a life-threatening illness often hold on tight to the identity like a “get out of jail free card”.  The trouble is that when you identity as a sick person those around you shift their interactions to deal with the disease and not you as a person.

As someone who has been impacted by an auto-immune disease for over thirty years I understand the struggle of identity.  It’s easy to slip into the category of the sick or fragile one, but that’s not who I am nor was I ever.  My values haven’t changed, my sense of humor hasn’t changed, my hobbies haven’t changed, they all just become more alive as I remain conscious about accentuating who I am, not what I have.

How do you tackle the identity issue?  How do you introduce yourself to others?  How quickly does your illness come up in conversation?  How do you separate who you are from what you have?  Share with us so we can boost our identity quotient and stand strong.

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

Can’t We Turn Off Our Feelings?

There are definitely those days when it would be great if our feelings were like a faucet and with the turn of the handle they stop flowing.  On the other hand, is that really the case?   Would we be better off if we could regulate our emotions so systematically?  I hear hundreds of stories a year about people who feel their feelings are getting in the way.  They believe that the stoic life is the way to go.  They feel like would be better if they didn’t have any feelings.

Life isn’t that simple.  Living a life without emotions when facing an illness seems ideal, but it’s really a bad idea.  Think about what would happen if you put the stopper in the drain of your sink and you kept the water flowing; you’d wind up with one big flood.  That’s the same thing that happens when you don’t let your emotions surface, they back up and eventually you have a flood and as we’ve seen in the Midwest, floods cause a huge amount of damage.  They level everything in their path and cover it with mud.

Don’t worry when you feel something; worry when you don’t.  If I can leave you with any words of wisdom that would be them.  Living a stifled life is a set-up for heartache and pain.  I’m not saying that you have to leak all over the place, but there is a time and place for all your emotions to be expressed.

If you bottle your emotions when facing a life-altering illness then all you’re doing is feeding the disease.  Our goal is to limit the amount of energy and power we give to our illness.  Don’t rob yourself of the opportunity to be honest about your feelings.  We all know that having a illness sucks.  No one expects you to be happy and joyful about facing a health challenge.  As long as you keep it authentic people will respond with understanding and compassion; that fuels healing.