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

We’re Social Creatures

I sit around my house watching my 2 cats and my 2 dogs play and I realize certain things about animal nature that are amazing.  The cats I find are much closer to their wild ancestry.  I can see it in how they play, how they hunt, even if it’s just a toy made of fur (fake) and I see how they reserve their energy until they need to use it.  Dogs have fewer of these ancestral ties but still make me chuckle.  Then we have humans.  We’d all like to think that we’ve outgrown the animal phase of our ancestry but the truth is we haven’t.

Like many animals in the wild humans are pack animals.  We live, work and enjoy life better with others around.  Being connected gives us a sense of community and that our existence makes a true difference in the world.  This is especially true when facing a chronic or life-threatening illness.  Our connections to others is truly a form of medicine that doctors don’t often understand and certainly underestimate.

I’ve worked in many nonprofit agencies over the past twenty years, all focused on those facing a health challenge.  The thing they all have in common is that each agency worked to provide opportunities for participants to come together reducing their sense of isolation.  Being in the world and connecting with others gets our senses all fired up.  When our body is fully engaged our immune system goes for the ride and begins releasing hormones that help the body heal.  Our connections to family and friends reduce stress, improve our eating habits, and make us laugh.

Remember years ago the stories from Eastern Europe about the children in orphanages?  They revealed that children who lacked social interaction became withdrawn and often suffered as “failure to thrive” children.  Adults are no different.  If you don’t think a phone call or a birthday greeting makes a difference then you’re very mistaken.  Don’t take these small acts of kindness and connection for granted.  In addition, it’s just as good to give as to receive.

Begin letter writing to your friends.  Make a commitment to write one letter a month.  E-mail is good for general communication but it doesn’t convey the same sense of connection as the written word.  Just think about how excited you get when the mailbox has something other than bills.  Make a phone call to someone you’ve been thinking about.  Send a photo or post a photo gallery on one of the online photo galleries and let others know what you’re up to.

Every connection is a lifeline both literally and figuratively.  What connections will you foster in the coming days?

Posted in after the diagnosis, Living with Illness

The Blame Game

It’s Christmas morning, last night was the fourth night of Hanukkah, the Winter Solstice just passed and Kwanza begins tomorrow, talk about a holiday grouping.  I’ve been flipping through the channels on television and there are numerous programs talking about what the holidays mean, how they began, how we celebrate and noting the time of wonder.  Families are waking up this morning to open presents, the traditional Jewish celebration of Christmas was to go to the movies and then Chinese food and the candle industry is riding the tide during a season of lights.

In many faiths this is a time of wonder and miracles.  I’m sure many of you facing chronic and life-threatning illnesses are hoping, wishing even praying for a cure.  It’s difficult to let go of the anger, the blame or the pity that results from being sick.  Many can’t understand why they just can get past the diagnosis and move on to more fruitful endeavors.

If you read stories about the mystics and the Saints you’ll find they weren’t believing all the time.  Many had battles with their God and they still became Saints.  Following a difficult time in Teresa of Avila’s life she’s quoted as saying to God, “If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them!” I share that with you because it’s natural to want to blame someone for the diagnosis.  It’s understandable to want to be able to answer the question “why” or even “why me”, but as of today you may not have any answers.

I know that you may feel picked on, but then why would you want to believe or need to believe that you were singled out by God to be given a heavy load to carry.  Last month I was talking to a friend who has a lot of challenges in her life.  She said, “I hear the phrases like, God doesn’t give you more than you handle, or what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.  She then turned to me and said, “If that’s true then I’m mad at God”.

This is one of those times in life when we tend to leave science and move exclusively into our relationship with God.  This is a time in your life when you need more friends than enemies.  This is a time in life when spiritual comfort can mean the difference between soul stamina and soul exhaustion.  This is a time when the belief in the possible far outweighs the belief in victimization.  What if we just walked around with the notion that what happened to us happened and now what am I going to do about it.  Take the pressure off your relationship with the Divine and use that relationship as a pillar of hope.  Miracles do happen.  It’s not time to make something happen; it’s time to welcome something in.

What will you Welcome In this holiday season?

Posted in art and healing

Hands and Healing

It’s often heard that “idle hands are the playground for the devil”.  First let me say that I don’t believe our hands are ever idle.  Consider everything we do with our hands.  Consider how many cultures depend on hands for self-expression.  Idle hands may just be hands at peace.  When our hands are at rest couldn’t it be that our mind is at rest as well?  Wouldn’t that have healing properties on the journey to health?

Whether you use your hands to communicate as with American Sign Language or gestures like so many people do while speaking it’s all self-expression.  Maybe you use your hands in prayer as you go deep within communicating with your inner guide for direction, there’s nothing idle about that.

Consider all those who are in the trades and crafts and what their hands can accomplish.  As a knitter and quilter I know that my hands pace my soul.  They keep me from getting to far ahead of myself keeping me in the present, especially when I stick myself with a needle.

How can you use your hands as part of your healing process.  How do you incorporate your hands in meaningful activity.  What do your hands say about you?  What do you want to share with the world through your hands?

Posted in art and healing, Having a Voice, Self-Nurture

Keep an Open Mind

Keeping an open mind if often easier for us as patients than it is for the medical community.  However, I have run in to many people facing a life-altering illness who think treatment is to be done one way and one way only.  I was watching “Grey’s Anatomy” last night and one of the patients in the hospital awaiting treatment was a hands-on healer.  She went and healed various patients in the hospital much to the chagrin of the medical staff.

The true test came when one of the doctor’s child was critically injured and was on a respirator.  The doctor approached this woman to do a healing so her son could breathe.  After the healing, miraculously and thanks to the writers the child was able to breathe on his own.  The point here is that healing can take place in many ways besides pharmaceuticals and machines.

When deciding on a treatment plan it’s important to discuss all types of treatment options with your doctor and other treatment providers.  Remember, everyone needs to be kept in the loop so there aren’t any surprises.  If you’re going to an acupuncturist, tell your physician; and tell your acupuncturist about the medication your taking because it will impact the pulses she’s trying to bring into balance.

I’ve worked with people to bring about healing through art.  I find that ultimate self-expression is often a great catalyst for the body to step up to the plate and find its own balance.  If you believe in prayer look into the work by Dr. Larry Dossey.  It’s all individuals so don’t take a universal treatment protocol as your only answer.  Get your doctor to see you as an individual and not as a disease.

Posted in In the Know, Personal Conviction

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

I’ve been attending a Wisdom Circle for the past nine months.  The group meets monthly and along with great speakers we check-in and share on topics related to weaving spirituality throughout our lives.  I invited a friend of mine to join us for this month’s gathering figuring she’d enjoy not only the experience, but meeting the group of people I find to be friendly, engaging and thought provoking.

 We drove together to the meeting and on the way she stated, “If you hadn’t picked me up, I probably wouldn’t have gone by myself.”  I was surprised and asked if that was the case even if we would meet at the location and she responded yes.  She was surprised that I had been willing to attend these meetings without knowing anyone in the group and assumed that I am an extrovert.  Actually, I’m a big time introvert but there are certain choices I believe I have to make in my life to nurture my soul.

I explained that I’d rather go and find “my people” and that trumps any discomfort I may experience.  Finding your tribe is crucial to having a full and enriched life.  It’s important as pilgrims that we find our people because a pilgrimage is a long and arduous journey and without the support of like minded people we often abandon our mission.  When facing a life-altering illness joining a support or enrolling in a program that allows you to journey with others facing illness (www.lifeisapilgrimage.com) makes the discomfort of joining something melt away.  You become energized and you recommit to your health and well-being.

It brings you face-t0-face with trying to cure and heal your body, mind and spirit.  The next time you are presented with an opportunity that will move you forward in your journey, even though it’s difficult, choose the one that surrounds you with community.  Any discomfort or misgivings you may have will vanish once you show up and allow others to bear witness to your life.

Posted in In the Know, Self-Nurture

How Safe Is Your Home?

When we think of safety in the home we usually refer to things like radon or fire hazard.  Today a study was revealed that young girls who live in homes where there is ongoing stress go through puberty at an earlier age.  The study reported girls as young as seven years old entering puberty.    The explanation goes back to our earliest times when our body responded to things  for survival.  When a woman’s life may have bee threatened the body kicked in earlier so that she could mature and propagate the species.

Today things are quite different and we aren’t looking at survival of a species when considering puberty.  What the study points out is that stress can have an enormous impact on the body.  If it can accelerate the clock for puberty what do you think is happening inside your body if you’ve been diagnosed with a life-altering illness.  If hormones are targeted by the stress what is the stress encouraging your body to do that you don’t want it to? 

In pre-historic times the average person couldn’t stop the woolly mammoth, but you have control over the stress level in your home.  If relationships are strained then what will you do to ease the tension?  If financial concerns are the dark cloud over the home where will you seek advice or what community programs are available to help you through this time of need?

There are enough challenges your body is confronting when dealing with the illness…why give the illness one more advantage in the wellness arena?  I know you can’t eliminate stress, but minimizing it could be as important as the next pharmaceutical to hit the shelves in saving your life…the choice is yours!