Posted in coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Emotional Health, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness, newly diagnosed illness

Shifting Away From Anger

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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Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness, newly diagnosed illness, overcoming adversity, Personal Conviction

“The Normal Heart” A Relevant Message in Today’s Age

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

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

Fear In All Its Glory

Fear is an interesting topic because it takes on so many faces while displaying itself in a multitude of ways. Gavin de Becker wrote a book The Gift of Fear. It’s not the fear that will impede your life, but what the fear prevents you from doing. It’s the aftermath of the fear that is like a storm and when you’re in its path destruction is possible.

When I first read de Becker’s book I was enthralled. The first edition was written in 1996. We didn’t know at the time that 9/11 would happen. We had just experienced the Oklahoma City bombing of the federal building so as a nation we were on high alert. De Becker makes it clear that the benefit of fear is not being on the defensive, but developing an intimate relationship with your intuition. Connecting with those feelings or thoughts that would, in the past, go unnoticed or overlooked.

The problem is when our fears become irrational. The times when we generalize our fear and take a defensive position as we move through life. Penache Desai, author of Discover Your Soul Signature asks, “Why do we hold onto and even hoard our fear?” When you read that does it ring true for you? Has generalized anxiety disorders become pervasive in our culture because we hoard our fear?

When diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness fear is a natural response. We don’t like to discuss frailty, and certainly avoid any and all discussions about death and dying. I’m going to personify fear for a moment. Fear does exactly what it wants us to do, become paralyzed. It impacts our good judgment. It impedes our ability to think clearly. Unfortunately, when we face any type of adversity is when we need to be our sharpest, so how will you achieve that state-of-mind?

In Dan Harris’ book 10% Happier, he discusses his enormous struggle with fear. In fact, he talks openly about the panic attack he had on the air during a broadcast. His journey to took him down the road of using drugs until he realized that if he was going to succeed he had to do something differently. His odyssey took him throughout the self-help and faith communities. He concluded that meditation was the one thing that worked for him and so many others. Through meditation he could face the fear. Like Susan Jeffers book, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.

Stop hoarding your irrational fear while honing your intuition to identify when real fear exists. When facing a health challenge, identifying what you’re actually afraid of is important. Is it the prognosis? Is it the journey through treatment? Could it be the possibility of dying? Wrap your head around the fear and address it. Find someone to help you identify and work through the fear. Engage in a practice that will alleviate the fear. Utilize your creative energies to express yourself without judgment in a genuine and authentic way.

Don’t be the victim of fear, be its master!

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

Want to use your creative energize for healing?  Visit http://www.timetolivecreatively.com

Posted in coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, newly diagnosed illness, overcoming adversity

Living Life Like a Sponge

We go through life having one experience after another. They mount and the experiences build upon one another giving us a plethora of resources. Our brains are magnificent organs and they serve as the command center of our world. However, there are times in our lives, especially during times of stress that we can’t retrieve the information we need. The truth is that stress impacts our absorption process.

When we face adversity our first inclination is to gather information. We seek out every resource possible hoping to find answers to our questions. Our search reaches far as we try to alleviate the anxiety that often accompanies a challenge of any type. Facing a chronic or life-threatening illness certainly qualifies as one of life’s great stressors.

There is an enormous amount of information about illnesses and treatments. Technology has made it possible to access research studies, anecdotal evidence, and even support groups without leaving your home. Every source you access adds to the amount of information you’re absorbing and need to process. The problem is that we’re really good at absorbing information, but not so good at sifting through the information.

It’s clear we live our lives like a sponge, but when are we taught to wring out the sponge? We can only benefit from the information we collect if we’re able to discern what’s critical for health and healing, instead of having too much clutter and missing what can benefit you the most. Wringing out our sponge gives us the opportunity to collect new information and experiences. If we’re saturated then we often experience fatigue, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Health and healing is an evolving process. It requires that we continually expand opportunities for new experiences and information. Giving yourself the gift of possibility honors your health and healing journey. It provides you with a sense of hope because seeking answers to questions keeps you engaged in your healing pilgrimage.

What can you wring out making room for new information and experiences? If you’re feeling overwhelmed what can you wring out of your soul, the living sponge, to make room for what’s pertinent and inspiring?

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

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Emotional Health, living with chronic illness, newly diagnosed illness, overcoming adversity, Spirituality and Health

After You Fall To Your Knees….How Do You Get Up?

The month of April is filled with the anniversaries of national tragic events. We recently honored the victims of the Virginia Tech shooting. Tomorrow is the nineteenth anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing of the Federal Building. This coming Sunday is the fifteenth anniversary of the Columbine shooting. These three events rocked the feeling of safety and security in our country.

Traumatic events don’t only have to be about shootings, bombings, and abuse, but can be the result of a diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness. The moment of diagnosis rocks the world of each person who hears the doctor say, “I’m sorry to tell you…” There is no nation to share in the mourning process.

So where am I headed with this? Last night I was watching the news and the mother of one of the students killed at Columbine was asked by the reporter “What do you want people to think about on the anniversary of the tragedy?” The mother of the murdered student responded, “After you fall to your knees, how do you get up?” It’s a question that is paramount to the beginning of the journey to health and healing.

Yesterday there was an interview on Good Morning America. Amy Robach who was diagnosed with cancer while doing a story about breast cancer screening interviewed Samantha Harris, known from hosting Dancing with the Stars, recently diagnosed with breast cancer.

The two women were talking about receiving their diagnosis alone, without any family members or friends by their side. Robach asked Harris, “How did you hold it together?” Harris shared that she held it together until the doctor left the room and broke down in tears.

We can fall to our knees both figuratively and literally. In many cases, it happens simultaneously. Perhaps the shock of the news impacting the physical, emotional, and emotional self is what brings us to our knees. We can also be brought to our knees when we pray.

One of the things I’ve learned about others and myself is that our souls are resilient. We have the capacity to absorb the shock and transform that energy into motivation, perseverance, and tenacity. It’s the transformation of that negative energy into a healing energy that serves as a catalyst and a springboard for the health and healing pilgrimage.

After falling to your knees, how have you gotten up? Share your story in the comments section below. As a community your story can blaze a trail for others who may still be on their knees.

For more information on health and healing go to www.survivingstrong.com

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, newly diagnosed illness, overcoming adversity

Who Has Inspired You In Your Life?

I was watching Good Morning America and one of the segments focused on Robin Roberts’ new book, “Everybody’s Got Something.” Each of the anchors did a short segment about who and why a specific person inspires them. It was a good reminder of two things; we all have things we go through and need help with, and, there are people who have come before us who have blazed a trail for us to follow.

Roberts shared an important quote from her coach.   The coach said, “Attitude more that aptitude gives us altitude.” This quote was like cupid shooting an arrow through my heart; it was that profound. There are so many levels to meaning behind the coach’s wisdom and to peel back the layers is inspiring.

Our attitude gives us the energy we need to persevere through our trials and tribulations. I don’t mean for this to be a lecture on positive thinking, but using our attitude as a filter can impact our actions. It can serve as an anchor for our decision making process and hopefully that impacts our aptitude for making decision. The more practice we get the better we get at sifting out the unnecessary and focusing on what’s helpful!

So where does the altitude come into the picture? I think the coach was referring to the ways that we open ourselves to possibility. The notion that we have untapped potential waiting to be unleashed and that attitude is the catalyst for that release. Is it simple to achieve? There are probably some instances where it is easier than others, but that just means that possibility exists and gives us the inspiration to continue on our personal pilgrimage.

I know I usually focus on living with chronic and life-threatening illness, but we have to remember just like the title of Roberts’ book, Everybody Has Something. We all have our struggles, some larger than others, but knowing that we’re all on a pilgrimage to health, healing, and peace is reassuring.

Who has inspired you continuing your journey? Share it with us in the comments section below.   For more information on living with chronic and life-threatening illness visit, www.survivingstrong.com

Posted in coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Living with Illness, newly diagnosed illness, overcoming adversity

This is My Life…Now

Being diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness is all about transition.  It entails shattered assumptions about what you believed your life was supposed to be moving forward.  It entails a shift in thinking, not to a bad place, but to a new place.  Making the shift may take some time, but anything worth having is worth putting in a little elbow grease and dealing with the learning curve.

I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease as a kid so I’ve always known that there was something different about me physically than others.  However, what I wasn’t prepared for was a secondary diagnosis about seven years later.  I was part of a campus organization that raised money for kids charities.  One of the events we held was a 24 hour dance marathon.  I was participating in the dance marathon and noticed that as the marathon progressed my feet were in more and more pain.  It wasn’t the type of pain that comes with your shoes being too tight, or just from being on them a long time.  It was a sharp and focused pain.  I finished the marathon and took to bed for a couple of days thinking it would resolve itself; it did not resolve itself.

This began my consultation with doctors and each doctor would give me a different explanation.  I remember the day that rheumatologist said that I was one of 3% of psoriasis patients that get something called “psoriatic arthritis”.  I went on a course of anti-inflamatory medication and it helped, but I still woke up every morning with pain.  In addition to the pain, I was also taking a new set of medications and had to watch for the side-effects that accompanied the new medications.  It was a shift for me because I now had more than one health challenge to keep tabs on and they were impacted by each other.

There was a day of surrender when I said to myself that “This is my life…now”.  I would always be at risk of being incapacitated by pain and the possibility of being unable to walk. I would always have a new specialist in my life.  I would always be walking the tightrope balancing the triggers of both diagnoses.  If I took it as a bad thing I’d be giving myself the license to be miserable forever.  Understanding that “This is my life…now” was freeing.  It allowed me to explore new treatments both traditional and complementary.  Once I embraced the statement, “This is my life…now” I felt more in control of my life and my illness.

How will you make this statement part of your life?  What steps do you need to take to embrace this paradigm shift?