Posted in art and healing, creativity and health

One Seam At A Time

Welcome to Art and Healing Wednesday!!

Over the past week I decided to begin sewing a new quilt.  I’ve been working on original art quilts over the past six years, but decided to go back to basics.  I’m working on a 9 patch quilt, a simple pattern.  There are a couple of reasons that I decided upon this pattern.  I wanted something that was focused on the activity and not the outcome.  I wanted to hear the hum of the sewing machine and what I was sewing was secondary to the soothing sound and rhythm of the needle going up and down.  The last reason was a trip down memory lane.

Yesterday while I was sewing I was working to match the seams.  I reflected back on a dear friend who I’ve known for 30 years who started me on my quilting path.  She was a seamstress and for fun she was making 9 patch pillows.  She asked if I wanted to make one and a quilter was born.  As I was sewing yesterday I began to think about all the times I shared with this friend and got a deep sense of peace and gratitude.  I was transported in time and I could feel a physical change in my body and respiration.

It doesn’t matter what creative venture you engage in, but there was a point in time when you started utilizing this creative activity for self-expression.  There was something about this creative endeavor that captured your attention and your imagination providing you with joy and comfort.  You had a time in your life when your creativity needed to take center stage as a means of relaxation and reflection.  If you go back to the beginning I believe you can tap into the cell memory in your body.  Your body’s cells remember wellness, so why wouldn’t you want to tap into that memory on your journey to health and healing?

It’s important to give yourself every opportunity to get better or well.  When you take a moment to begin at the beginning you can see how far you’ve come in your creative journey.  You can look back at the story you’ve been telling for years.  You have the opportunity to see your story in a different form, unadulterated and pure.  This honesty is beneficial to your journey to wellness.

How did you get started in your creative venture?  How has your story changed?  How do you use your art/creativity for health and healing?  I’d love to hear your story…email me at greg@survivingstrong.com

Posted in art and healing, creativity and health

Why Do They Dance?

Welcome to Art and Healing Wednesday!!

I was working out-of-town  the past four months and didn’t have a television in my temporary digs.  Believe it or not I didn’t miss it, but now I’m back home and of course the television is readily available.  One of the things I do love about the media, in all its forms, is the opportunity to pick up little nuggets that are great to ponder.

If you’ve read the blog you’ll know that I’m a big fan of So You Think You Can Dance (SYTUCD).   I think it’s an amazing competition, even for a non-dancer such as myself, and gives these passionate dancers a platform to move their careers forward.  What struck me this week was the commercial for the new season.  The commercial shows dancers doing what they do best…dance, and then the big question, “Why do they dance?”, followed by the bigger question, “Why do you breathe?”

When I saw the question I was stopped in my tracks.  These dancers (not the crazy ones you see during the auditions) have devoted much of their lives to their art.  They have sacrificed time, injury (at times), money, and devotion to becoming better dancers.  It’s not just something they do; it’s something they are.

If you ask artists I believe you’ll find this to be true, that creating something is vital to their health and well-being, not to mention their sanity.  I know when I get out-of-sorts I’m sent to my studio, guess it’s better than psychotropic meds.

You may not be an artist dedicated to creating works of art, choreographing the next ballet to be performed at Lincoln Center, or the next great screenwriter/director/actor; but you do have creativity.  We seek beauty in our lives.  We’re caught by a beautiful flower, a lovely plate of food, an amazing piece of clothing, not to mention paintings, sculpture and the rest of the art mediums.  We doodle on our notepads at work, buy colorful pens to write with because their fun, and decorate our homes to reflect our style and taste.

Our creative tendencies are part of our story.  Art may not be your lifeline to the world, but finding an outlet to continue telling your story is imperative to health and healing.  The shelves at bookstores are lined with books about famous people who tell their illness story.  They feel the need to share their experience and have us serve as a witness to their journey.

When I hang a piece of art I hope others will share my story, create their own story, and then see how our worlds interact.  We may not all be artists, but we have or do something that is our lifeline to our health and well-being…what’s yours?  Are you actively engaged in the activity that brings joy and meaning to your world?  How does it impact your efforts to get better or well?

I’d love to hear how you tell your story….simply hit the comment button and let us know or you can e-mail it to me at greg@survivingstrong.com.

Posted in after the diagnosis, Emotional Health, living with chronic illness, Uncategorized

How Extensive is Your Vocabulary?

I remember when I was in grammar school getting a list of vocabulary words on a weekly basis.  We’d have to write each word ten times and then write a sentence using that word.  I guess they believed what Mr. Sacca told me in my education class in college, “Repetition for Emphasis”.  Memorization and utilization were the way to learn these words so that one day we could go take the SAT and do well on the verbal part of the exam.  However, those exercises taught us general vocabulary.  We’re a culture that doesn’t utilize a lot of emotional words so I’m wondering how extensive is your emotional vocabulary?

When I had a private psychotherapy practice I saw a lot of children.  I had one of those posters that had 50 faces with a “feeling” listed beneath the face.  Over time you could engage the child by utilizing one of the “feeling” words so we could both understand the true nature of their emotional life.  Broadening their emotional vocabulary was a lifesaver.  Many of the children in my practice were in foster homes as a result of placements by Children’s Protective Services.  Giving these children the capacity to express themselves emotionally opened their world to healing.

So what happened to those of us who didn’t get these lessons as children?  How do we come to develop our emotional vocabulary?  What prompts us to want or need to learn how to express ourselves emotionally.  I’ll venture a guess that the day you were diagnosed with an illness is the day you wish you had a host of ways to express yourself emotionally.  When you’re flood with feelings, not having the capacity to get them out is like getting the wind knocked out of you.  Your body, mind, and spirit search for the words, but for many there is nothing available.

I believe this is one of the gifts of support groups or workshops for those facing a health challenge.  Being with others who can expose you to an emotional vocabulary and model their experience is inspiring and daunting.  It gives you a sense of possibility to hit the nail on the head about your emotional life since your diagnosis.  It relieves the pressure that builds up from keeping the struggle (if any) with your diagnosis inside.  Having the capacity to express yourself emotionally is freeing.

The other advantage to establishing an emotional vocabulary is its impact on your physical health.  Releasing the body of difficult emotions lightens the load.  The body can direct its attention to building the immune system instead of trying to ward off the stress of stoicism.  It replenishes your internal resources and you can never have too much in reserve.

How will you build your emotional vocabulary?  Let us know so we can share your creative ideas!

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

Minimum Daily Requirements

Ever look at the list of vitamins and minerals on the side of any food product in the grocery store?  Do you pay attention to what the minimum daily requirements are and how they impact your life?  Are you conscious of what your body needs in order to function normally?  One of the things to consider is that when facing a health challenge we’re not talking about minimums because the body has to function at full throttle in order to overcome the obstacle.

It’s easy to think about what the minimum daily requirements are for the physical body, but what about our emotional or spiritual being?  What are the minimum basic requirements you need of hope, perseverance, or faith?  It’s easy for our level of hope to be diminished.  Many of us facing a health challenge are way below a sustainable level of hope, what does that do to the immune system?  What happens if you’re starving emotionally or spiritually?  If there is nothing in the well, what are you going to do to quench your thirst?  The word sustainability is used in regard to food and the environment, but what about sustainability in your emotional and spiritual life?

When we’re feeling depleted emotionally and spiritually many begin feeling isolated and depressed.  Even though feeling depressed or sad may be “normal” after a diagnosis, being stuck in the ditch isn’t going to serve you on any level.  How do you keep your head above water?  Gratitude is one place to start.  Being grateful for those in your life who are supporting you will raise your level of hope and comfort.  Empowerment will fortify your mind, body, and soul.  It will raise your level of sustainability going beyond the minimum levels, and experiencing a surge of hope sparking the immune system to rev its engine.

Why do we settle for minimums when we’re at the crossroads to health and healing?  It’s critical to your journey of health and healing that you raise the bar on your expectations of yourself.  Having the capacity to incrementally increase your levels of hope, faith, and perseverance will connect the mind’s message to your body and spirit that it’s time to up the ante and minimums are no longer acceptable.  You are in the driver’s seat and it’s time to set your internal thermostat to a higher level so you’re never depleted and can acquire the resources you need toward health and healing.

 

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

We’re Social Creatures

I sit around my house watching my 2 cats and my 2 dogs play and I realize certain things about animal nature that are amazing.  The cats I find are much closer to their wild ancestry.  I can see it in how they play, how they hunt, even if it’s just a toy made of fur (fake) and I see how they reserve their energy until they need to use it.  Dogs have fewer of these ancestral ties but still make me chuckle.  Then we have humans.  We’d all like to think that we’ve outgrown the animal phase of our ancestry but the truth is we haven’t.

Like many animals in the wild humans are pack animals.  We live, work and enjoy life better with others around.  Being connected gives us a sense of community and that our existence makes a true difference in the world.  This is especially true when facing a chronic or life-threatening illness.  Our connections to others is truly a form of medicine that doctors don’t often understand and certainly underestimate.

I’ve worked in many nonprofit agencies over the past twenty years, all focused on those facing a health challenge.  The thing they all have in common is that each agency worked to provide opportunities for participants to come together reducing their sense of isolation.  Being in the world and connecting with others gets our senses all fired up.  When our body is fully engaged our immune system goes for the ride and begins releasing hormones that help the body heal.  Our connections to family and friends reduce stress, improve our eating habits, and make us laugh.

Remember years ago the stories from Eastern Europe about the children in orphanages?  They revealed that children who lacked social interaction became withdrawn and often suffered as “failure to thrive” children.  Adults are no different.  If you don’t think a phone call or a birthday greeting makes a difference then you’re very mistaken.  Don’t take these small acts of kindness and connection for granted.  In addition, it’s just as good to give as to receive.

Begin letter writing to your friends.  Make a commitment to write one letter a month.  E-mail is good for general communication but it doesn’t convey the same sense of connection as the written word.  Just think about how excited you get when the mailbox has something other than bills.  Make a phone call to someone you’ve been thinking about.  Send a photo or post a photo gallery on one of the online photo galleries and let others know what you’re up to.

Every connection is a lifeline both literally and figuratively.  What connections will you foster in the coming days?

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

Is the Crazy Over?

The holidays are over and people are still out at the stores getting the last of the great bargains.  It always feels that once we pass December 26th there is a universal sigh of relief that’s almost audible.  In case you’re one of those heading to the stores for the bargains, the scoop is that the big sales will be around till January 5th if not later.

I hope you had a wonderful holiday.  Yes the presents are great, but I’m hoping you had time to connect with family and friends who care about you.  In many cases, what do you get for the person who really doesn’t need anything?  I think spending time together is a great gift.  The truth is that spending quality of time together is better for you than the new tie or umbrella you may have received.  A visit with loving family and friends sparks your immune system.  It releases hormones in the body that soothe the body.  Who knows you may even laugh and if you’ve ever read Norman Cousins, you’ll know that laughter is a great remedy for pain.

It’s easy to get caught up in the holiday frenzy.  When facing a health challenge you may even put yourself in the frenzy to prove something to yourself, but it’s over and hopefully there is no price to pay for the over exertion from the marathon of holiday shopping.  Take some time to simply regroup.  Think about what these specific holidays have meant to you and write it down, put an album together, create an art piece or scrapbook.  Having a comforting memory is a great way to reduce tension and bring the body back to center.

What did you do to get through the holidays?  Let’s see if we can create a huge list that can be utilized for all future holiday seasons!

Posted in care for the caregiver, Caregiving, coping with chronic illness, Having a Voice

Find a “Happy” Social Network

Welcome to Caregiver Friday!

It’s all over the news…laugh and the world laughs with you.  (that’s definitely better than the world laughing at you)  The study conducted by researchers at Harvard and University of California San Diego found that happiness is contagious.  I know what you’re thinking, how can you be happy when you’re caring for someone who is ill.  I’m not saying you have to be jubilant or throw a ticker tape parade, but a bit of happiness like a pinch of salt in cooking may be good for you on multiple levels.  As it seems to show, it can also be good for your neighbors and community.

What we’re really looking at is the power of social networks.  Technology has certainly changed many of our definitions of community, but let’s look at it from multiple levels.  On the more personal level, when your neighbors see you as you pick up the morning paper from the driveway, smile and say good morning and ask about you don’t you feel happy?  If you do that for someone else and they snub you don’t you make a comment about the sourpuss who lives in the neighborhood.  I know it sounds a lot like forecasting the weather, but in some ways it does seem to travel like the wind.

On the technology side, with networks such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs galore, can’t you hook in to someone else’s happiness?  Don’t you feel uplifted when somene wants to be your “friend” and then starts a dialogue.  I just found a friend of mine from high school (I grew up in NJ) and she’s living in CA.  The interesting thing is she moved 30 minutes from where I lived in CA and she moved there the year after I moved there.  The world is much smaller than you might think.

“Being happy also brings other benefits, including a protective effect on your immune system so you produce fewer stress hormones, said Andrew Steptoe, a psychology professor at University College London”.  Caregiving is stressful so anything you can do to lower the stress hormones protects you, the caregiver, from developing your own health complications.  Just because you’re caring for someone who is ill doesn’t mean you have to be serious all the time.  Yes, certainly be serious about helping the person who is ill, but don’t deny who you are as a social being.  Don’t deny yourself the opportunity to interact with the outside world.

Why do you think that support groups have been so successful?  It’s because you find others in the same situation, who understand you, and even make off colored jokes and remarks that only someone in your situation  would or could find funny.  (those on the outside may consider it bad taste, but it’s life saving)

We need to connect because we’re social creatures.  So you have a choice, network with happy people and reap the rewards of happiness or network with curmudgeons and keep that narrow, fatalistic approach to life…the choice is yours.

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Emotional Health, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness, Spirituality and Health

Get Out of Your Head and Into Your Body

Our brains are like steel traps.  Once we get an idea trying to release it like trying to take a bone away from a dog.  I listen to people’s stories every day and I’m amazed at what energy we all put into holding on to stories that don’t serve us and in many cases harm us.  I’ll give you a quick example and then an experience I had last week that really helped me understand the importance of release.

As I mentioned earlier in the week, my brother recenty had surgery.  Thankfully the mass was benign, but leading up to the surgery (he had six weeks to ponder) the thought that followed him like a dark cloud was the he would die and leave behind a young son.  He did the equivalent of mental pacing in his head.  His thoughts would return to this place every time he was alone with his son.  Pacing doesn’t do anything except wear a hole in your carpet.  When we mentally pace we’re like a hamster on the wheel, going fast but not gaining any ground.  How can you get out of your head?

The class I attended last week was on healing trauma through nature.  The morning began with something called “body prayer”.  “Body prayer” is awakening the body to the present.  It orients the physical, mental and spiritual so that we can pry ourselves loose from negative energy and recurring thoughts that keep us stuck.  Our leaders for the week used a combination of Qi Gong, Yoga and song. We’d spend a half hour each morning engaging in this practice.

We need ways to move the energy and create opportunities for resolution.  Having the opportunity to strengthen the body, relax the mind and fill the soul invites you to create new roads, roads to resolution.  When facing an illness, having the opportunity to find alternatives, develop creative conversations within your body and with others helps alleviate the stress brought on by an illness diagnosis.

How do you get out of those circular though patterns?  What types of body work do you use to create new thought pathways and detours to lose the negative thought patterns?  Share with us and help expand everyone’s potential.

Posted in art and healing, Emotional Health, In the Know

Disclosure Creates Community

Last night I gave a talk to an artist group about living a creative life.  Some of the audience members want to earn their living by making art.  I personally make art because it makes me feel better.  Over the years I’ve found that it grounds me, keeps me present and is a visual twist on the “Dear Diary” version of my life.

Currently, I’m enrolled in a PhD program where I’ll be focusing on Art and Healing.  When I disclosed that to the audience they were surprised.  Then I also disclosed my own health challenges and how art has created a safe haven for living with illness.  After the talk one of the artists came and offered to be a case study if I needed one for school.  She has been living with an illness for over thirty-five years and finds that art helps build her immune system, lesson symptoms and give voice to her challenges and her life.

It’s important to open up avenues of communication so that people don’t feel so alone.  When they are given a container to express themselves and is safe, there is a sense of relief and joy at not having to keep the secret inside.  We can develop communities of care if we disclose our reality. It’s powerful and it’s healing.

Posted in Self-Nurture

Shooting Ourselves with Cupid’s Arrow

It’s Valentine’s Day and the stores are filled with flowers, candy and plenty of cards to send or give to others.  Why don’t we shoot Cupid’s arrow at ourselves to promote more self-love?   Isn’t this the holiday where one’s true love is honored?  I would hope that we are our own true love and yet we let ourselves slide.  What’s common is to put out all this energy and money on others and hopefully you get something in return.

I’m declaring this Valentine’s Day the holiday of self-love.  For years I’ve been hearing Louise Hay, author or “You Can Heal Your Life” tell us to look in the mirror and say “I Love You”.  That is an accomplishment that will bring the biggest tidal wave of warm feelings, especially when facing an life-altering diagnosis.  It’s a clear step on the acceptance scale and provides you with that extra surge of energy to keep going.

It’s important to keep ourselves in the mix or emotionally and spiritually we’ll wind up lonely.  Knowing that the power of love can help repair our immune system is not news, it’s one of the foundations to healing.  Take the step toward celebrating yourself on this Valentine’s Day and experience the personal rewards and then you’ll see the outward sharing of love pour in.