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Archive for the ‘Living with 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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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

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One of the things I had to break myself from doing when I spoke was splitting parts of myself. I can look back and see how I had confused indecision with no commitment. If you’re wondering what I’m talking about let me give you an example. I would be discussing an issue and would find myself saying, “A part of me….” How is that possible? Did I really think that only the cells in my right pinky believed a particular thing and the rest of body was in revolt? I’ve spoke with many people over the years that try and exile a part of the body that is causing them trouble but that never seemed to work. Unifying the body, mind, and spirit is the only path to health and healing.

If we divide ourselves in physical, emotional, and spiritual beings it’s like having three people fighting for limited resources. When we unify our forces we create an incubator for healing. It’s that incubator that provides a safe place to nurture a strategy for growth, renewal, and peace. It takes some work, but it reaps huge rewards.

Dr. Jeff Miller shared, “Body and soul cannot be separated for purposes of treatment. For they are one, and indivisible. Sick minds must be healed as well as sick bodies.” Having had the privilege of spending thousands of hours with individuals facing chronic and life-threatening illness I understand the importance of a unified front. You can’t play the game we did as kids, if mom says no ask dad, because we diminish the odds for health and healing.

We have to remember that when we’re facing emotionally draining situations our bodies defenses are compromised. The ideal situation is that when one of the three components that makes us whole is feeling compromised the other two can step in and bolster the compromised part of our being. If you’re emotionally drained your faith may take over, sending in reinforcements helping until you’re emotionally restored. (I’m not talking about mental illness, that often requires the help of a mental health or medical professional)

We all have to remember that all three parts of our being won’t be firing on all engines all the time. There is a dance that happens between the three and understanding that our being is always in a fluid state will make the ebb and flow more natural and not so scary!

Experiencing the ebb and flow of the physical, emotional, and spiritual parts of your life?  Visit http://www.survivingstrong.com

Want to explore how to create a natural state of balance with body, mind, and spirit?  Visit http://www.timetolivecreatively.com

Follow me on Twitter: @GregKatz2

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You may be wondering is there really a pink sea; Google it and see what comes up. The truth is there is no Pink Sea, but today is October 1st and you may be experiencing a Sea of Pink. Today begins Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The use of the color pink has brought enormous attention to the Breast Cancer community. It has become defining, creating a community of those diagnosed with breast cancer, those living beyond breast cancer, and their families.

I was in Houston in April at the annual conference of the Arts and Health Alliance. While I was in town walking the main road an army of pink passed me. They were in the midst of their annual Avon Walk for the Cure. Women, men, and children all wearing pink to show their support for the Breast Cancer community.

The color pink linked to the breast cancer community has created a link and a way for community members to show their connection to the community. It becomes more prominent this time of year when buildings change out their white bulbs for pink bulbs shining a pink glow against their buildings in support. Pink ribbons are in full bloom like a field of wild lavender. It’s truly amazing that an illness has gone beyond the diagnosis and has created a community of hope, inspiration, and education.

The breast cancer community has created a culture and that’s not an easy thing to do. They have brought together the medical community, the corporate community, and individuals for a common cause. We’ll see a month filled with news stories about mammograms, treatment updates, and news of new medications such as Perjeta (a drug given FDA approval this past week).

You may not be a fan of the pink culture. Barbara Ehrenreich, noted author, is anti-pink. On an NPR interview she was clear that she didn’t want to be buried with a pink Teddy Bear. She doesn’t want to be defined for having an illness. She may not want to be defined by the pink culture, but it has served many raising money and pressure to find a cure and new treatments.

It doesn’t matter if you support the pink culture. It does matter that you support those facing Breast Cancer and all other illnesses. Perhaps we can find ways for other illnesses to find a culture that will help make their need more notable!

Are you or a loved one facing Breast Cancer?  Looking for education, support, and inspiration?  Visit http://www.survivingstrong.com

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

Follow me on Twitter: @GregKatz2

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Colorado Public Radio interviewed a woman who recently wrote a book about her experience with the medical community. What happened? She was wrongly diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I’m sure you’re going how does that happen, but unfortunately doctors aren’t perfect. We should always remember they say that doctors “practice medicine”; it’s not a perfect science. Unfortunately the troubles are on both the doctor’s and the patient’s sides of the fence so we have to develop strategies to overcome these upsetting outcomes.

The new director of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Dr. Matthew Wynia, MD, MPH, talked about in the age of Google many patients are coming for medical care with their own diagnoses. On the flip side, Jerome Groopman, author of “Second Opinions”, and “How Doctors Think” shares that doctors have been trained to make a diagnosis in the first twenty second of their interaction with the patient.

Information is great, but too much information can be harmful. Wynia talked about a phenomenon called Anchoring Bias. Anchoring bias is when we lock our thoughts and decision around a particular fact or group of facts to the point that we become unable to hear any other opinions or possibilities.

Personally I have been guilty of self-diagnosis. I’ve taken all my symptoms, entered them in the computer and waited for the diagnosis. I know that it’s not definitive because I may be experiencing certain symptoms, but without further testing or exams I can only account for those I can see or feel. However, I can see where it would be comforting to walk in thinking you know what’s ailing you because the unknown is quite scary.

On the doctor’s end we also need to address anchoring bias. Doctors are trained to believe that A+B=C. Unfortunately, there are too many variables in the human body. Groopman recommends that after receiving a diagnosis asking the doctor, “If it weren’t X, what else might it be? What other organs are nearby that may influence your decision?” The key is dislodging the provider’s stronghold on the diagnosis they believe is 100% certain.

Unfortunately diagnostics are sometimes fluid. It’s important to remember that healthcare is a team effort. We, the patient, have to be forthright with our providers and the providers have to be willing to listen to the patient’s entire story. Detectives can’t solve cases without all the information and the same is true for medical diagnoses.

The one thing I encourage you to anchor to is the idea of optimal health. I had some major pulmonary issues earlier in the year. It would have been easy for the doctor, knowing I have an asthma diagnosis, to simply go with the pulmonary diagnosis. Instead, he ran a plethora of cardiac tests to rule out the possibility that cardiac issues didn’t spark my pulmonary issues. It was interesting because on my annual visit with my dermatologist I told him about the numerous cardiac tests I had and he was glad that my primary care physician expanded his sights beyond my obvious breathing issues, reinforcing my confidence in my doctor.

Be aware that we’re all subject to anchor bias, and not just in medical care. You’d be surprised how we can all be like a dog with a bone when it decreases our anxiety. Health and healing requires that we not look at healthcare as a one-way street. There are often many avenues to be explored and getting to the heart of the matter increases the accuracy of diagnoses!

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

Want to explore possibilities of health and healing through art?  Visit http://www.timetolivecreatively.com

Follow me on Twitter: @GregKatz2

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