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

Scare Away the Dark

One of the things I’ve always liked about Halloween is the idea of scary masks, parties with dry ice making smoke/fog, and of course candy. Horror movies try to scare us by catching us off guard, utilizing the age-old element of surprise as its weapon. Our fears are also scary. Yesterday I was asked if I was scared of anything and all I could think of was really high heights. I’m sure there are things lurking that I’m unaware of, and when they arise, I hope I can scare away the dark.

When we face adversity we often experience darkness, and heaviness sets in our body, mind, and spirit causing despair. Its goal, if you let it, is to deflate you. Utilize all your resources to fight the dark; you need those forces for health and healing. Those dark places want to take hold with the force of a vice and convince you that there are no better days ahead (the reality is there may not be, but scaring away the dark to gain a sense of peace is helpful).

The other problem with those dark places is they distort reality. Ever go to the carnival and look at the mirrors that elongate your body, or make you look like the Michelin Man? When we live in the dark (not insinuating you’re a mushroom), we lose perspective. Every experience is filtered through these dark lenses and it leads us to make less than helpful or healing decisions.

What can you do to scare away the dark? My go-to response it gather support. There is something amazingly healing when you receive love and friendship from others. I assure you their perspective is quite different from yours and at least you can see things from another point of view. Support groups are helpful because the folks in the groups are on the same pilgrimage. You’ll get lots of perspectives, some helpful and some not so helpful, but it opens you up to the range of possibility.

Read lots of autobiographies, memoirs, and pathographies, even blogs. See how others have used their internal resources to scare away the dark. It takes effort and it takes work. Depending on the circumstances of your life it may be ongoing or it may be short lived, either way you need to seek out sources of light.

Pretend every day is Halloween. Go find your scariest mask, it may as simple as a thought, and use that mask to scare away the darkness. Who knows, there may be a treat waiting for you on the other end.

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

Interested in how Art Heals?  Visit http://www.timetolivecreatively.com

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

Behind Closed Doors

We have two lives, the one we show to the world and the one behind closed doors. If we’re lucky the two really mirror each other. Unfortunately, there are plenty who have one persona in the world and another behind closed doors. We project qualities and characteristics based on what we see from the outside, but how do we get in? What allows us to see behind the front doors we pass?

I remember an episode of Oprah where she interviewed women who were socio-economically well off, lived in big homes with expensive cars, designer clothes and plenty of credit cards, but behind closed doors were the victims of domestic violence. Their stories were chilling because they described the amount of energy it took to keep up their public face. It’s a balancing act between fear, saving face, and desperation. The secrets and the pain that accompany a life with uncertainty and limited possibility is small.

There are too many people who walk this world with stories of loneliness that go untold. This sense of isolation impacts them physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Support groups give the individual a place to feel in community. A place where the loneliness is minimized and a common language is spoken. It’s not a language that can be learned; it’s a language that needs to be experienced.

We have been conditioned to keep our spirits up and limit the amount of hardship we show the world. We may hide our challenge for fear that those around us won’t be able to hold the pain. Having a safe container for the pain frees us and allows us to live our lives in alignment. How will you create a unified life? Who will you invite into your world diminishing your isolation? How truthful will you be about what you’re experiencing?

Isolation and loneliness are not diagnostic categories. The health communities lump these circumstances as part of other diagnoses such as depression. I believe that they are just as detrimental as recognized diagnoses because the hidden nature of loneliness and isolation is difficult to uncover.

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

Want to explore how Art impacts Healing?  Visit http://www.timetolivecreatively.com

Posted in Caregiving

On a Serious Note…Caregiving and Depression

Welcome to Caregiver Friday!!

How many of you were wondering if I was ever going to venture into the land of the “dark night of the soul” as coined by St. John of the Cross.  You know those points in your life when you’re so down, feeling little hope, and don’t know where to turn?  Well I hope you’re not at that point, but I know that many caregivers are dealing with depression and that we have to address.

On a personal note my family is seeing the damage unchecked depression can have on a caregiver.  My mother-in-law took care of my father-in-law following his stroke for 20 years.  We, the family, tried to help her in many ways, but to no avail.  She worked for a while and that kept her somewhat occupied but she still showed the signs of depression.  Once she retired we tried hiring her a respite worker so she could go out a couple of times a week and do something enjoyable…she never left the house.

I understand that older adults are still skeptical of mental health practice, but the ramifications of treatment are too huge to ignore.  Twenty years of depression has resulted in enormous physical pain, lack of medical care and that in turn has led to huge medical problems in the present.  She’s currently in the hospital quite ill because she didn’t say anything when her symptoms started…she was too depressed.  It wasn’t until she was in so much pain that she asked her daughter to take her to the emergency room.

As I talk to my partner, her son, we noted that we never really treated her depression.  She has been prescribed antidepressants by her doctor, but she only takes them if she really feels bad.  antidepressants don’t work like aspirin.  It takes two weeks to reach a therapeutic level in your blood stream.  Taking them every so often is just a waster of a pill.

I wish we’d performed an intervention much earlier on so that we could have addressed her depression, directly related to caregiving much earlier.  She’s a bit stubborn and resistant, but if we would have pushed harder maybe she wouldn’t be in the medical predicament she finds herself.  Maybe it’s easier for some people to get help for a medical condition than a mental health condition.  Perhaps sucking it up all those years as a caregiver just created too much toxicity in her system.

Why am I telling you my story?  Because caregiving is stressful.  It can have devastating physical impact on your body if left untreated.  What should you be doing?  Eating right and exercising.  You should join a caregiver support group or see a therapist or speak with a coach, someone like me who can guide you through the process of making sense of all the madness.  Stay engaged with family and friends because social relationships and fun (yes I said fun) is good for the immune system.

If you have any further questions I hope you’ll send them to me so I can answer them for you and the collective you.  Thanks for letting me share my story.

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

As Good As It Gets

In many cases, when diagnosed with a chronic illness it’s because you’ve had symptoms and they were probably escalating.  Aside from illnesses like asthma and diabetes that are more easily assessed; many of the illnesses may resemble one another making a definitive diagnosis more difficult.  You may have disregarded the beginning symptoms believing they weren’t really anything to worry about but the symptoms became exaggerated, more frequent, and even if they disappear for a period of time they return with a vengeance.

You begin treatment and the symptoms subside, maybe even disappear and that’s quite a relief.  You silently wish, maybe even pray that you’re finished with this chapter of your life and lo and behold the symptoms reappear.  We use the word “chronic” for a reason, because it is like a revolving door, symptoms…health…symptoms…health.  You may be one of those chronic illness patients whose symptoms never really disappear, but diminish in their intensity and impact.  You adhere to treatment regimen and you get results.  There is improvement and your quality of life increases.  You breathe a sigh of relief even though you’d like the symptoms to totally disappear.  So the big question is, “What if this is as good as it get?”

Being diagnosed with an auto-immune disease over 35 years ago I have experienced the entire continuum of symptom regression to total symptom expression.  I ask myself frequently, “how will I live my life is this (the current state of my body) is as good as it get”.  It becomes almost a mantra because a part of me says if I resign myself to this level of illness expression am I giving up hope that all my symptoms will disappear. 

The obvious answer is, I wish I were symptom free, but it really has become a matter of “how do the symptoms impact my quality of life?”  It’s not only about my physical health, but my emotional and spiritual wellness.  I’ve learned over the years how to combat feelings of sadness and depression.  I’ve learned and practice ways to increase my spiritual stamina so I don’t feel all alone on this journey.  It’s not about resigning oneself to living with an illness, but the acceptance that I can create the life I want to live by acquiring the external and internal resources I need to live a good life.

What resources do you need?  What if this is as good as it gets, how will you create a new normal?  How can you live the best life possible knowing that you may have ups and downs, remissions and flares, and emotional and spiritual challenges all along the way?  These are important questions that can’t be answered on the spot; so think about it and see what surfaces.