Posted in art and healing, creativity and health

What Would We Do Without Crayola?

Welcome to Art and Healing Wednesday!!

I needed to get some office supplies yesterday and ran over to OfficeMax to pick them up.  I got the flip chart paper I needed (love that Post-It flip chart) and was browsing through the store.  One of the store associates asked me if I needed any assistance and I politely declined.  I explained that office supply/stationary stores are like a playground for me…she readily agreed.

I came upon the aisle that had supplies for scrapbooking, and then I saw it; the part of the aisle devoted to Crayola products.  It’s amazing to me how this company that is the leader in crayons, has expanded creating new ways for us  to express ourselves so we can continue telling our story.

It’s a company like Crayola that allows each of us to tap into our creative side.  I want you to notice that I specifically said “creative” side and not “artistic” side.  It seems that when I use the word “artistic” I get a lot of push-back from people saying they aren’t artists, but we can all claim creativity.

When we spend time with our creative selves we release good hormones into our system allowing the body to work more effectively and efficiently.  There’s a saying, “Approach this experience as a child might approach a mud puddle.”  It’s not about getting your work in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but creating a no guilt, no judgment, and no rules zone in your life.

That’s what a company like Crayola provides us, the raw materials to tell our story any way we want to tell it.  I know I sound like an ad for Crayola, but I’m using them as an example because their products are available everywhere.  They aren’t specialty products that can only be bought in an art supply store like Dick Blick.  Accessibility and ease of use eliminates one more hurdle to entering your creative zone.

So what did I buy?  I bought a new set of markers.  I like to doodle in my notebooks, on scratch paper, and pretty much on anything else I can get my hands on.  I can take a couple of minutes to doodle and during that time there’s no pressure, no expectations, and freedom that comes from blocking out the world and allowing my mind and hand to join together to play.

How much have you been playing since you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic or other life-altering illness?  This is a  non-threatening, no rules opportunity to play like a kid.  One of the things I’ve learned about children is that they are very resilient.  Wouldn’t you like to explore your own resiliency as you work toward getting better or getting well?  I know I do.

I’d love to see some of your creations…send me an email  greg@survivingstrong.com, I’d love to see your visual story.  Thanks for taking me on this journey with you.

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

If Michael Phelps Said It, It Must be True!

We all remember the tremendous performance of Michael Phelps in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.  Every time you turned on the television or listened to the news we were hearing about another medal won by Phelps.  It was a momentous Olympics for the United States and certainly for Phelps.  Of course the big question is will he compete in the 2012 Olympics in London?  As far as anyone can tell he’s competing with the hopes of making the team in two years.

So what’s happening with his competitions of late?  According to news sources, Michael Phelps hasn’t shown to be the golden boy he did two years ago.  Lots of things change and we’re only at the start of the ramp up toward London, but what’s he thinking?  Then the out of the mouths of babes, or smart writing on the part of the journalists, it’s reported that Phelps feels he needs to, “rededicate himself to his training if he wants to regain his best form.”

That’s a powerful concept coming from someone so talented, athletic, and I’m assuming disciplined.  He’s making a vow to himself, and now the public that he needs to rededicate himself to achieve his goal.  Where does this come in to play for someone like you who has been diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness?  It means there are times when we may get a bit lax in our attention to our well-being on all fronts, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

If things are going well maybe we get a bit complacent, not to the point of sabotaging ourselves, but taking enough liberties where we’re not exuding optimal wellness.  Would you like an example?  I know individuals who are taking medications and are told by their doctor they shouldn’t drink.  Once they begin feeling better maybe they have an occasional drink without necessarily understanding all the possible consequences.  True, it’s a personal decision, but what would happen if this individual rededicated themselves to their wellness…would it make a difference?

I guess what I’m wondering is if we become loose with our health and healing intentions do we put ourselves at risk down-the-road?  How can you maximize your level of health and healing and how would you rededicate yourself to that mission?  I don’t know anyone who is faced with a health challenge who is super-vigilant in their health and healing regimen.  I know people who meditate every day who take a day off every so often and it’s not a bad thing until it becomes likely not to meditate than to meditate.  That’s when they need to rededicate themselves to their health and healing.

There are lots of ways to rededicate oneself.  The main thing to consider is how will you make this proclamation?  Who will you tell, just like the quote in the article about Michael Phelps recommitting himself to his training.  Don’t you think people will be keeping a closer eye on his actions to see if he keeps his word?  It’s a credibility issue and a health issue when facing a health challenge.

What would you like to proclaim?  Share it with us so that we can all rededicate ourselves together!!

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

Doing or Thinking About Doing

Ever get a challenge that you question its intent or the benefit?  There’s a lot of that going around and it’s a difficult dilemma to take on because it can really screw up your day.  Being diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness is enough to screw up your day so why add to the pressure.  There’s something very important about how you take on your health challenge and how you outline your trip on your journey to wellness.

The truth is that “I did” beats “I will” any day of the week.  Oddly enough that quote came from a cigarette advertisement and it boggles my mind how they came up with something so inspirational and challenging.  What’s on your list of things to accomplish to achieve greater wellness?  How are you shifting from the idea of healing to actually take actions to achieve healing.  Health and healing is not an abstract concept.  We can measure health and healing on the physical and emotional levels.  We have anecdotal information about spiritual health and healing so action trumps the idea of acting.

You have a lot of choices when facing a health challenge.  You can think about your illness theoretically and keep all the health and healing secrets in your head with the hope that it will translate into action.  On the other hand, you can take what you know and believe about your beliefs related to health and healing and find ways to make them into real actions so that you can experience the power of the mind-body connection.

Think about telling someone you know and love about your hopes and dreams for health; what are they hoping to hear?  They’re hoping that you are taking your diagnosis seriously, and more importantly that you’re doing everything possible to achieve wellness.  It means they are waiting to hear about your ideas and how they’ve been translated into actions.  The “I will” concept makes you less than credible.  After a while people think you’re a future tripper but don’t carry through on your plans.  Your health and healing journey becomes lip service and in the long run you won’t achieve the level of health and healing you deserve.

Think about what you’d like to tackle and by this time next week be able to say “I Did” instead of everyone sitting around waiting for you to say “I Will”.

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

The Key Ingredient in Making Healthcare Decisions

You have tons of decisions to make on a daily basis.  Life is one continuous decision.  Now add a diagnosis to the mix of decision-making…feeling a bit ovewhelmed?  Once the dust settles and you can hear and respond to your doctor there are plenty of decisions to make regarding your care so where do you begin?

If you don’t let the dust settle you end up making decisions without a sense of being grounded.  Decisions about your healthcare wind up being ethereal.  This is no time to have your head in the clouds. 

I was watching a rerun of The West Wing, and the President, played by Martin Sheen states the following, “Decisions are made by those who show up.”  That’s a very powerful statement because it makes a request, maybe even a demand of you that requires action instead passivity. It requires that you show up for yourself in a way you may have never show up before for any decision in your life.

Showing up means not only being informed, but having the capacity and the willingness to advocate for yourself.  Like any other skill it may require a bit of training, but it’s totally doable.  Being catapulted into this arena means you have a steep learning curve, but the key to showing up is becoming resilient to challenges.  Resiliency or the ability to bounce back is a key component to making good decisions.  It’s difficult to make good decisions when you’ve been knocked to the ground and unable to get back up.

This may be a good time to take a personal inventory of your ability to show up.  When have you showed up in the past where you were conscious and engaged in the decision-making process.  How do decisions about your healthcare differ from decisions in the past and how are they similar.  I’d venture to say that even though the content may be different the process of decision making may be the same.  Did the process work for you last time or does it need to be tweaked?

Show up!  Show up!  Show up!  In case you didn’t get the message…Show up!

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

Identity Theft

You get a diagnosis and instantly you feel like you’ve been the victim of identity theft.  You’re no longer an individual, but a constituent of the disease.  Your ever evolving personal profile is compromised as if a hacker entered your personal system and is not at the controls.  It’s disconcerting, but it happens every day and when it does how do you deal with the theft? 

Many go into hiding following their diagnosis.  It’s as if you’ve suddenly been put on the FBI’s 10 most wanted list and everywhere you go you believe all eyes are upon you.  In addition, your family and friends believe you’re not the spokesperson for the illness giving you this new level of responsibility. 

How did all of this happen?  All you did was go to the doctor, take a few tests, and receive news about the diagnosis from the doctor; how did it turn into a deconstruction and reconstruction of a life?  Unfortunately our culture is all about labels.  Everyone feels more comfortable when they can pigeon hole you so that it eases their own anxiety.  The difficult part when facing a health challenge, unlike with your credit, is that you can’t lock out a diagnosis.  You can certainly take measures to ward off the possibility of illness, but there is no definitive method for extricating illness from the human body…yet!

What is your identity?  Are you the same person you were the moment before the diagnosis as the moment after the diagnosis?  Is your faith the same?  Is your humor the same?  Is your taste in literature the same?  This is the time when affirming your identity is important because it reinforces within you and to the world that the health challenge isn’t what defines you.  It doesn’t have you, it is a part of you that you have a voice in handling.

Don’t give your diagnosis power over your life.  Fortify your life by reinforcing what you most love about your life.  Dig deeper roots in your passions, your relationships, and human connection.  Take a stand on issues that are important to you because your voice matters…it is part of your identity.  Don’t give the thief free reign over your life; your lord of the manner.  It’s time to show the identity thief who’s boss!

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

Are People like Weebles?

I used to love the commercial for Weebles.  Remember the saying, “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down”.  Pretty good for a guy that doesn’t have any children.  I can still hear the song in my head, of course ask me what I had for lunch yesterday and I may struggle to remember.  Why do Weebles wooble but don’t fall down?  I think it’s an important question.  No joke, I’m not actually talking about the mechanism, but the idea.  How is it that American toy makers can make a toy that understands the concept of resilience?  How is it that a toy that shouts resilience gets lost on grown-ups when we have a health challenge.  Why all this talk about Weebles?

The truth is that there really are people who wobble but don’t fall down.  I met a young man this weekend who is the Weeble personified.  He’s a fifteen year old young man who has a host of illnesses.  He’s not battling one disease, he’s battling at least three that I could count plus a host of food allergies.  He carries around a fanny pack with an epi-pen because he is prone to anaphylactic shock.  He’s had four colonoscopies starting at age 7.  When he told me about the colonoscopies he followed up with “you know, you’re not supposed to have one of those until you’re 50”.

Here’s a young man that has license to feel bad about the cards he’s been dealt.  Here’s a young man who has a “get out of jail free” card for depression or at least sadness.  Here’s a young man who in spite of tremendous challenges walks around with a smile on his face when he has every right to be pissed off at the world.

The truth is that this is his normal.  He really doesn’t have a memory of being well and maybe that’s the key.  Adults who have been health for 30, 40, even 50+ years and then get sick have a memory of wellness and that anchors us to a reality whose ship has sailed.  Trust me I’m not saying that it’s easier to deal with illness, especially long-term illness if diagnosed at a young age, but we have to look at why we’re so anchored to a reality that is now a memory.

I’ve been very involved over my career in the work surrounding Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Many diagnosed with an illness suffer from PTSD because the diagnosis alters their entire world and coupled with the treatment traumatized to a state of hyper-vigilance, night terrors, a life of dread.  Those working with PTSD used to talk about healing PTSD.  At one point the conversation shifted from healing to resiliency.  The idea that we can bounce back from a terrible, life-altering experience and resume something that resemble our lives prior to the diagnosis.

I say we all take a lesson from this young man.  If I could extract the resiliency gene from his DNA I would and then share it with the world.  All I can do is be conscious when I’m in the presence of someone like this young man and be mindful of his experience, which he shares freely.  It is then my duty to share this with you because he is living proof that life with an illness although at times inconvenient can be joyful and full of love.  I am honored to share this story with you because he is the beacon of hope that life really is for the living so sitting around in despair is counter-intuitive to wellness.

Tell me your Weeble story, I know you have one.  We need to hear them to continue on our journey to wellness.