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Archive for the ‘newly diagnosed illness’ Category

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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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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Last week I wrote my 900th post for this blog. When I wake up in the morning I’ve started thinking about what could I possibly have left to say about health and healing, life and death, and overcoming adversity; and then a story pops up that all I want to say is, “REALLY?”

The Riverside Unified School District has banned John Green’s book The Fault in our Stars. The book has been cited as a book that will last the test of time because it’s a story about love, relationships, quality of life, and death. I read This Star Won’t Go Out by Grace Esther Earl, a real life account of a teen with advanced stage thyroid cancer. Earl and John Green had become friends and although there are similarities between the book and the memoir, Green’s book is fiction.

What was the reason for the Riverside Unified School District removing Green’s book from the middle school library? They didn’t want kids this young 11-12-13 to face mortality. They believe that reading about a teen dying would be too much for these kids to handle. Are the kids in Riverside living in a bubble like the Buddha prior to embarking on his journey to enlightenment?

Do you think that the principal of the school, the librarian, and some parents who voted really believe that children don’t get sick and die? I don’t know about you but if you ever watch television you can’t help but see a commercial for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. We have an entire network of hospitals in this country devoted specifically to the care of children and the Children’s Miracle Network. We have the Make-A-Wish foundation, giving children with life-threatening illnesses the opportunity to fulfill something on what we would call their “bucket list”.

I understand that death is difficult to speak about even for adult, but it does happen and denying it only causes greater pain. My hope is that no child has to personally experience illness and death, either their own or that of a loved one, but it will happen.

I’m disappointed that a school district would remove a book like this from their library because they are queasy about the topic. What I know about kids, maybe more so than adults, is that they are extremely resilient. They are inquisitive and would take these topics and want to discuss them, not shy away from them. When I was in high school, one quarter of health was devoted to death and dying. A progressive move on the part of our school district. Perhaps I should give Riverside Unified School District the name and number of my high school so they could temper their own resistance and fear.

Children die and it’s terrible. Removing a book that raises important questions is a travesty. The school should be ashamed of themselves.

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

Want to discuss difficult topics with children through creativity?  Visit http://www.timetolivecreatively.com

Follow me on Twitter:  @GregKatz2

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Illness is a difficult experience and is usually something that is dealt with in the privacy of one’s home. I guess that times are changing because there seems to be a new trend on television; shows revolving around illness. I guess the networks and cable have had a topic epiphany; it’s chic to be sick.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m watching the two shows that have come to my attention. While watching the shows I’m riding on the coattails of the writers looking at the themes they are bringing to consciousness giving the public an insiders view of illness.

This summer saw ABC Family launched Chasing Life, the story of a twenty-four year old just starting out in her career as a reporter who is diagnosed with leukemia. Of course there are a few side stories that make it a drama, but it does touch on the process of being diagnosed, going through tests, the social ramifications of the diagnosis, and at the end of the season the start of treatment.

The show punctuates the common themes of denial after a diagnosis, how illness interrupts life’s plans, and the importance of having a support group/team to help you through the process of health and healing. I commend ABC Family for taking on this precarious topic. It’s not a mainstream storyline, but the cable network is exploring real life scenarios giving us a glimpse of the world of illness.

The other show that began this past week is the Red Band Society. Fox is taking on the topic of illness amongst kids who are in a long-term inpatient Children’s Hospital. The show has only aired one episode so it’s difficult to know how the storylines will progress. We’re only getting the back stories of the patients and it may take some time to see how the writers attack the multiple issues related to serious illness.

I’m glad that shows are beginning to emerge around the theme of illness. Illness is something that will touch all of our lives. My hope is that these shows will give us a platform to discuss these topics that are usually taboo. I hope these shows will give those facing a chronic or life-threatening illness to seek support from groups, a therapist, a coach, or spiritual director.

Making illness the central theme of a show takes guts. I hope the shows make it because we need this type of cultural exposure to the issues surrounding illness and healing!

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

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

Follow me on Twitter: @GregKatz2

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One of the things I’ve always liked about Halloween is the idea of scary masks, parties with dry ice making smoke/fog, and of course candy. Horror movies try to scare us by catching us off guard, utilizing the age-old element of surprise as its weapon. Our fears are also scary. Yesterday I was asked if I was scared of anything and all I could think of was really high heights. I’m sure there are things lurking that I’m unaware of, and when they arise, I hope I can scare away the dark.

When we face adversity we often experience darkness, and heaviness sets in our body, mind, and spirit causing despair. Its goal, if you let it, is to deflate you. Utilize all your resources to fight the dark; you need those forces for health and healing. Those dark places want to take hold with the force of a vice and convince you that there are no better days ahead (the reality is there may not be, but scaring away the dark to gain a sense of peace is helpful).

The other problem with those dark places is they distort reality. Ever go to the carnival and look at the mirrors that elongate your body, or make you look like the Michelin Man? When we live in the dark (not insinuating you’re a mushroom), we lose perspective. Every experience is filtered through these dark lenses and it leads us to make less than helpful or healing decisions.

What can you do to scare away the dark? My go-to response it gather support. There is something amazingly healing when you receive love and friendship from others. I assure you their perspective is quite different from yours and at least you can see things from another point of view. Support groups are helpful because the folks in the groups are on the same pilgrimage. You’ll get lots of perspectives, some helpful and some not so helpful, but it opens you up to the range of possibility.

Read lots of autobiographies, memoirs, and pathographies, even blogs. See how others have used their internal resources to scare away the dark. It takes effort and it takes work. Depending on the circumstances of your life it may be ongoing or it may be short lived, either way you need to seek out sources of light.

Pretend every day is Halloween. Go find your scariest mask, it may as simple as a thought, and use that mask to scare away the darkness. Who knows, there may be a treat waiting for you on the other end.

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

Interested in how Art Heals?  Visit http://www.timetolivecreatively.com

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Anger is our most accessible emotion. We can go from zero to sixty in a matter of seconds. The problem with anger is that it doesn’t resolve the issue. It’s a manifestation of what we have been taught releases the pressure, but in fact it creates bigger issues for us.

I don’t often share this about myself, but anger was definitely one of my go-to emotions. I’m not sure if it was indignation or self-righteousness, but either way it didn’t serve me well. Fortunately I had the good sense to spend many years in therapy. It helped me understand that I had deeper feelings that I hadn’t explored. That sent me on an inner pilgrimage, a spiritual journey, allowing for personal transformation.

I want to be clear; I’m not talking about anger as a manifestation of a mental illness. After this past weekends shootings in Santa Barbara, we can see the shooter’s anger, but also his underlying pathology. I’m talking about the anger that comes as a result of disappointment, reaction to victimizations, or some other traumatic experience. I’m talking about the anger that accompanies a diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness when we go on a “why me” rampage. I’ve heard so many people express their anger at God when receiving a diagnosis, but what is it they’re really feeling?

It took me a long time to change my modus operandi. After someone I love was wronged (at least in my opinion) I had to find a way to shake the anger. I started to look at what the “offender” did and what made me mad. She used her perceived power to hurt others, personally and professionally. The shift came when I looked beyond the immediate action and started to examine what could be motivation to intentionally inflict pain on others.

My practice has been to shift away from anger to sadness (in many cases). Sadness is experienced internally whereas anger is an external manifestation of our emotions. What happens when we sit with sadness? I find that I become calmer. I become more contemplative. I become more sensitive to other emotions I’m feeling and those of others. It makes me more present, as opposed to anger that transports many of us to some other place emotionally and spiritually.

I want to be clear; I’m not saying that anger is never appropriate. I am saying that we should be experiencing anger when warranted, but in other instances we should be looking to free ourselves from the chains of anger to a more expressive and honest emotion.

Facing adversity such as a health challenge can lead to anger in response to the powerlessness that comes with the diagnosis. The reality is that we are confronted with a reality where our assumptions have been shattered. We “assume” that we’ll all live long and healthy lives, but we also know deep in our hearts that’s not true. Anger seems like a quick and justifiable response if we haven’t had this type of challenge before. Until we come to a place of acceptance, anger seems to bring a sense of resolution. However, for many, it’s just the beginning of the journey.

How can you shift away from anger? Perhaps you seek out a support group, a therapist, a coach, or a spiritual advisor. You may choose to engage in some type of ultimate self-expression like process art to connect with your emotional and spiritual self. However you access those feelings or choose to take the journey deep within, you’ll feel a sense of relief when you shift away from anger.

Looking for education, support, and inspiration when facing a chronic or life-threatening illness? Visit www.survivingstrong.com

Interested in Art and Healing? Visit www.timetolivecreatively.com

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This weekend I watched the television adaptation of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart. The movie, based on Kramer’s play by the same name, chronicles the beginning of the HIV/AIDS crisis. This may seem like an entry on Facebook for Throw Back Thursday, but its message is current, and beautifully acted.

One may wonder why are we engaged and lauding the courage it takes to make a film about HIV/AIDS in the 80’s when we’re in 2014. I worked as a HIV/AIDS service provider in the 90’s. Things have changed enormously since then, that I’m grateful for, but there’s still more work to do, just as there is with cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and mental illness. Using that as a jumping off point, why is The Normal Heart so important?

I was listening to an interview on Good Morning America with Julia Roberts. Roberts plays a physician who, at the beginning of the epidemic, is really the only doctor seeing these men with this mysterious illness and trying to get funding to unravel its mysteries.

One of the most poignant moments in the interview Roberts shared how the movie is relevant in today’s age. Roberts clearly talked about the need for us all to be willing to fight for a cause. We need to be able to go to the mat for something important, vital to our existence when it comes to our physical, emotional, or spiritual lives. The Normal Heart shows us the lengths necessary to bring about change. It provides us with the catalyst to ask ourselves what do we think needs to happen to make lives better for those facing challenges. What’s our part in the making those changes, and what are our next steps?

What draws at your heartstrings? One of the easiest ways is by looking at your Facebook account and seeing what you’ve “liked”. What organizations, stories, and posts bring about a visceral reaction? I have a friend who’s an HIV/AIDS nurse practitioner. She has devoted her entire life to finding a cure, lessening the impact of HIV on people’s lives across the planet. I follow the Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary.  They care for older dogs who have been abandoned or whose owners can’t care for them (mainly older adults). They post pictures of the dogs throughout their day capturing the hearts of folks like me (I have a 13-1/2 year old lab mix with many medical problems). There’s something we’re all drawn to and gets us going when we talk about it, most likely those causes we give money to or volunteer for, and for some the professions they’ve chosen.

The Normal Heart may reflect on days gone by, but its message it relevant today. If nothing else just the length of time it took to have the film made talks about how perseverance and passion fuels change. What do you use when facing a challenge to channel your energy for change?

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

Interested in the impact of Art on Healing? Visit www.timetolivecreatively.com

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