Time is all we have. Once the diagnosis begins there is often a race against time. The first is getting all the appointments in so we can find out the diagnosis, treatment plan and the endless specialists we’re going to have to see. Depending on your illness the race may be against time. It’s not something we ever want to discuss but not everyone who gets sick will live so what is it about today that’s going to be different from every other day.
Before I entered the helping professions I began my adult work life in the hotel industry. The general manager explained to me that the selling of a room in a hotel is a perishable commodity. That meant if we didn’t sell room 101 on April 11, 2008, we couldn’t ever sell it for that night again. Don’t you feel the same is true with the lives we lead?
Once we live this day we can’t say, “Oops I didn’t do it right, may I have a do over?” That kind of thinking only works in the movie Ground Hog’s Day. It’s interesting because most people wouldn’t want the chance to live their days over so how can we make the most of what we have today. Trust me, I understand that lying in bed in pain may not be a day to go out dancing, but what can you do to make the most of the day?
Is there a poem that brings you joy? I have found the work by poet Mary Oliver to be thoughtful, endearing and full of meaning about life. Maybe you have a piece of music that helps ease the tension or pain. If you’ve read The Mozart Effect you’ll find that music has amazing healing powers and it doesn’t take any effort to listen (unless you have migraines and the thought of sound is worse than torture).
How we live the day is our choice. Yes, we will often have to make concessions, but it’s part of the creative nature of those battling an illness. Today is a perishable commodity and the shelf life ends at midnight. What will you do before the day expires?
Following a diagnosis many facing a life-altering illness turn their life, their health and their happiness over to their medical providers. If they prescribe the right medication, then I’ll be happy. If they can limit symptomatology, then I’ll be happy. Is our happiness really dependent on their actions? If we weren’t happy before are the choices our medical team make going to release happiness into our bloodstream?
One of the people I admire is Caroline Myss, www.myss.com. Listening to her radio broadcast on Hay House Radio, www.hayhouseradio.com, I heard Caroline make some wonderful statements about how we make decisions. I just took those ideas and thought about how they apply to health. She stated, “Life is not an entertainment system. Choices are not made for you…Do something that puts a new energy in motion-stop being passive.”
When we are facing our illness, everything is a decision. Whether I take my medication today or not is a decision. Whether I seek the support of an acupunturist to relieve symptoms is a decision. Whether I search the web for the latest research about my illness is a decision. I can give you a checklist, but it’s your to-do list, not mine.
Making decisions is empowering, even if the end result is not what we expected. We get to chart our own course for happiness so what three things can you do in the next 30 days that will bring you happiness?
Genetics labs all over the world are constantly on the lookout for what genetic factors cause illness. This week the story is the genetic link tied to smoking and lung cancer. The article says, “A smoker who inherits these genetic variations from both parents has an 80 percent greater chance of lung cancer than a smoker without the variants, the researchers reported.” (http://abcnews.go.com/print?id=4579691)
As a psychotherapist the jokes are always about what did your parents do to you that someday will land you on the analyst’s couch. Now in addition to our parents causing emotional damage, they can be responsible for our physical demise as well. If that doesn’t land you on the analyst’s couch nothing will. As someone who has lived with an autoimmune disease for over thirty years I’m well aware of living life as a genetic dumping ground. Does it serve me to blame those who passed down the illness, only if living with anger and resentment boosts my immune system somehow, I can assure you that’s not the case.
What do you do with the information that your illness may be genetic? As tests become more available we all have the choice and decision about whether we choose to know if we are carrying a genetic variant. If you knew would it change how you live your life? I know women who have had prophylactic mastectomies after finding they had the breast cancer gene.
Is information power? Are you more likely to make life choices that will improve your health if you know the results of the test? Are you more likely to torture yourself and all those in your genetic lineage if you know the illness genetics of your family? As we become more technologically advanced these findings and their fallout will only increase. It may not be relevant in your lifetime but what about your kids? The bottom line is that blame doesn’t serve any of us…so let’s find other ways of coping that will increase our quality of life and diminish the adverse effects of any illness.
Extreme cases call for extreme measures. An interview with a woman with a malignant tumor was first resigned to giving up and then she found there may be an alternative surgery that would save her life. Her tumor was in a place many would believe is inoperable. It was surrounded by six of her internal organs, usually not a prime candidate for surgery. She found a doctor who was willing to think outside the box and it saved her life.
The surgery would remove the organs surrounding the tumor. The tumor would be removed and then all the internal organs would be put back in her body. It sounds X-treme but it was a risk she was willing to take. Without the surgery there didn’t seem to be much hope. The opportunity given to her by the team of doctors, a team of six, is amazing. They were willing to try something that most wouldn’t dream of trying, but they were pushing the boundaries.
There are many times when pushing the boundaries to recapture our health is crucial. It’s not only about finding medical practitioners willing to push the boundaries. As patients, we have to consider stepping out of our own comfort zones and using radical treatments to save our lives. When there aren’t a lot of choices is there really any question about how far we’ll go to regain our health, or the chance at healing?
Keep that in mind if you’re ever confronted with a daunting prognosis. Be willing to take it one more step and you’ll often be surprised what awaits you.
Iconic movies achieve that status when they have lessons that are timeless. I’m sure most of the public considers “The Karate Kid” a good movie and are probably amused by all the stunts the teacher made the young student undertake, but the message is much deeper. The teacher was providing the student with skills that would be available whenever called upon. The student would be building an arsenal of strategies and knowledge that would eventually lead to success.
Many of us while we’re well go along and learn things here and there. My experience with many clients is that once they receive a diagnosis they hit the library, the web, the bookstores and the workshop series looking for the answers. Yes, these resources will help, but cramming didn’t work so well in college and it won’t be as effective now. As we’re moving along our personal pilgrimage it’s important to continue learning new strategies even if the lesson is not applicable right now.
We can’t predict what will happen during treatment or following treatment if that’s an option. We can’t predict with certainty the course of our illness so we can’t plan for the strategies we’ll need to help us improve our health. We aren’t clairvoyant (at least not most of us) so we can’t zero in on the lesson that will be tailored to our health. For these reasons engaging in an ongoing path of continuous learning is crucial.
What do we need to learn? We need to learn lessons that will improve our physical, emotional and spiritual health. You get to determine what fills that bill but find the lessons. Don’t wait for a crisis to begin looking for answers to improving your health. Don’t need the lessons to take hold the moment you learn them without acquiring some level of mastery because all you’re doing is short changing yourself.
Keep an open mind and follow your heart. No one knows better than you what will improve your health and your outlook on your health. Ask others for resources, meditate, engage in creative activities to unleash negative energy and promote self-expression. Keep learning and when you need the lessons they will be at your beck and call and full of potential.
What gets to you? Why does it get to you? How does it get to you? We all have things in our lives that are triggers for self-deprecating thoughts and behavior. We all have those moments of doubt that prevent us from keeping focused on our primary objective, getting well. The more I speak with those facing life-altering health issues the more I hear people lament that their filters have become open like flood gates and they become overwhelmed.
Having a working filter is crucial to improving our health. It shouldn’t be a surprise that I began thinking about this yesterday while working on an art project. I’m working with lace and while at the fabric store I kept putting my hand behind the lace to see the pattern. My attention finally turned to seeing the size of the holes in the lace and what would get through if I painted over it. This led me to thinking about what do I allow to get through to my psyche that distracts me from focusing on my health.
If we’re looking at our filters then we have to consider the size of the holes in our emotional and spiritual strainer. We have to set the parameters so that only what we want to get through actually does. If love and support need to get through how do you guarantee that it doesn’t get trapped outside your filter? If information and education about your health is critical to making good decisions how do you invite this information to get through? We need to find ways of the things we need to get past the velvet ropes that are meant to keep the undesirables out.
I can share with you that this process is a trial and error effort. We don’t automatically set the filter and bingo we’re set to receive only the important things in our lives. Overwhelmingly it is going to take commitment, awareness and perseverance to set the filters to match your needs. Remember we’re talking needs first and wants second. When we take care of our needs we have more resources and energy to expand further down the line creating options and opportunities to keep our heath in the foreground. What will you do today to begin setting your filters?
The words “thank you” go a long way. It is one of the things we’re taught to say as little kids and the hope is that it sticks into adulthood. Over the past week I’ve had numerous conversations about the continuum of gratitude and it’s impact on our health. The simplest way for us to show gratitude is the old fashioned method of sending a note. In our world of technology we’ve lost that personal connection through handwritten notes. I recommend that any time you have an opportunity to send a personal note, do so, it will make you feel good and the recipient will first be shocked then greatly honored. It has an effect on the depth of our relationships because people in our lives feel honored and more connected to us.
A more quiet form of gratitude is also more personal because it involves being grateful for the day. This weekend I received news that two young men, in their thirties, recently died. One not to unexpected and one totally unexpected, but both still a shock. If life is that uncertain isn’t gratitude for the day essential to good health? Isn’t the idea that we get one more experience, one more day to share with others and one more day to “be here” a miracle?
The experience of gratitude calms the body. When our bodies are calm they can enter a healing zone improving our health. All the research shows that when we are connected to others in loving relationships our health improves. Keeping up with our relationships is at the forefront of that mission. There is no requirement to have a party or a huge dinner, simply get together with others for a cup of soothing tea. It’s all about the shared experience. Even those who may spend most of their time in bed can receive guests, energy level permitting, and share s few precious moments.
Illness shouldn’t mean automatic disconnection. When faced with the challenges of a life-altering diagnosis everything we can add to our treatment arsenal is worth pursuing. Gratitude doesn’t cost anything and the return on the emotional and spiritual investment is huge.