Posted in art and healing, Autobiography, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, creativity and health

Where I’ve Been…Where I’m Going

It has been almost five months since I last wrote, but I’m back to share my experiences, thoughts, and questions I’ve developed over that period of time.  The last 6 months of 2012 was spent completing my doctoral dissertation, and the first five months of this year I have been in rural western Tennessee for work.

I had the enormous pleasure and honor of interviewing artists with chronic and life-threatening illnesses for my dissertation.  I completed my dissertation the end of July and successfully defended my dissertation the end of March.  I have to share that being called Doctor is a bit surreal, but still pretty cool.  It has been a long journey, six years to complete this accomplishment.

What have I learned from the dissertation journey?  I learned that when you are totally engaged in a process the time flies.  I learned that being of service to others is a blessing.  I learned that it’s never to late to begin a journey that fills your soul.  The completion of the dissertation was a huge accomplishment.  However, the oral defense was a spiritual experience.  Having three examiners share some special time, ask provoking questions, and request that I delve deeper into the subject I spent over two years exploring was uplifting, exhilarating, and terrifying.

The last part of the dissertation process took place while I was working in rural western Tennessee.  I spent over four months in a farming community.  It was a close-knit community and somewhat isolated from things I take for granted like cultural centers and a bookstore.  However, I did learn about living in community, knowing everything about most of the people in a town, and how to thrive in a new environment.

I’m back at home and getting ready to travel to San Francisco for graduation.  This will be the culmination of my educational career (at least I say that for right now).  I’ll spend some time with my friends who took the dissertation journey with me and also received their PhD.  I’ll be honored by the faculty for this glorious accomplishment, and celebrate the result of perseverance, tenacity, and love of a subject.

Where will I go from here?  I want to begin sharing my background in art and healing.  I’d love to come to a state, city, town near you and share the impact of your personal narrative on how you share your autobiography and its impact on meaning making.  We all have a story that needs to be shared.  Our culture requires that we share our stories so that we create a cosmic gestalt.

I look forward to sharing this next part of my journey.  I hope you’ll join me!

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

Why Are We So Caught Up in Reality TV?

I have to admit that when it comes to television; I’m hooked on reality shows related to singing and dancing.  I’ve been watching NBC’s The Voice, and they are down to the final four.  These four are competing for a record contract, and of course, fame.  What I like about this show is that they don’t have an age limit, so it’s really about the talent, not the teenybopper vote.

I’ve heard Anderson Cooper confess that he’s a reality television junkie.  I guess when you cover tragedy all over the globe; reality television is a break from reality.  So why do we need to escape from reality?

Those of you who have been diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness know how hard life can be since the diagnosis.  It makes you wonder how much more real can you get than living your life filled with doctors appointments, lab tests, and trips to the pharmacy.  Being in your body is as real as it gets, so why don’t you have your own reality television show?

It’s interesting how illness can be a storyline on a television show, but not the focus of the show.  Obviously there have been illness specific movies or theater productions focusing on illness such as WIT or The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, but no network or cable show focusing on the reality of real life illness.

I’m grateful when actors such as Michael J. Fox are guests on talk shows because he discusses the reality of living with illness.  He gives an unfiltered account of his life with Parkinson’s disease, and how he prepares himself when he has to go to work.  That’s as real as it gets!

Everyone in life has some type of struggle, but illness poses unique challenges.  It impacts not only you but also your family.  It can physically separate you from others, more out of fear and ignorance than from malicious intent.  You’re often misunderstood because throughout the day your life may revolve around other things than going to the grocery store and picking up the kids from soccer.  It’s multifaceted and often feels like a tightrope act.

When you’re watching reality television, please give yourself credit for living a life that is more real and more important than any program on television.  Become the success you are striving for and that will prevent you from being voted off the island!

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

Lessons from Bella

I have two dogs and both have had their fair share of medical issues.  I’ve talked much more about my black lab Tashi who has suffered with recurrent infections due to MRSA.  I’ve learned a lot about facing illness and creating a new normal from her.  This past weekend my other dog, Bella, visited the vet because of a cyst in her ear.

As it turns out, Bella has a hematoma in her ear.  It was drained and a cortisone injection to reduce the swelling was administered.

During the examination the doctor noticed Bella required dental work with the probability that a tooth would need to be pulled.  If that weren’t enough, she has a cyst in the middle of her head that we decided is she’s going to be under anesthesia should probably be removed.

Bella was sent home with a bandage covering her ear.  Unfortunately, she kept trying to remove it so we had to get one of those big radar dishes for her head.  The poor thing was bumping into walls, tripping over things, and was generally a bit disoriented.

This morning I took Bella to the bet for her procedure.  She was very good in the exam room, probably because she was scared.  She began to shiver.  Her anxiety was evident and trying to console her did little good.  The vet was very good with her and he too tried to console her.  So why am I talking about a 10-1/2 year old dog?  Because dogs don’t understand their pain, the medical procedures they endure, or adjusting to medical devices for their own protection.

On the other hand, as humans we also don’t understand pain, medical procedures, or medical devices that become part of our every day lives.  Too many of us try and make sense of our illnesses, but is that even possible?

When we enter the medical arena we often try and hide our fear and anxiety, but it still always comes through.  Because illness is so disorienting how do we try and alleviate the panic?  It’s important to have people in your life that will help you disperse the anxious energy.  Talking, engaging in creative activities, finding a spiritual director, illness coach, or psychotherapist helps with those anxious moments.

What would happen if you really experienced the anxiety so you could disperse it into the universe?  We expend so much energy trying to hide it or suppress it that we are continually exhausted physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  I had a clinical supervisor who said, “You can’t get out of something if you’re never in it”.  It’s like dancing around the mouth of the volcano…sometimes you have to jump in so you can know what you’re getting out of, experientially.

My dogs are my examples for coping with illness.  They seem fearless, truly a projection.  They provide me with insights into the illness experience that I wouldn’t have made conscious any other way.  It is because of that, that I am eternally grateful and I make sure any way I can be of service to them I will.

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

No Day But Today…

What if every day were encapsulated and once it’s over it’s gone forever?  How can we best utilize the resources we have on any given day?  How much extra energy are you spending on what you can’t change?

These are all big questions.  I saw a quote today that inspired me, “Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today.”  You may not be carrying around the energy from the past few days, but are playing scenarios in your head wondering the “what if” question?  How much time are you wasting on the Monday morning quarterback strategy as you face life with a chronic or life-threatening illness?  It’s an important question because every drop of energy you use on what already happened detracts from the energy you need to deal with what is happening in the here and now.

I’m sure for some people ruminating over past events have a certain level of comfort.  Let’s face it; we’ve already lived it, so we know it.  However, wouldn’t you rather start fresh and approach the day as a new beginning?  Living the day for what it has to offer allows you to stay in action.  It promotes a healthier life view and that translates into immune boosting activities within your body.

The other element involved in allowing yesterday to eat up today is the simple matter of time.  We’re only given twenty-four hours in a day.  As the song from the musical Rent reminds us, that translated into five hundred twenty-five thousand-six hundred minutes.  So how do you measure a year?

Robbing yourself of time today limits your life experience.  It prevents you from capturing the experiences, and information you need on your journey to wellness.  I realize that we can’t start and finish everything every day, but most of us carry around too much from previous days clogging up the new experience pipeline.

What will you do today to limit yesterday’s intrusion into your life today?  It’s all about containment.  Let the past be the past unless you’re using it for lessons learned, but don’t try and relive the past…that’s only in fantasy and science fiction movies.

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

If Zig Ziglar Said It: It Must Be True

Motivational speakers provide us with encouragement, challenge us, and give us tools to make life a little better.  Zig Ziglar has been in on the world stage for years.  After learning about his death I found a quote that made me sit up and pay attention.  Ziglar said, “Failure is not a dead end; it’s just a detour.”

It’s one thing when applying this philosophy to business and relationships, but does it apply to health and healing?  Could we take this thought and see how it reflects the consciousness of illness?

I believe that Ziglar’s quote is a universal.  How does it apply to being diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness?  Anyone diagnosed with a health challenge knows that treatment isn’t always smooth sailing.  There may be times when something doesn’t work, or the body reverts to earlier stages of agitation creating a flare.  These are the times when we have to create a world of possibility and hope so we can move forward.

The world of possibility and hope may require a change in medication.  It could lead you to looking at complementary therapies.  You may be inspired to go deep within and cultivate the emotional and spiritual realms of your life.  Whatever choice you make just means that the destination may take a little longer.

I’m well aware that not everyone is cured.  However, creating a world that is engaging, envelopes you with love, and has meaning is at the center of a good life.  If every challenge were a dead end, following a diagnosis we’d simply wait for death.  Working with individuals with life-threatening illnesses for over twenty years I know that’s not the norm.  We’re used to detours in life.  It requires us to establish where we are, and create a new route.  It’s like when your GPS resets after you take a wrong turn.  You get to your destination; it just takes a little longer.

You need to understand that this detour doesn’t come without frustration.  It may leave you questioning life every day.  Your faith may be tested.  It’s your route to plan and execute

What does your detour look like?  How will you reset your internal GPS?  Send me your thoughts…either comment below or email me at greg@survivingstrong.com.

 

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

Always Moving Forward: To Infinity and Beyond

We all have projects to complete in our lives: raising our families, fixing the house, finishing school, or overcoming the impact of a chronic or life-threatening illness.  It doesn’t matter the project there are steps that are important to keep moving forward in your process.

Moving forward is probably one of the key pieces of the puzzle.  It reminds me of an episode of friends where Phoebe (played my Lisa Kudrow) is dating a police officer.  He talks about moving their relationship forward and she’s hesitant.  He says, “If you’re not moving forward, your moving backward.”  She responds with, “No, not necessarily, if you’re not moving forward you’re standing still” and she strikes a mannequin pose.  Moving forward doesn’t mean you’ve reached your personal summit.  It does mean that your intention is to progress physically, emotionally, or spiritually (or all 3).

Don’t be alarmed, we all get stuck, but it’s how you become unstuck that matters.  I mentioned yesterday that I submitted my dissertation for review.  Yesterday afternoon I had a meeting with my adviser and thanked her for her patience.  She said, “I knew you would do it.  You were passionate about the subject, and all you needed was for the timing to be right.”  Those were important things for me to hear because it was what I needed to hear.

Having someone who has faith in your ability to move forward on your project is vital to achieving any of your goals.  Knowing you’re not alone in your journey is worth its weight in gold.  Who do you believe or know is on your team?

It was also important for me to hear that it would happen when the time is right.  I know you’re wondering how does that apply to an illness, when you’re ready for progress the moment you get diagnosed.  It’s not about progress in whether you’re getting better or well, but progress in your commitment to your own wellness.  It’s a commitment to integrating the diagnosis in a way that it doesn’t submerge you in despair.  It’s about believing every day is an opportunity to try again.

We are our most important project.  How will you make yourself and moving forward a priority, not just a pipe dream?  I’d love to hear about your journey, email me at greg@survivingstrong.com

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

Storm Surge

The news is flooded with stories and pictures of the damage done by Hurricane Sandy.  The East Coast has been devastated by a storm that devoured a region.  First responders are still working very hard to rescue people that hadn’t evacuated.  Power is out for over 7 million customers and on top of it, fires broke out burning houses and exploding cars.

It’s one thing to see this force of Mother Nature take hold and be in command of the fate of so many people.  However, if you’ve been diagnosed with a life-threatening or other life-altering illness and have ever had a flare, you know what a storm surge is like from the depths of your soul.

Just like Mother Nature we can’t predict when an internal storm surge will begin its devastation.  For many, it comes on suddenly and impacts body, mind, and spirit.  The effects are devastating and it can take a long time to recover following one of these episodes.

This came on my radar screen this week when one of the individuals I was going to interview for my dissertation called with the news that she’s in the midst of one of these storm surges.  She’s very concerned about the impact this new bout with her illness will take on her life, and to say the least, she’s very discouraged.  There’s never a guarantee that health will be sustained, and when it’s compromised, like when a levee is breached, the fallout is difficult.

It took me a long time to understand my body’s own circadian rhythms.  I’ve come to understand that my body and my illness tend to revolt some time between Halloween and Christmas.  I’m particularly careful during this time period to take extra special care of myself physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  If the storm surge hits, I’m prepared for it and take the necessary measures to take back control of my health.  I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s something I’ve learned to take on to live the best life possible.

Storm surges in nature, and in the body are difficult to predict much less control.  The only defense we have it to nurture ourselves and know that the body-mind connection is powerful.  The body-mind connection is the best defense along with good medical care for riding out the storm!

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

Are You Waiting for a Special Invitation?

I’m continuously on the hunt for inspiring stories about health, healing, and living large.  I’m currently reading Stephen Cope’s “The Great Work Of You Life: A guide for the journey to your true calling”.  I know my true calling, but there are aspects about recognizing one’s gift and how to use that information in all other areas of your life.

I don’t have any answers (not that I usually do), but I do have some questions that keep haunting me.  I keep a notepad by my chair in the family room so that when I’m watching television I can capture thoughts and quotes.  When I looked at the pad this morning I noticed the question, “Do you have to have a near death experience to begin living large?”

There are plenty of interviews and books written about people who have had near death experiences and the catalyst this experience was for living large.  I guess what I’m wondering is why wait?  Are we continuously putting things off until we’re faced with an ultimatum?  Have we created a culture where we hold back because others can’t handle our bigness?  Wouldn’t it be great if everyone lived large and we were equipped to handle that bigness?

How large are you living?  As I write this I’m asking that very question.  I’m in the midst of writing my doctoral dissertation and it’s on artists with life-threatening and life-altering illnesses.  I’m amazed at how large these individuals are living.  There are no shrinking violets.  They are following their calling.  Their voices are strong in speech and their art.  They are truly leaders in how to live large, and the rewards one gets by living in alignment, body, mind, and spirit.

No one can send you an invitation to your own life so stop checking the mailbox or your email inbox for it.  You get to create your life so how large do you want it to be?  What would it look like if you lived large?  Are you ok with dwarfing those around you?  Believe me, if you begin to live large others will take your lead because they will see the results so don’t hold back!

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

Speaking the Unspeakable

What do you want to talk about?  Are there things that you would like to discuss with people since you’re diagnosis?  Have you found that when you broach the topic people either make excuses to leave the room or change the topic?   It’s like the episode of “Sex and the City” where Samantha is talking about her illness with Carrie and Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) tries to change the subject.  Samantha says, “Please let me talk about what I’m afraid of”.  That changed the conversation and probably their relationship forever.

Last week on “The Jeff Probst Show” he had Jennifer Gilbert as a guest.  She had been brutally attacked over twenty years ago.  On the show she discussed not only the horror of the attack but the lingering effects of the attack lasting over twenty years.

As Gilbert shared she never discussed the attack with her family.  She held the enormously disturbing impact to herself, keeping it all in and as result creating new rules about how to live life.

Gilbert went on to get married and have a family.  She gave birth to twin boys and unfortunately one of the boys was diagnosed with alopecia.  Alopecia is obviously quite visible and hard to ignore, and yet the family did a good job of not discussing the obvious.  One day when Gilbert returned home her daughter came to her and said, “Mommy, (one of the kids who came to play) came over and broke the rule?”  Gilbert in all her wisdom asked what rule?  Her daughter said, “The rule that we don’t speak about (her brother’s) baldness”.  It hit Gilbert hard because she realized in that moment that she fostered an environment where they didn’t discuss difficult topics.

It was in that moment that Gilbert decided to change the rules.  She sat down with the kids and they talked about the child’s alopecia.  She said they have become a “bald proud” family.  She changed the rule and the dynamics of the family making it easier to discuss difficult situations.

How will you change the rules?  How will you make it known that you not only want to discuss your diagnosis/health challenge, but you need to discuss this change in your life?  It means taking a stand, bringing the diagnosis center stage, and feeling comfortable with the discomfort.  The reward is a dialogue creating support from friends and family.  It means you open your relationships to more open and honest communication.  It spotlights the love you have for those in your life and their willingness to engage with you on this level is the ultimate showing of love!  You will experience a new sense of freedom and lightness not having to hold all this energy within the confines of your body, mind, and spirit.  The new experience of life will serve you on your journey to health and healing.

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

Space Planning

I watch a lot of HGTV and I’m always amazed at the result the designers achieve.  I have some friends currently building homes and it’s not uncommon to discuss space planning because they are all artists and are designing their ideal studios.  We consider space planning when it comes to our physical homes, our dwellings, but don’t consider space planning in any other realm of our lives.

What if we worked on space planning in our minds?  How would our lives change if we thought about how we use the space in our minds?  What would it take for you to consider space planning for your emotional and spiritual life?

Let’s face it being diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness is a big thing; it takes up a lot of space.  The most obvious place it takes space is in your body.  You and your medical teamwork together striving to reduce the amount of physical space your illness takes in your body.  Along with various treatments and medication, good food and rest are vitally important to reducing the amount of space your illness takes up in your body.

The other aspect to this is the amount of space a diagnosis of an illness takes up in your mind.  It is like “The Blob”, expanding into all the nooks and crannies of your mind zapping your energy that you need for health and healing.  When you ruminate about your illness the amount of space it takes up is enormous.  What can you do to contain the expansion of negative energy?

Support groups are a great way to contain the negative emotional aspects of a health challenge.  It allows you to dump the negative energy and get support when you need it most.  The group atmosphere is affirming and lets you know that you’re not the only person in the world having these experiences.  The problem is that not everyone lives in a geographic location where there is a support group for your particular diagnosis.  The Internet has given us the opportunity to connect with people around the world at any time day or night, creating relationships and partnerships for mutual support.

When it comes to your spiritual life, expansion is the name of the game.  Finding a spiritual director or coach to help you create a space plan in your soul can be a game changer.  Having someone who travels with you on this pilgrimage can provide you with soul reinforcement allowing you to continue this arduous journey.  This partnership is about comfort as well as expanding the positive aspects of belief in an energy force greater than you.

Space planning is not just for your physical environment, but your inner habitat as well.  It can provide you with comfort when you feel as if your diagnosis is taking over your entire life and you feel as if no one understands.  Containment of the emotional and spiritual intrusions can promote health and lead you to getting better or getting well!