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

Living in Fear? Time to Change Your Address!

We all have an address, whether it is a physical address that the snail mail gets delivered to or a heart address where you and others connect at the deepest levels. It’s a place to land and without a place to call home our lives can be teetering on the edge.

If you think about a home (whether you have one or not) you know a home is made up of rooms. Each room in a house has a purpose or special meaning (just ask all the realtors helping families where the man of the house wants a “mancave”.) Perhaps you want a library to spark your intellectual curiosity, a craft room to express yourself, or a meditation room to seek a sense of peace. The truth is that rooms have emotional energy as well and for some the place they live in is fear.

Fear is powerful and prevents many of us from accomplishing our life’s mission. It holds us back from completing our life assignment. It tricks us into a state of confusion. When our address is fear what scares us knows exactly where to find us. It’s like we’re a magnet and those things that scare us are drawn to that location like a moth to a flame.

The great poet Hafiz shared his belief on fear, “Fear is the cheapest room in the house; I’d like to see you in better living conditions.” Wouldn’t it be great if Hafiz were your emotional and spiritual realtor? Imagine having someone who knows, believes, and encourages you to change your life’s state-of-affairs. The great things about being an emotional and spiritual realtor is your license never expires and we’re all free to gain insight by his lessons.

How will you change the room you live in? First you have to want to abandon the fear that keeps you locked in a particular room. It requires you to redecorate your surroundings with positive thoughts, rational thoughts, and clear and present action. We give fear too much power; let’s strip it of its power. Let’s tell fear to find a new address with no forwarding address.

If you evict irrational fear (we all have rational fears like starting treatment for a health condition or overwhelming debt from the loss of a job) from your life you’ll be able to take strides to health and healing. You’ll give your body, mind, and spirit the resources it needs to face challenges with determination, endurance, and perseverance.

Want to evict fear?  Looking for education, support, and inspiration?  Visit http://www.survivingstrong.com

Fear can be released through art.  To find out how visit http://www.timetolivecreatively.com

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

We’ve All Got Habits…Are Yours Good or Bad?

Habits are simple things that we do often, and most times we’re not even conscious that we’ve engaging in our habits.  Some of our habits are taught to us like brushing our teeth, and others we happen upon because they serve some sort of purpose in our lives.  Perhaps you’re an anxious person and you pace the floors, or crack your knuckles.  We’re all aware that smoking is a bad habit, or drinking too much and a whole host of other activities.  Then again there are good habits like eating right, exercising, having a spiritual practice.  Those are actions, but did you know that emotions can be habit-forming?

The one emotion or experience that rises to the surface after being diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness is fear.  Fear can supersede all other thoughts and actions.  It can cloud your vision and make you play the “what if” game way to often.  It can have you future tripping about what might happen to you without provocation.  It sets you in a wasteland of uncertainty.  Ask yourself, “Is being afraid becoming a habit?”

I’m not sure that most of us would know whether this were actually happen, because when your caught up in the fear wave you lose sight and perspective of your current life situation.  It may not be evident in actions, so you may need to take a step back and go inward.  When you take the time to explore your internal life you’ll get a better reading about what’s going on physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  Going inward doesn’t mean sitting on a cushion and meditating (although that is one way).  Going inward can be achieved through journaling, dreamwork, creative activity, meeting with a coach, therapist, or spiritual director.

The key is to recognize if in fact fear is becoming a habit and find ways to identify when it’s creeping in to your life and how to avoid the fear trap.  Believe it or not you have an established pattern, a habit, when fear is creeping in to your life.  You can back track those actions so you come to recognize the behavior or thought that sets things in motion.  (If you’re not sure what this might be or look like contact me)   The next step is to come up with strategies to short-circuit the fear so that it doesn’t bloom.  It may be as simple as replacing it with a newly formed habit.

Fear is habit-forming and interferes with your journey to wellness.  It inhibits your body, mind, and spirit from working toward getting better or well.  Don’t get caught in the trap!

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

Are You Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

I’ve worked with the public for years in many different capacities.  I’ve worked in retail, the food industry, the hospitality industry, the non-profit world, and as a consultant.  As a psychotherapist I’ve spent twenty plus years studying and observing people to see what motivates people to do certain things and to understand what motivates us to change.  I’m learning about an entirely new species of people, those who suffer from the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde syndrome.

These are otherwise rational and I’m assuming nice people who under stressful or fearful situations become rude, verbally violent, and quite irrational.  I’m consulting for a company that has been around for 30 years and is going bankrupt.  The consumers are afraid that they won’t get what they are owed and when they phone in they are monsters. 

When I started to pull myself away from the screamfest and take a step back to see what’s motivating this behavior it became  clear; these people are afraid.  I don’t have time to explore their fear on the phone, only time enough to be the brunt of their discontent.  I wonder what would happen if I could explore this fear with them; I think it would calm the savage beast.

Now let’s talk about you and me.  Following our diagnosis of a chronic or other life-altering illness when do you exhibit signs of Jekyll and Hyde syndrome?  Maybe the doctor has to reschedule an appointment of is running late.  Perhaps there was a mix-up at the pharmacy and it will be an extra day till your medication comes in…that would cause fear. 

How is fear triggering behaviors you wouldn’t normally exhibit?  I ask this because for those who work with the public, the irrational behavior drives people away at a time we want or need them the most.  They do say that you get more flies with honey than vinegar.  The funny thing is we don’t feel any better after we’ve exhibited these irrational behaviors triggered by fear and to top it all off we may have alienated those we would want to be on our side.

The other factor to consider is what that type of expression of anger does to the cortisol levels in your system.  Cortisol is not a good hormone and when we show this irrational side it floods our system.  We end up doing more harm than good, even if we get what we want from the other person.  What’s the solution?  Before you engage in battle take a deep breath and understand or feel the fear.  Once you can name it and claim it; you can take a different approach so you’re more successful in getting what you want or need.

You’ve already been diagnosed with one illness, do you really want us to diagnosis you with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde syndrome?  Sometimes I think this one is more harmful and harder to cure…it’s possible, but you have to explore the fear.

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

Why We Have to Laugh

Do you read the newspapers?  Do you watch the news on television?  Do you listen to the radio in your home or car?  If the answer is yes to any or all of these then you you’ve been exposed.  You’ve been exposed to negativity, despair, anger, hostility, fighting, animosity, and the rest of the negative emotions and actions that plague our world.  Just ask yourself this, “When I’m finished being exposed to the media, friends or co-workers conversations about the world, or the statistics of the prognosis of your diagnosis, how do you feel?”

If we follow Newton’s laws of physics, energy can’t be created or destroyed.  If that’s the case, what happens to the negative energy you’ve been exposed to?  If we did a scan of your body could we see that spot of negativity on your organs, or your brain?  Not exactly, but I bet it shows up in your lab results or how you feel physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Fortunately there’s an antidote to all this negativity energy.  It’s kind of like math, a negative is balanced out by a positive and what’s the best positive?  Laughter.  I was at work yesterday and we were having a great day, but one of my co-workers made a comment that had me rolling in the aisles.  I had tears streaming down my face and I felt like I’d lost 10 pounds and was 10 years younger.

This is the reason that movie production companies make comedies and they do well, because we need to laugh.  We need that moment biochemically, physically, emotionally, and spiritually when everything shifts.  We release the pent-up emotions we’ve been holding because, believe it or not, as adults we can’t hold two emotions simultaneously.  You drop the luggage you’ve been carrying around and feel lighter.

The ramifications are that you’re physically, emotional, and spiritual body is carrying less so it’s working more efficiently.  You’ ve allowed the mind-body connection to focus on its work; the work of health and healing.  You’ve ignited the immune system allowing it to protect you from other illnesses and work toward making you better or well.

Does laughter cure everything?  Probably not, but ask Norman Cousins, author of Anatomy of an Illness, who found watching Marx Brothers movies, that 20 minutes of a good laugh, gave him 2 hours pain-free.  If you ask me that’s a pretty good return on your investment.

Want to get started laughing?  Have a joke or a story  to share so we can all laugh with you?  Send it to me and at greg@survivingstrong.com and I’ll put up stories and jokes on the blog so we can all laugh.

Posted in art and healing, creativity and health

Where’s My Writing Team?

Welcome to Art and Healing Wednesday!!

When you watch award shows and they give an award for Best Comedy Writing have you noticed how many people get the award?  For instance, when Jon Stewart inevitably wins the Emmy, his team is about 15 people.  We’d all like to think that he’s that funny all by himself, but the truth is it’s the collaboration that makes him funny (I’m sure his comical in a 1-0n-1 situation, you get the point).  Hollywood is loaded with rooms of writers who come together every week and build upon each other’s work to create the scripts we see acted on television and the movies.

I started thinking a lot about this when I was watching an episode of the re-invented, Hawaii Five-O.  One particular episode had the character Steve McGarrett in the car driving like a maniac with his sidekick Danno.  Danno is so frightened by how McGarrett is driving that he’s holding on to every possible handle inside the car out of fear.  McGarrett says, “Are you scared?”  Danno replies, “I’m not scared; I’m rationally concerned.”  Is that not the best line ever?  I’m “rationally concerned”.

I bring this up because when you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic or other life-altering illness being able to articulate your experience is helpful in creating solutions and developing a path to feeling better (remember I talk about the difference between feeling better and getting well).  It’s the creativity of the writers in the room that come up with these jewels of the spoken langauge.  Those little nuggets of juicy deliciousness that grabs us in our soul and lets us identify for a moment with that revelation?

So are you scared?  What does scared look and feel like?  Maybe like Danno, you’re rationally concerned?  If that’s the case, then how would that show up in your thoughts and actions?  You don’t have the luxury of having script writers who will orchestrate your life.  You can be inventive and be your own writing team.  You’d have to create a space to explore your emotions.  You’d need to be able to go deep within to excavate those nuggets that capture the essence of the body, mind, spirit connection. 

What would your writing team look like and what how would their script help you on your journey to feeling better?  Let me know…maybe there’s a sitcom, a television drama, or at least a  Lifetime Movie in it somewhere for you.

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

If Chief Weber says It; It must be so

Yes…Chief Weber is from Grey’s Anatomy.  One episode shows an accident at the entrance of the emergency room with an ambulance that was rolled over.  The two paramedics are hanging upside down…one dies.  The other needs to have a procedure done while still in the ambulance and Meredith Grey climbs in to conduct the procedure.

Following the procedure Meredith Grey and The Chief are talking.  She tells him how scared she was during the procedure, and if Yoda entered the scene he says to her, “Being scared is good; it means you still have something to lose.”

Let’s look at this for a moment.  Can fear really be good?  The same question had been asked about stress for years and the conclusion seems to be that a bit of stress helps us stay motivated.   Now let’s substitute fear for stress in the above question.  If fear can be a good thing, what would be the benefit?  Like the chief says it brings to the foreground your priorities.  It makes you take stock of everything that matters to you and what you could you possibly lose if things don’t change for the better.

A bit of fear also allows you to experience your humanity.  It allows you to experience life instead of simply acting like an automaton, limp and lifeless on the emotional and spiritual forefront.  When you experience fear when facing a chronic or life-threatening illness you’re experiencing your authenticity.  I can’t imagine anyone on this planet expecting you to face this health challenge with a stoic facade.  I know that’s the case in some culture, but it doesn’t promote health and healing.

Having the capacity to experience fear when facing a chronic or life-threatening illness gives you the opportunity to tackle a challenge with grace.  It provides you with something more concrete than the label you get following your diagnosis.  It gives you something to focus on as a challenge and provides you with the focus you need to concentrate your healing energies.

We’re not talking about experiencing fear like those who cower in the corner.  We’re talking about a healthy dose of fear that shakes us back to reality when we’d rather be sitting under the umbrella of denial.  It keeps us present and that’s important on your journey to wellness.

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

Are You a Track Star?

I’m not the physical activity kind of guy which is why I’m asking you the question about being a track star.  Truth be told I’m not interested in your literal ability to run like a track star, but your emotional and spiritual ability to be the fastest runner on the planet.  When runners run they run toward the finish line.  As non-runners when we run we generally are running away from something.  What are you running from?  Gee, what could it be?

When faced with a diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness the first response is to hide and the next likely candidate is to run.  But where will you run to and how fast can you get there.  You run because you feel like the illness is chasing you toward an unknown abyss.  You run because if you can keep enough distance between you and the diagnosis it won’t catch you and you won’t have to deal with it…too late for that!

As a kid my younger brother would chase me for fun (he was the athletic one).  I would scream to my mother and say, “Mom, Eric is chasing me”.  She would gently reply, “Stop running and he can’t chase you”.  Believe it or not that thought had never occurred to me.  I thought when faced with the fear of being chased running was the most likely response when in actuality diffusing his attempt at chasing was far more effective.

Stop in your tracks!  If you think you can outrun your diagnosis then you are more delusional than I had anticipated.  All running does is delay the inevitable, that is facing the diagnosis with a fierce determination to get well.  Running takes time and energy that we don’t want to waste on activities that don’t yield a positive result.  Running is exhausting (or so I’m told). 

If you are going to run I strongly urge you to run toward something.  Find a doctor that you believe will be the answer to your prayer and run as fast as you can to get there.  Find a support group that will give unconditional support when you’re too exhausted to run.  Find a spiritual director who will guide you on the biggest pilgrimage on your life toward health and healing.  Whatever you do be conscious that you’re running toward something and not running away or avoiding something.

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

Fear…What’s It all About?

Ever wonder how fear came into the world?  It’s been around ever since living creatures inhabited the planet.  I believe some would even say that it was has propelled the genes of certain species forward; keeping them a presence on the planet.  Now think about living with a chronic or life-threatening illness and ask yourself, “What role does fear play in my life?”  I know it’s like answering the question “What’s the meaning of life”, but I believe you’ll come up with some smart and insightful answers.  Then ask yourself, “What does fear allow me not to do on my journey to wellness?”

I do believe that pop culture reflects back to us the questions that are on the minds of the masses.  Last week on “Grey’s Anatomy” a patient had what many thought was an inoperable, aggressive spinal tumor.  The patient wanted Dr. Shepherd to remove the tumor and after standing in surgery for ten hours he closed the patient without doing anything.  When the doctor spoke to the patient he told the patient he couldn’t do the surgery.  The patient, as if channeling Buddha or Gandhi said to Dr. Shepherd, “When you are frightened, become inspired!”

I have to tell you that sentence stopped me in my tracks.  It’s what Robert Fritz talks about in his book Creating.  Fritz says that creativity comes when the culmination of tension is resolved.  Something builds up inside us causing this eruptive sense of purpose and creativity to overcome the obstacles placed in our way.  In the “Grey’s Anatomy” scenario, Dr. Shepherd went home and had a surgical epiphany, drawing on the walls of the bedroom figuring out how the surgery could in fact be accomplished.

What inner tension will be resolved within you allowing for creative solutions to living with or overcoming your current health challenge?  How will you take your own drive and determination and use it as the keys to the kingdom that will provide you with hope 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

Want to Play Twenty Questions?

In case you hadn’t noticed, we live in a consumer run culture.  We go  to great lengths to find the latest and greatest products and services that will make our lives better, more interesting, and full of beauty.  When’s the last time you went to buy a car, a large appliance, or big screen television?  The amount of time spent researching the product, test driving the car, getting the information from consumer reports and standing in stores watching screens, listening to speakers, and laying on mattresses in front of the world.  We ask questions as if we were going to marry the sales person, make a life long commitment to the product, or use the process as a measure of our self-worth.

So I have question for you?  Why aren’t you asking your medical team the same number of questions?  How is it possible that the moment you walk in the exam room you begin suffering from amnesia?  Things that were crucially important become an after thought, and discomfort and symptoms are not so bad or at most tolerable.  What if you asked your medical team, that includes pharmacists, the same number of questions you ask the car salesman? 

Isn’t your health worth the scrutiny of your medical team?  Are you less intimidated asking about mpgs’ than you are about nausea?  I could suggest that you begin thinking about your health challenge the way you think about a car, but that would probably be insulting.  To prevent me from doing this I hope you’ll begin giving your health and the journey to wellness the same energy you do to buying a large ticket purchase.  Can you think of anything more precious than your own life?  What lengths will you go to making your health a priority and making everyone aware of your priorities?  Are you ready to play twenty questions with your providers?  If not, then I hope you’ll refrain from buying a car, big screen tv, or kitchen appliance until you’re able to take the tenacity you have in buying these products and apply them to your health.  Let me know how it goes!

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

“Real”ization

As with any other catastrophe, t he news has been filled with stories about the Air France jet that crashed earlier this week.  I was particularly saddened by an interview with the wife of one of the passengers who was sitting by the phone waiting for her husband to call from his cell phone (which at this time is more than a mile below the surface of the water).  She was holding on to hope that he may have survived. 

I have a confession.  I don’t mind flying but when it’s clear I often look out the window trying to figure out how low we would have to be in order to survive a crash.  I know it’s morbid but for those of us who aren’t scientifically inclined the idea that we try and act like birds is unnerving.

I wanted to revisit the Air France crash because as I mentioned yesterday, no one can predict it will happen and therefore can’t prepare for such an event.  That means they couldn’t prepare for how they would live their lives in the mode of “as if”.  An “as if” philosophy gets you to ask the question such as, “If I knew I was going to die in a plane crash how would I treat those I love”.  Since these passengers didn’t have that opportunity the “real” experience of being in their bodies, possibly understanding the unresolved issues they were leaving behind happened in a short period of time as the plane plunged to the earth.

Is that the “gun to the head” that you want to live by?  Do you only make decisions or change who you act, think, or feel when you’re back is up against the wall?  The truth is if you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness, your back is up against the wall.  It’s time you started the “as if” question because being in your body, no matter how uncomfortable it may be is crucial to healing.  You may not heal the body, but you can certainly heal the soul.

Don’t wait until you’re about to crash an burn to take stock of what’s important to you.  Social connection and love are two of the greatest medications ever created.  The ability to connect on a soul level alleviates emotional pain and suffering.  Understanding others, having empathy for others and being genuine is a gift both to you and the other person.

Facing an illness can be daunting, but don’t begin your physical, emotional and spiritual plunge to the earth without “real”izing what’s important and what soothes your soul.  “Real”ization is free, it may take some spiritual elbow grease, but it’s FREE!