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

Barnum and Bailey’s Three Ring Circus

I always think about the circus when spring arrives; the two seem to go hand-in-hand.  I remember as a kid going to see the circus in Madison Square Garden with all the pageantry and regalia making it quite a spectacle.  When I think back I wonder how as a child I was able to keep track of what was happening in all three rings of the circus, but maybe that’s the fallacy; I didn’t keep track.  I focused on one thing until I got bored or something else bright and shiny caught my attention.

So what does the circus have to do with health and healing?  Once you’ve crossed the threshold from health to health challenged life becomes a three-ring circus.  It’s like you’re juggling how you lived life in the past, the life your living on the journey to wellness, with the hope that the future will bring better days, increased quality of life and of course a cure.

You can’t live in all three rings at the same time.  The only one you have control over is the middle ring; the one you’re living right now, this very moment as your reading this entry.  So how are you going to devote yourself to this moment?  What can you do immediately after finishing this post that will make your day better?  This isn’t about figuring out how to fit twenty clowns in a tiny Volkswagen Bug, but figuring out how to fit the most quality of filled moment into your day.  It’s now about wondering if when you fly on trapeze will you make it; but flying through the air with faith in your abilities and determination to achieve wellness and a higher quality of life.

The difference between the audience and the circus performers is that the audience is looking to be entertained and the performers are living each moment of the performance with a mission.  The same goes for your own life.  This isn’t about trying to impress someone or follow a script by your medical provider.  This is about charting a course to wellness that takes care of the body, mind, and spirit. 

How will you embark on your journey as ring master?

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

Sound Bite or Epic?

You’ve been diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness and the story begins.  There are lots of ways the story can go and lots of roles that the story can play in your life so as the writer of the story you have some decisions. 

Is the story you’re telling about your illness or you in the patient role a sound bite or an epic?  Is a snippet that you want people to know as an adjunct to all the other stories or is it going to take center-stage.  Is it going to be a blip on the screen or will it be the center of every aspect of your life? This is an important distinction because it’s not only about the residue you leave upon your own physical, emotional, and spiritual self, but the impact on your relationships with family and friends.

Every watch Sex and the City?  Carrie Bradshaw (played by Sarah Jessica Parker) breaks up with her boyfriend and thus begins the epic tale of how she was wronged, he was an idiot, she was a victim, etc.  At one point her friends confront her on her behavior and she respond with something like, “I thought that’s what friends are for” (to tell the heartbreak story).  They inform her it was okay in the beginning and in Shakespeare’s terms they say, “Get thee to a shrink”. 

Your friends and family will only listen for so long, especially if they don’t see the plot changing in any significant way.  This isn’t them dismissing you, but them saying the story isn’t serving your journey to health and healing.  If you’ve always lived your life as a victim then this is one more story that corroborates that point, so don’t be surprised if your friends stop answering your phone calls and e-mails.  Do you really want to be that person or that patient?

I encourage you to tell the story because it’s healthy to express yourself in all ways, but know that there’s a difference between repetition for emphasis, and repetition because you lack the know how or desire to get on with the number one job at hand, getting well!

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

Does the Smithosonian Know About You?

The Smithsonian is one of the most celebrated and prestigious museums in the world.  It archives history of the United States like no other museum could ever accomplish.  Those who are in the Smithsonian, represented in some way for their accomplishments, achievements, and contributions have a special place in our history. 

There’s a bumper sticker/refrigerator magnet etc. that states, “Well behaved women seldom make history”.  Think about that for a moment and then see how it applies to your life, compare and contrast the figures you admire most in the Smithsonian.  How does your life measure up?  If we were putting together a museum just about you what would be the highlights?

When diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness merely trying isn’t good enough.  Until your mind, body, and spirit are on the same page with a common goal you’re probably just going through the motions.  Your life is too precious to simply just go through the motions.  A quote from the show The West Wing states, “You think there’s a room in the Smithsonian for guys who never tried?”

There’s nothing about overcoming an illness that’s easy.  For many the simple act of getting out of bed in the morning could be the biggest challenge of the day, but trying is a must.  Whether the reason you can’t get out of bed is physical or emotional; the act of trying, desiring, even willing if necessary goes a long way.

I’m not suggesting that you have to fly around the world looking for gurus and healers who will perform miracles.  I am suggesting that you take your thoughts and actions one step further than usual.  It’s too easy when facing a health challenge to get caught in the rut of the same.  Life becomes a routing when it should be a continual mystery.

How will you make history for yourself?  What can you do today, just one thing that will move you one step deeper in healing your mind, body, and/or spirit?  Who do you need to call to join you in this mission?  Don’t be well-behaved, be outrageous!

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

In the Blink of an Eye

Anyone who has ever been diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness deeply relates to the title of this post.  It’s amazing to me how fast circumstances change in our lives and the world around us.  I feel as if I’ve got a pretty good handle on this concept but the Universe for some reason thought I needed a refresher course.  I was on my way to an event last evening when I was part of a four car auto accident.  Fortunately I wasn’t hurt and I’ve come to understand that the car is a thing, it’s metal and has no feelings and life will move forward.  As the accident was about to happen and life moves in slow motion I can reflect back and think the thought that was streaming through my head…”everything is about to change”.

I woke up this morning expecting to be very sore but I was spared the aches and pains associated with such an accident.  Has my life changed?  It certainly reinforced my belief that as long as I’m alive I have one more day to make an impact on the world.  I know deep in my heart that non-attachment to things is beneficial to my health and well-being.  I know that safety and security are two of the most important things in my life.

Facing a health challenge is the same way; in an instant everything you believed before the diagnosis is different.  Colors are different, flavors taste different and how you walk in the world is different.  You get stripped naked (figuratively) and there is a vulnerability that many have never experienced before in their lives and that’s quite a shock.  Panic may set in and that’s natural.  Fear may set in and that ‘s natural.  Uncertainty abounds and that’s natural.  The question many ask themselves is, “what will happen tomorrow?”

It would be great if we could find a way not to blink thus keeping life the way it was before the diagnosis, but that’s not possible and is definitely magical thinking.  Maybe the goal is to blink more.  Think of what happens when you get something in your eye; the irritation causes you to blink and blinking helps wash away the intruder.  Washing away the dust so you can see clearly is important to taking on your health challenge and re-orienting yourself to the path you will now walk.

How did you handle the before and after moment?  What has changed for you since the Universe made you blink?

Posted in Uncategorized

Size of Your World

I remember the first time I saw the pictures of the earth taken from outer space, what a magical vision.  For a planet that seemed so large the picture made it look so small; I guess that’s a lesson in perspective.  As we stand on this planet, in our bodies the illness experience knocks us off our pedestal of feeling big and cuts us down to size.  It’s not a punishment, or a lesson in reality, but an understanding of our place in the world.

The question “what’s the size of your world?” is important because it’s not uncommon following an illness diagnosis for our worlds to shrink and the unfortunately it’s repopulated with a medical community we had no interest in knowing.  Maybe our world has to increase it’s size like a taffy pull, just keep tugging at the edges and stretching it till it becomes smoothe and shiny. This would happen by friends, neighbors and co-workers engaging you.   Maybe we can increase the size of our worlds the way they do with angioplasty…insert a balloon into the artery and then slowly fill the balloon with air increasing it’s size allowing for increased blood flow.  Perhaps we can increase the size of our worlds by invitation, making specific requests of people.

It’s interesting that President Obama asked the country to engage in acts of service.  Can you think of any greater act of service than maintaining our relationships to their full capacity?  Service is not only something we do for those we don’t know.  Service is about extending a hand to anyone who could use a bit more support and encouragement.

How will you increase the size of your world?   Make a list of five things you can do and then select one that you can do today.  I’d love to hear what you’ve chosen and the actions you’ve taken to increase the size of your world.

Posted in Emotional Health, Self-Nurture, Spirituality and Health

Anger, Forgiveness and Health

One of my favorite sayings referring to anger is “It makes my blood boil”.  I was attracted to this phrase because there was some research being done on elevating blood temperature to eradicate viruses, literally burning them out of the body.  Anger can have that effect, at least figuratively.  Ever see someone who is angry turn all red in the face.  It’s like the cartoons where we see steam coming out the ears of the angry person.

Examining anger on our health came from reading Amish Grace, about the Nickel Mines school shooting in the Amish community.  There is a lot of discussion about forgiving the perpetrator and the speed at which he was forgiven.  The Amish believe that forgiveness is crucial to their existence.  They teach it, practice it and share its outcomes with the community.  They believe that it’s necessary to forgive in order to be forgiven.

This got me thinking about the anger we feel when we’ve received a life-altering diagnosis.  Many of those I’ve interviewed and sat in support groups with have expressed anger.  The anger often arises out of the shattered assumptions we experience, feeling that our bodies have betrayed us.  What impact does the lingering anger have on our immune system?

Can we really heal and be angry with our bodies?  How can we forgive our bodies and reclaim a nurturing stance toward our biology?  When we’re able to dispose of blame for our illness it’s easier to forgive.  Many studies, interviews, articles put the blame for illness on the individual.  We need to remember that the body is an extremely complex organism.  Illness can occur when one minuscule cell decides to change course.

Forgiving our bodies, removing anger from the equation gives us one more tool in our healing practice.  It provides us with fortification to take on the challenge of our illness.  Reconnecting with our bodies is crucial because it’s the only body we will ever receive so treat it kindly.  Turning our lives over to anger keeps us in a fighting stance and that’s not good for anyone’s health.  Maximizing our chances of healing is why abandoning anger, embracing forgiveness is crucial to good health.

Posted in Emotional Health, Spirituality and Health

Confronting Your Emotional Mirror

How comfortable are you with your emotions?  Are you the type of person who knows they are there but sweeps them under the carpet?  What does it take for you to pay attention to how you’re feeling?  When coping with a chronic or life-altering diagnosis your emotions are not simply reactions; they are a barometer for your life.  Ever notice how when you are confronted by one emotion it seems to peak its head out multiple times shouting “Here I am…do you see me?”

Yesterday I was working on a piece of art.  I couldn’t get the results I wanted and I tried over and over again, hoping to make progress.  Finally realizing I was frustrated I put the piece down and proceeded to go answer e-mails.  I received a group of e-mails that I found frustrating.  When I read the third crazy making e-mail I recognized that feeling of frustration.  Now what was I going to do?   I could ignore it or deal with it.  If I ignored it I felt it would haunt me like a ghost and keep showing up and that becomes a nightmare.

Once I identified the experience of frustration I was able to get myself centered and ask myself what is frustration trying to show me.  What I discovered is that I was too attached to the outcome of both the project and the situation discussed in the e-mails.  I could do something with that information; taking a step back and giving the situation the opportunity to unfold and find it’s own solution would serve me well.  I also needed to understand that I have only so much control over certain things and that trying to prove otherwise is fruitless.

Where is all this going?  If frustration hadn’t kept showing up yesterday I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to confront it in the emotional mirror.  I would have kept banging my head against the wall and that would definitely impact my health. Giving myself new coping mechanisms, healthier ones, relieves a lot of stress.  The other gift is that if I recognize the emotional impact of things earlier, maybe I don’t have to keep having the Ground Hog Day experience before creating a healing environment.

Posted in In the Know, Personal Conviction, Spirituality and Health

Change One Thing to Improve Your Health

I’ve talked about change in the past but today I’m focusing on our the fallacy related to our flexibility in the world.  I don’t mean being able to bend our bodies into contortionist poses, I’m talking about being open to a shift in perspective.  Cheri Huber has a book, “How you do anything is how you do everything”.  This is an important concept because we would like to believe that we behave one way in certain environments and we change how we act in others.  Let me tell you from personal experience, that’s not true.

An example would be how we deal with conflict.  If you’re the type who keeps things bottled up at home, I can assure you that you do the same thing at work and at the PTA meeting.  If you are a people pleaser at work the odds are good that you follow that pattern whenever you interact with others.  So I guess changing one thing is the idea, but the reality is when you truly change that one thing, other things will change as well.

If asking for help is difficult before your diagnosis, are there times when you have to step outside of your box and ask for help out of necessity?  This means that you’re able to ask for help.  I make that point because knowing it’s not about ability means that it has to be about willingness.  Start small, include others because people will help you if you give them the opportunity.

Where do we go from here?  If you begin asking for help, born out of necessity, with managing your illness then you may be able to increase the level of comfort it takes to ask for help at work.  It may mean that when you’ve volunteered to help with your kids soccer team fundraiser that you can ask for help so you’re not the Lone Ranger.  Changing one thing is infectious.  It spreads to the other areas of your life and the result is experiencing a sense of ease.  That ease will improve your health.  Why wait…start today!

Posted in Caregiving, Partnerships, Relationships

Optimism by Proxy

When taking on a life-altering diagnosis every article, interview, television show and family member will tell us to be optimistic.  They don’t always use that word.  They may tell us to “keep the faith” or “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” or “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”, easy for them to say.  Overall I agree that optimism is important because our bodies know when we’re not on board with the mechanism for hope.

 During those times when optimism seems like an overwhelming thought, allow someone else to hold the place of optimism for you.  There are no definite rules about how this all works so let’s be creative.  Individuals who climb great mountains like Everest have a Sherpa to help them with the journey.  The Sherpa knows the route and will carry the load that may be too cumbersome for the climber.

As we climb our own Everest it’s fine to let a Sherpa of our choice carry the optimism.  It’s important that we find someone we trust with this responsibility.  It needs to be someone we trust and will tell us the “caring truth” when necessary.  It also needs to be someone who is not holding false hope, but a genuine hope that serves as a beacon for us to follow.

How will you give yourself the gift of optimism even when it seems to big a task?  Who can you recruit to be the surrogate optimist in your life?  What gifts does this person possess that let’s you know they are up to serving as your optimism surrogate?  This is a huge honor we bestow on these optimism Sherpas and hopefully when we can resume holding the optimism we acknowledge these surrogates for their support, bravery and love.