Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Empowerment, Life Motivation, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness, overcoming adversity

What Star Trek and the Wild Wild West Have in Common

“Space…The final frontier”, those immortal words at the start of each episode of Star Trek. The show had some very progressive themes given the decade it was aired. Looking back and reflecting one of the most memorable episodes, aside from the Tribbles, was “The Empath”. Perhaps that episode sticks with me given the profession I chose, but it truly set the stage for many conversations in years to come.

Star Trek was set in the future, but what about the past? When we (in the United States) landed on the shores of America, there was plenty of land to explore. The frontiersman would go west exploring and hoping to create a life with plenty of opportunity. Like space, those traveling west didn’t believe in boundaries. The only thing in the foreground of the experience was possibility.

Most of us don’t know our own frontiers. We fall into lives of routine and safety. It isn’t until we’re faced with a challenge like the diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness that we look to see what’s beyond our self-imposed boundaries. I think about the group of women with breast cancer or breast cancer survivors who climb mountains, awaiting the magic of reaching the summit. I’m not suggesting that you climb a mountain, but what frontiers have you yet to explore?

Perhaps there’s something you’d like to study that requires you go back to school, a new frontier. What if you feel like you have a book within you but you haven’t put the first word down on paper, a new frontier. The amazing thing about our frontiers is that they are infinite.

I worked in Buffalo, NY for six months and was amazed at how many of the folks I encountered were born and raised in Buffalo. I was having a conversation with a woman who had returned from visiting her oldest son who was stationed in Clarksville, Tennessee. She shared that she had another son, a high school senior, and she made him a deal regarding college. She told him he could apply to any college he wanted but it couldn’t be in Buffalo (there are plenty of colleges in Buffalo). Her reasoning was that she wanted her son to know that there was a world out there beyond Buffalo’s city limits. If after school he wanted to return to Buffalo to work and raise a family that was fine. She was determined to push his boundaries and invoke the frontier mentality!

Facing adversity, such as the diagnosis of an illness, shouldn’t just be about survival. It should be about body, mind, and spirit expansion. It’s the opportunity to live on the edge (not between life and death, although for some that might be the case) literally and figuratively. Our only boundaries are the ones we set usually out of fear (read the post “Fear In All Its Glory”). Don’t let fear get in the way of what’s possible! Explore your frontiers!

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

Interested in how Art aids in physical, emotional, and spiritual healing?  Visit http://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

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 after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Life Motivation, living with chronic illness

Everyone and Everything Needs Energy!

Energy makes the world go round.  It’s something that is palpable and drives us to move forward in our lives.  Every system needs energy.  Every organization needs energy.  I had an experience last night that made me think about how organizational energy translates to personal energy, and in turn health and healing.

I attended a meeting of the art guild that I belong to, a textile arts guild.  The organization has about 275 members and has been in existence for twenty-four years.  Like many organizations there is an old guard, those who founded the organization or have been members for over twenty years.  These were the original leaders of the group and shaped the path of the organization.

I had been the President of the organization for two years and during that time I was always conscious about not only the energy at the meeting, but how to keep the energy level high and people engaged between meetings.  My monthly President’s message in the newsletter were meant to get members thinking, not only about the organization, but their role in the organization, and where they fit in the great world of art.

Last night I attended the meeting after a five-month hiatus (I’d been working in Tennessee).  The meeting was “fine”.  I don’t believe that “fine” is a compliment.  It’s just a comment on the meeting moving along.  Even the speaker was less than dynamic.  I was hoping to get re-energized after the five-month hiatus.  The only thing I was energized by were the moments when I reconnected with friends I hadn’t seen in a long time.

So how does that translate to your own health and healing?  What do you get excited about?  What keeps you engaged in your life and your healing journey?  How do you generate excitement for yourself to keep learning, continue experimenting, and design a life that will leave you with no regrets at the end of your life?

Energy is palpable.  It’s a force that is in you and around you.  Energy is what the body needs to heal.  Energy allows you to be tenacious in your healing journey.  It’s the momentum we need to tackle the challenges faced with any health challenge.

How do you experience energy in you and around you?  What happens when your energy level is less than optimal?  Are you sensitive to energy levels in others, even in groups and organizations?  How will you check your energy gauge and keep it above empty?

Posted in art and healing, creativity and health

Life As A Canvas

Welcome to the first Art and Health Wednesday…

I didn’t start life out as an artist, I mean I didn’t intend to be an artist although the arts were always included as a part of my life.  I started as a young musician.  My first instrument at the age of 9 was the bass fiddle.  Believe it or not, little me was playing the bass fiddle.  As I got older I moved into the choir and spent the rest of my middle school, high school, and college years singing in the choir.  When applying to college my intended major was music therapy but there were only six school in the country offering a program at the time and I didn’t have the theory skills to make it as a music major.

Over time I became a quilter.  I love the tactile experience and was making quilts that were contemporary in nature, but not artistic.  I became an okay technician and then I found a group of art quilters.  My work and my life changed because for the first time I was going to create works that spoke of my life experience and from my soul.  It allowed me to be unconventional (which I am) while telling great stories.  I had found a tribe that would not only mentor me, but educate and support my endeavors.

Where is all this going?  I found my voice and for those facing a chronic or life-altering illness you may feel as if your voice is being drowned out.  I say, change how you use your voice and art is a sure way to be seen and heard.  I’m not talking about art therapy, although I do believe it has its purpose and place.  I’m talking about the raw nature of creating something unique that’s your and yours alone.  Something that is the ultimate self-expression of your experience.

It’s amazing what happens when you see your story in a new context.  I have friends who have battled illness and danced their way to health and healing.  Others I have met along the way use poetry, sculpture, yes even music to discard the unwanted emotional and spiritual baggage and create a new world view.

Your work doesn’t need to hang in galleries or museums; it needs to hang in your heart.  Don’t waste any time, go out and begin creating an original work of art that is your contribution to the ongoing dialogue of health and healing.

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

Your Life On The Big Screen

The first Monday of the month I attend an artist talk in downtown Denver.  Last night the artist being featured wasn’t the actual artist, but the creators of a Denver Film Festival.  “Festivus” is in its fourth year as a local film festival with 300 films submitted from 25 countries.  Why am I talking to you about a film festival?  Because I want you to ask yourself a couple of questions.  “If my life were a film what genre would it fall in?” and “Who would play me in the film?”.

Your life is the greatest epic ever told and as you crossed the threshold from “healthy” to “health challenged” you’ve set up a story line filled with uncertainty, intrigue, and action.  Whether you believed it about yourself prior to your diagnosis; you’ve become a hero.  You take on the villain (your illness) and try to bring it from the dark side to the light.  You work tirelessly for justice and to live the life everyone deserves.

Now I’m not saying that James Cameron is going to spend $400 million dollars shooting your story, but he doesn’t have to because you’re the star, director, and producer.  You bring more life to the story than any screenwriter would dare.  The amazing thing is that I’m not even talking about your life as a documentary, although that may be the chosen genre for some.  It could be animation, romantic comedy, or an action film.  It’s all about perspective and it’s your perspective that counts.

This isn’t about working toward an Academy Award nomination.  It is about how your frame your story based on what you believe is important.  As the creator you get to drive the story line, so what’s it going to be?  Is it going to be a comedy or tragedy?  Is it going to be a documentary or fantasy?  It doesn’t matter because your essence runs throughout the story line and that’s what you connect to and so will others.  This is why support groups encourage people to tell their stories and to tell them over and over, because the story is powerful.

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

Who Holds the Greater Faith?

Over the past year I’ve become more and more intrigued by poetry.  I didn’t much like it while in high school, and I avoided any and all poetry courses in college…so what’s the difference?  Maybe it’s maturity (ha ha), a clearer understanding of writing styles, or a greater appreciation for all things creative.  I’m inclined to go with the latter since it seems to be the path I’m on these days.  Poetry is simply one more creative medium or language that those facing a health challenge can use as part of their treatment regimen.

One of the great poets of our time is David Whyte.  In a poem I was given during a recent workshop, Whyte states the following, “The universe is holding its breath waiting for you to take your place”.  That’s such a powerful statement.  Can it be that the Universe has more faith in us than we do?  Would you ever believe that your faith could be trumped by the Universe?  I think there is a bigger question for us all to consider and that is, “How long do we expect the universe to hold its breath for?” 

We all have a place that is rightfully ours and can’t be filled by any other person on the planet.  True some get a bit misguided along the way but eventually they find their rightful place and all is well; at least that’s the hope.  How do you see your life since your diagnosis?  What is it that you believe the Universe is holding its breath waiting for you to do?  You’re not bucking for sainthood so don’t think about it in terms of miracles unless you are one of those who walk the earth believing you are a miracle.  What would it mean for you to take your rightful place?  Are there times in your life when you have allowed the universe to exhale because you did show up?  What would it take to do it again and again, only this time with a health challenge as part of the equation?

It’s poets like David Whyte that get us thinking deeper about our lives as spiritual beings have a human experience.  The great poets throughout history have been dropping bread crumbs forever and we haven’t been hungry enough to eat those crumbs…I think the diagnosis changed that forever!

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

Holding the Positive

No matter your age, gender, ethnicity, etc. it’s important to have a tribe.  I’m a fiber artist so I love all things fiber.  One of the community website is the Men Who Knit (MWK), www.menwhoknit.com, website.  Male knitters from around the globe post pictures of their work, ask technical questions and share resources.  Little did any of us know that we’d be sharing more than just knitting.  A young man known to us as Jason1978 shared in the spring that he was fighting metastatic testicular cancer.  His positive attitude was infectious and we all believed he’d be able to fight the illness.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case and Jason died this past weekend. 

What amazed me was not only his own positive attitude, but the well wishes and healing energy sent to Jason from the entire MWK community.  Once Jason’s partner posted the notice about his death I would visit the post to see who had responded and overwhelmingly the words were gentle, kind and full of love.  They offered comfort and support to his partner Jonathan who was with him till the end.  The frightening part of all this is that Jason was only 30 and his partner Jonathan a mere 22.

We’re never prepared for people to die much less die at such and early age.  It’s amazing that his caregiver/wellness partner is so young and so ready to take his place beside someone he loved.  Having a community that continuously check in and wants to know how you’re doing, even when the news isn’t good is powerful.  It brings you out of the depths of isolation and fills your soul with a sense of belonging.  Knowing that you are in the consciousness of others means you have touched their hearts and tattooed your name and your energy in their soul.

It’s sad that such a young life ended.  I commend the Men Who Knit community for being ready to support Jason every step of the way.  They even put out a call for knitted squares that were sewn together to make a healing blanket for him.  Once all the squares were in and the blanket completed it was shipped to Jason in Vienna.  The global community heard the call and responded.  Isn’t that the type of community you want for yourself when facing a health challenge?  Seek it out and feel the love; it will do you a world of good and will brighten even the darkest days.