Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Storytelling

What Kind of Day Are You Having?

Every day that we wake up we begin the day with a routine.  We wonder what will come our way during the day and what types of adventures will occur during the day?  How are we going to make the most of our day?  What does it take to fill out the day with possibility?

I guess the real question is, “How Can You Have a Breakthrough Day?”  What does it mean to have a breakthrough day?  That’s the great thing about being the author or your day, it’s whatever you want it to be.  You get to decide how you will breakthrough what has been the usual.  You get to create experiences and interactions that will take you one step further than you’re comfortable.  Robert Fritz wrote a book titled Creating.  One of his central premises is that we need tension for there to be creativity.  What type of tension is mounting through your day?

When I ask about tension, I’m not discussing stress.  I’m talking about that internal sense of discomfort like an itch you can’t scratch.  That type of tension makes you squirm a bit and tempt you to try and scratch that itch.  It’s that type of tension drives you to come up with amazing solutions, and that’s what creates a breakthrough day.

As I’ve mentioned I recently interviewed a group of artists with life-threatening illnesses for my dissertation.  Throughout these interviews the artists repeatedly speak about how to exceed the expectations of the day.  They look to create experiences that they will then translate into amazing pieces of art that continue to tell their stories.

You don’t have to be a fine artist to have a breakthrough day; you have to be a life artist.  Every day is your creation.  Every day can be a masterpiece!

Posted in after the diagnosis, art and healing, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, creativity and health, Storytelling

Paint Your Life

I’m very attracted to the idea and philosophy of “Art and Healing”.  It doesn’t matter if you’re an artist, we are all creative in our own way and those unique abilities allow us the greatest gift in life, ultimate self-expression.  One of the questions I asked all the artists in the interviews was whether or not they had created a self-portrait.  Overwhelmingly the answer was yes, but a few didn’t feel comfortable doing a self-portrait as a result of their health challenge,

Visual artists will most likely paint, sculpt, or create a self-portrait artistically.  They may sketch in a journal or on large pieces of paper, but that really isn’t the only way to do a self-portrait.  What if we painted our life with words or through choreography?  What if you we wrote a song that personifies our health and healing journey?  Painting your life doesn’t have to be colorful because you squeezed color out of tube or picked up a crayon; it can be colorful because your add color with the words you choose, the textures you create based on your life experience, and framed by your hopes, dreams, and aspirations.

Painting your life requires that you dig deep.  It means coming home to that place in your heart and soul that exemplifies the best you.  Your self-portrait is a reflection of your experiences, but also the attributes and strengths that allow you thrive in this crazy world, especially following the diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my own self-portrait and what it would look like on the design wall.  I feel like it would be a mixed media piece with fiber being the predominant material used, but I also envision words, lots of words printed on the fabric surrounding whatever figure I translate onto the piece.  It’s something I believe I will do in the coming months because there is something magical, for me, in projecting myself outside my own body with all its challenges, it’s still my body and my life!

I’d love to see your self-portraits.  Feel free to email them to me at greg@survivingstrong.com.  Let the self-portrait fest begin!

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Illness Narrative, Storytelling

What if You Were Interviewed?

It’s the beginning of the new television season and for the first time in years talk shows are filling every nook and cranny of the television schedule.  This year big names like, Katie Couric, Jeff Probst and Ricki Lake, have entered the race for ratings with some very interesting guests and well-seasoned interviewers.

As I mentioned yesterday, I just returned from California and have just conducted interviews for my dissertation.  I had the opportunity to interview artists in their homes/live-work spaces where there was an intimacy that’s hard to describe.  The experience of asking someone questions about their lives is a privilege that I will treasure forever.  Having the opportunity to explore the depths of artists’ stories was life changing.  When I got on the plane to come home I tried to think about what it would be like to be interviewed about my own life.

I’ve been pondering that thought for the past few days and now I’m asking you.  If you were being interviewed, what would you like to share with the interviewer?  As you move through life after being diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness, what would you like to share that would be relevant and impactful for those watching the interview?

It’s imperative that you share the moment you were diagnosed, because that’s the starting point for your health and healing journey.  Beyond that moment, what has driven you forward as you strive to get better of get well?  What resources have you utilized to serve as a catalyst for health and healing?  What did you learn the hard way that you’d like to share to make the journey for others a bit easier?

These interview questions serve two purposes.  They allow you to tell your story, and when others bear witness to our journey it is healing.  The other benefit of an interview like this is that it serves as a teaching moment.  You are able to serve others by sharing what you’ve learned; you’ve become the expert.

What are some of the most important things you’d like to share?  Feel free to share them here so we can create our own community.

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

Journey to the Center of the Story

I’m in the midst of completing my doctoral dissertation.  It’s a long and arduous process at least that’s what I thought until I went on a trip to California the past 2 weeks.  I spent time with a nonprofit, Visual Aid, who works with artists facing life-threatening illness continue to create.   They were gracious enough to assist me in recruiting potential interviewees.

I was sitting in the first interview and felt like I had come home.  I was interviewing an artist whose story was so authentic, hopeful, and complex (not meaning difficult, but layered like his art).  As I moved through the interviews I found the same qualities with each participant.  I was taking a journey to the depths of storytelling that I’ve never experienced, even in my thousands of hours of hours working with psychotherapy clients individually and in groups.  These twelve artists shared with me verbal canvases that were masterpieces.  Their stories matched the work, and their spirits were the greatest masterpieces of all.

It confirmed the importance of our stories.  The interviews catapulted the story to the top of my list when it comes to inspiration, hope, and possibility.  These are three qualities that are crucial when living life with a chronic or life-threatening illness.

While in San Francisco I was reminded by the importance of our stories.  I went to the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and in the corner of one of the exhibits was a booth with the words StoryCorps written at the top.  National Public Radio airs stories of people from around the country who step into one of these booths and record for all of posterity a story that is important to who they have become and how they got there.  It was one more sign that the story was at the heart of the dissertation.

If you know an artist with a life-threatening illness who might be interested in telling their story, I hope you’ll pass on my information.  I think this project will impact how we look at illness, and the stories of those who tell them.  Please refer them to greg@survivingstrong.com and look for more stories!

Posted in living with chronic illness, Living with Illness, Spirituality and Health, Storytelling

Hildegard of Bingen in God’s Hotel

Prior to moving to Colorado I lived in the Bay Area for fourteen years.  I’ve been involved with health and healing since I started graduate school and that’s where my heart still resides.  I moved to the Bay Area from the east coast in 1986 at what would become the AIDS crisis at a time when medications weren’t very effective and people were dying all the time.

I’d met a woman who was a doctor at Laguna Honda Hospital.  It was a very old building and was considered an almshouse, a place for those who were poor and very sick.  For many, it became San Francisco’s AIDS hospital/hospice with its looming old structure tucked away, almost like a haunted mansion.  I always wondered about Laguna Honda, but never delved into its mysteries.

Then I ran across Victoria Sweet’s book, God’s Hotel.  She’s a doctor at Laguna Honda Hospital and has been for more than twenty years.  I could go on and on about the hospital, but it’s Dr. Sweet’s attraction to Hildegard of Bingen that caught my attention.

Hildegard of Bingen was a nun, mystic, medical provider who lived in the 12th century.  Dr. Sweet, after years of medical school and training went and received her PhD in history and social medicine focusing on the work of Hildegard of Bingen.  What Dr. Sweet shares is Bingen’s philosophy about the prescription of time when it comes to treating a patient.  She also comments on how Bingen’s triumvirate of care, Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet, and Dr. Merry were methods of treatment not just comic relief as we might believe today.

Dr. Sweet’s devotion to invoking the essence of time into her treatment plans, as much as she was allowed in modern medicine is a tribute to her knowledge of Hildegard of Bingen’s methodologies, and her believe in the human body and the human spirit in healing.

One of the beautiful aspects of “God’s Hotel” is how Dr. Sweet describes her personal pilgrimage.  In addition to walking the Santiago de Compostela, she discusses her personal pilgrimages experiences by her interactions with staff and patients at Laguna Honda.

So what do you think about Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet, and Dr. Merry?  In case you’re wondering it’s about diet, rest, and joy.  The book is a great read not only for the history of Laguna Honda Hospital, but for the incredible devotion Victoria Sweet takes us on both personally and professionally.  She’s the type of doctor we all wish we had.

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Storytelling

Who Are Your Travelers?

One of my favorite books is “The Traveler’s Gift” by Andy Andrews.  I recommend that book to everyone I meet and at every talk I give, no matter the audience.  I believe the book is a great way to focus on what’s important in your life and gives some clues on how to make changes in your life if that’s what you desire.

The book is part historical fiction and part self-help.  It takes you on a journey both through time and within, exploring your soul.  The book’s main character after suffering horrible circumstances in his life has a car accident and that prompts his journey back through time.  His journeys take deliver him to meet with historical figures and they have deep conversations.  As the main character gets ready to depart, the historical figure gives him a message, the lesson he needed to learn from that individual.

The “seven decisions”, the lessons learned from the historical figures are delivered by those such as Anne Frank, Christopher Columbus, Harry Truman, and Abraham Lincoln, just to name a few.  These prominent figures impact the main character profoundly (yes I now it’s not real), but the lessons are very real and are applicable no matter what’s going on in your life.

So I started wondering, if I were the main character in the book, whom would I hope to meet from the past that would potentially influence my life.  I know that in the book the historical figures were chosen by the Archangel Gabriel, so if that were an option for me that would be great.  However, if I were choosing my own, what criteria would I be looking for and what lessons would I be hoping to learn?

I encourage you to read this book, utilize the “seven decisions” and then think about who your travelers might be?  I’d love to share this journey with you.  Feel free to enter your journey in the comment section below or email me at greg@survivingstrong.com.

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Storytelling

Where is the Story Going?

Ever begin a book and after about 50 pages wonder where the story is going?  I have friends who must finish a book once they start it; I’m not that way.  If I don’t see where the story is going and I’m not hooked I abort the mission and move on to something more pleasurable.  Life is too short to get caught up in a bad story.

Interestingly real life works the same way.  We all have a story to tell.  We all have a story that is near and dear to our hearts, but not necessarily to others; especially if we tell the same story over and over.  You may be thinking about abandoning this post right now, but hang with me for a moment.  It’s not that people in your life don’t love you, but often we’re waiting to hear coming attractions or a sneak preview of one’s life to keep us engaged.

One of the fascinating things about your life story is that for those you’ve known a long time they hold your history.  They can help you reflect and remember those times you’d probably like to forget (like the naked pictures taken of Prince Harry).  So what happens to your story following the diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness?

I’ve sat with thousands of people and facilitated thousands of hours of support groups so I’ve heard a lot of stories.  Undoubtedly one of the most powerful moments in a group is when the facilitator or another group members asks, “So what does this mean for tomorrow”?  The inquisitor wants to create a spark in the person sharing to challenge them toward movement.  We’re not talking about making major changes, but if you’re sharing something with others, they want to know why?  What is it you’re expecting from those who are listening to your story?  If you’re only intention is to expel hot air then maybe a support group isn’t for you.  However, if you share your story with others and you’re able to get a glimpse of what’s possible based on other’s stories, then you have moments of hope and possibility.

How can I spark you today to ask yourself, “How is what I’m sharing going to influence my life tomorrow”?  “What will I take from the responses I receive from those with whom I share my story”?  “How will telling my story impact the chapter on health and healing”?  “By telling my story, what’s possible when I turn the page”?

I’d love to hear your stories!  You can share them in the comment section below or email at  greg@survivingstrong.com  Also, check out the videos at www.survivingstrongtv.com.