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 Uncategorized

Ignore the Whispers…Start the Conversation

I’ve been thinking a lot about the post from yesterday because it impacted me greatly.  The idea that 1 in 6 Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness is astounding, and I’m a mental health professional.  The biggest problem and I’ve seen in it my own family, we don’t talk about problems like depression and bipolar disorder so they stay closeted, but the signs are there and medication is prescribed and still the whispers.  This doesn’t even take into account the genetic factor involved with any diagnosis.

The public service announcements outing mental health diagnoses is truly a piece of art.  The fact that they didn’t use actors but real people with a diagnosis and their family/friends/support persons shows there is support when we take the illnesses seriously and get the right treatment.  It always helps when you have star power behind the message and having Glenn and Jessie Close spearhead this campaign is amazing.  I encourage you to go to the website http://www.bringchange2mind.org and not only watch the public service announcement but the side interviews with Ron Howard the director and the “real” people in the public service announcement.

The bigger question and this applies to both physical illness and mental illness is how do we begin the conversations.  What if everyone in the world wore a t-shirt with the word(s) that signifies their own personal struggle.  There has to be some way to begin leveling the playing field so that conversations can begin and we don’t create a caste system based on how serious one’s diagnosis is, within the grand scheme of things.  We’re all “real” people and we have “real” problems.  Facing any health challenge whether it be physical or mental health related is serious.  We have to improve our filters when it comes to those who whisper behind our backs.  Unfortunately, I believe it’s on those of us with a challenge that have to initiate the conversations and that’s never easy.

Start small, you don’t have to do a public service announcements.  My personal example begins when I go out to dinner with friends/family.  We all sit down and people offer me wine or other alcohol and I refuse.  Their next question is often, “Are you in recovery?”  That’s my opening,  I explain that I have an auto-immune disease and the medication I take metabolizes in my liver and kidney and since I don’t want to add fuel to the fire I take my doctor’s recommendation and I don’t drink.  It’s been 17 years…if nothing else all my friends know they always have a designated driver. 

How will you start your conversation?  I think this public service announcement is the beginning of something beautiful!

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

The Relationship Between Depression and Illness

An article on Comcast cited a report form The American Heart Association that both heart attack survivors and those in the hospital with heart problems have an increase in depression compared to the general population.  They state that heart patients are 3 times more likely to suffer depression than the general population.  Their recommendation is to screen heart patients for depression more often, even routinely.

The truth is that many or most illnesses are accompanied by some degree of depression at one time or another.  The recommendation for screening is important and should be included in all follow-up exams no matter your diagnosis.  Just as your weight, temperature and blood pressure are measured at each visit, it should be part of the protocol to screen for depression.

Diagnosing depression is important because left untreated many patients experience a decrease in their quality of life.  They have increased levels of hopelessness and they begin to wonder why they even entered treatment.  There are a lot of causes for depression so that’s why screening is important.  Of course, once you’ve been screened, it’s up to you, the patient, to follow up with treatment.  Some doctors who are not psychiatrists feel comfortable prescribing anti-depressants but not all.  Meeting with a mental health professional may be necessary.

I’m also a strong proponent of support groups.  It’s often beneficial to attend groups with those who have the same diagnosis.  It makes it easier to offer education and resources when the group is illness specific.  What these organizations or groups can do is reduce your feeling of isolation.  It ends your “terminal uniqueness”, the feelings of despair rooted in the feeling that you’re the only one in the world suffering with this health challenge.

When we look at the mind-body connection the evidence is clear that depression is bad for the immune system.  It lowers your immune function making treatment less effective and opens you up to more infections and complications.  We have an epidemic of depression in our culture aside from those facing chronic or life-threatening illness, having the illness adds one more layer of complication.

There is hope for those suffering for depression.  If your doctor isn’t screening for depression then one way of Surviving Strong is to bring your emotional distress into the exam room.  Let your doctor know how you’re feeling.  It’s okay to coach the doctor who isn’t asking about depression to include it in each and every follow-up exam, at least for you.  You may be wondering how you would do that in a depressed mood.  What we’re talking about is honesty.  If you’re honest with your doctor it won’t take a lot of energy.  It will take some courage because being honest is often difficult especially if you think you’ll be judged.

Believe it or not many doctors treating patients with illness are not surprised at all by the reports of depression.  You might wonder if that’s the case, why don’t they ask about it.  The answer is, doctors like to ask questions about things they have answers to.  They may be able to replace four valves in your heart, but be unable to help mending a broken heart emotionally.

If you’ve dealt with depression since your diagnosis, what have you done?  Who have you received support from?  What would you like to have known before embarking on the journey out of depression?