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.

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Posted in after the diagnosis, Community, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Emotional Health, Spirituality and Health

Shipwrecked

When I began thinking about the idea of being shipwrecked I thought about Tom Hanks movie, Cast Away.  All I kept thinking about were the conversations with “Wilson” the ball.  That’s what isolation leads on to do, create ways of staying sane.  If he didn’t have “Wilson” why would he be insane (or potentially insane)?  Because he’d be along and isolation makes us do crazy things.

We’re social creatures and it doesn’t matter if you’re an introvert or an extrovert, we have a need and are driven to be in contact with others.  So how does this apply to your life since your diagnosis with a chronic or other life-altering illness?  You may feel that in your circles there is no one who understands you.  There is no one in your world who knows the heartache and fear that accompanies the diagnosis of a health challenge.  You may even be questioning how can the medical community understand your journey unless they themselves have traveled the same road.

I understand your concerns and as a provider and someone who has been living with an aut0-immune disease most of his life, I can tell you it gets better.  How did it get better?  I found people who spoke my language.  I began talking to other people who had some type of illness.  For me, it didn’t have to be the same diagnosis, but someone who understands the stress and strain of a complete lifestyle change that includes doctors, medications, lab tests, and other changes to life’s routine.

When I went to graduate school and then got my psychotherapy license I focused on nonprofits that served people with health challenges.  We found that treating the body, mind and spirit helped alleviate the isolation or that feeling of being shipwrecked.  It put people in community, and that’s vitally important to health and healing.  We weren’t meant to travel this road alone.  Yes, it’s true, you have to take responsibility for your life that includes following a treatment regimen, getting enough rest, exercise, and proper nutrition.  It also includes expressing your feelings about these changes and that’s why for many support groups are vitally important.  In addition, spiritual support will take your journey inward so you can explore the questions that arise as a result of your health challenge.

Don’t end up talking to a ball named Wilson.  Find ways to connect so you don’t feel shipwrecked.  Get off the island of isolation and find a community that will support you, understand you, and make you feel a part of something larger in this crazy world.

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

This Didn’t Just Happen to You!

It’s easy to believe that the news the doctor gives you puts a crimp in your style and your life and only your life.  Let’s be serious, you don’t live alone on a mountain, in the middle of the rain forest.  You live in society, maybe with other people (your family), or at least you interact with people on a regular basis.  You don’t live in a vacuum and the diagnosis doesn’t only effect you.  It impacts everyone’s life from the moment the diagnosis is received.

Those who love you may not harbor the physical manifestations of the diagnosis, but they certainly exhibit the impact of the emotional and spiritual aspects.  They can’t help but be impacted by the news because they’re human and they have the capacity for empathy and compassion.  Some of you facing a health challenge believe this is your fight and yours alone, keeping your illness life secretive.  You hide the anxiety and stress affiliated with the diagnosis, the symptoms, and the side-effects.  At least you think you’re hiding all these experience; you’re actually not that good of an actor and everyone who has been around you for a period of time can read you like a book.  Hiding your experience means they have to deny the reality causing them stress and if it persists long enough they’ll begin manifesting stress symptoms.

Include your support network in your life.  Keep people in your family up-to-date on changes, good and bad, in your health.  You don’t have to call everyone as things change you can come up with creative ways of keeping people in the loop.  Technology has allowed us to stay connected without having to pick up the phone.  Blast e-mails allow you to send one e-mail and everyone is in-the-know.  Others have found that creating a private blog gives them the opportunity to express themselves in private and without explanation or a question and answer session.

It’s important to your health that you resist isolation…isolation is a health hazard.  Keeping those who love you at a distance denies the reality of your relationship.  When you negate these relationships it means that people become less available when you may need them the most.  Give yourself every opportunity to thrive; keep those who love you in the loop…it’s a live saver!