I’ve been thinking a lot about transitions over the past week. I just got back from spending over four months in San Antonio, Texas for work and got back to Denver last Tuesday. It was an interesting four months because I learned new things and met new people. I had some great experiences and delicious conversations about education, family, and the impact we have on each other’s lives. When we make any kind of transition you’ll need time for adaptation. Things aren’t the way they were when you left because you’re different.
If you’re diagnosed with a chronic or other life-altering illness the adaptation is more pronounced. If you’re a caregiver the adaptation may be that the patient’s abilities for self-care may have changed. In other instances, someone in your life may have died after a prolonged illness, or maybe it was sudden like Richard Holbrooke, the special envoy to Afghanistan who died today after a severe tear in his aorta.
It doesn’t matter what the transition is, you’ll notice a change. Think about the people who you may have met in a support group. For some, there comes a time when they leave the group as they either graduate to other groups; like a post-treatment group, or they decide that their time and energy is better spent somewhere else. What’s left? The memories of the time you spent with that person or the experiences you shared with that person. Think about who made you feel welcome the first time you went to a support group. That’s what I think about when I think about my time in San Antonio, those people who made me feel welcome.
Adaptation is never easy, we don’t like change and the truth is that people are not inter-changeable. The people we meet along the way add something special to our lives. They make us think or challenge our beliefs in a way that we are willing to expand our horizons. People are how we get through the day whether you go to a new city for a few months, or you’ve been diagnosed with an illness and other’s share their story and their strength with you.
We don’t really ever leave anyone behind because there will always be reminders of your connection along the way. There will be those moments when those who have left their mark on your heart emerge reminding you that the experience, the need to adapt has made you a stronger person and that’s a positive step on your journey to wellness.
There are certain things in life or habits that we pick up as a result of being around certain people for long periods of time. When I got down to San Antonio in July I bought myself a little notebook. It’s cheap and the pages are glued in to the binding. I open and close this notebook a lot and some of the pages are coming out in clumps so I’ve taken to using tape to reattach the pages to the binding. I stuff loose pieces of paper and post-it notes about things I find intriguing or questions I need answers to, and then this morning it hit me. My grandmother had a little book that she used as both an address book and for some notes. She had it for years and eventually took to using a rubber band to keep it together…mine isn’t quite that worn. (Thanks for allowing me to have my personal bi-centennial minute)
Anyway, I was going through my notebook and one sheet of paper fell out and it had two statements. The statements are…”Everybody Dies” and “But note everyone lives”. Here’s the big question…”Why?” After I caught my breath, I began thinking about how powerful these statements are standing alone, but when you put them together into one, “Everyone dies, but not everyone lives”, the enormity of that statement is frightening. It doesn’t really surprise me, but when you think about how many people are really “living”, but simply existing there’s a profound sense of sadness.
I guess that’s why it took me by surprise when I first started doing this work that so many of the clients/participants would talk about their diagnosis as a gift. It wasn’t about the quantity of time left in their life, but the quality of the time left in their life. It punctuated Tim McGraw’s song, “Live Like You Were Dying”. What if we lived that way before we had a health challenge? What would life be like for you now? I’ve heard many people discuss their lives as black and white before the diagnosis and full of color following their diagnosis. It’s kind of like the movie, “Pleasantville”, where everyone turned to color when they started “feeling”.
So are you living and not merely existing? What are you doing and how are you feeling that lets you know you’re alive? What gives you life? I’m not merely speaking about health, but what brings you to life? What excites you? What part of you is infectious (and I don’t mean medically?) I hope you’ll share your journey with us!
We’ve just come off the July 4th weekend and if your neighborhood was anything like mine it was filled with lots of barbeques, fun, and of course fireworks. About a week before the big day I received an invitation to a 4th of July party across the street. It was a no brainer so I RSVP’d a big fat YES and had a great time. Then I began to think about all the invitations we get in the mail for weddings, holiday parties, and a host of other celebratory engagements and each time an RSVP is requested. So my question for you is, “Are you waiting to be invited to your own life?”
Fortunately, once you’re born there is no invitation to your own life. You either live your life or you don’t; that decision is yours and yours alone. Following the diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness I know many people who sat around waiting for an invitation back into their life and unfortunately, they’re still waiting.
What does this mean for you? It means that you have to stay engaged and not only in the medical side of your life but all sides of your life. It means staying connected even when you’re not at your best. You don’t have to go out and be with people, but simple things like e-mails to people keeps them and you engaged in the relationship you’ve developed over time. People want to be informed and this is one way to do it.
Last week I read Jill Bolte Taylor’s, My Stroke of Insight, a brilliant pathography about her experience with a brain hemorrhage and the years it took for health and healing. She shares about her mother putting all the cards she received all around her apartment so Taylor knew the magnitude of her reach and the love that was coming her way. She punctuated the point that the people who were closest to her were there for her, not to make themselves feel better by showing up to see the “sick” person. If you haven’t read this book, whether or not you’ve had a stroke, I encourage you to learnt he lessons Taylor learned over the course of her recovery.
She didn’t wait to be invited back to her life; she fought with every ounce of energy to regain what she lost. She had the help of others who knew her potential and understood what health and healing meant and required. If she had waited for the universe to invite her back to her own life she wouldn’t be walking, talking, or possibly even living today. She knew deep in her heart that she was the host, the party giver, the person making the plans and she planned for recovery.
If you didn’t wait for an invitation to your own life what would you be doing today of your impetus? How will your life change if you always RSVP YES to your own life? How would others know this is the case? I’d love to know what you’re thinking because if I can be of any assistance; I’d love to be invited to your party!!!
If you got past the title I’m sure you’re thinking I’m crazy. You may even be asking yourself, “How could there be a bigger challenge than being diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness?” I didn’t say a bigger challenge; I said your next challenge. I can assure you there will always be a next challenge, so you better start preparing for it now!
Life is full of challenges. It’s these challenges that get us to grow in ways we could previously never have imagined. Yes, the diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness may be your largest challenge so think about the lessons you’ve taken away thus far. How have your learned to cope with your diagnosis? How have you become a better advocate for yourself? How have your clarified your positions and priorities in your life?
The questions I just posed are crucial because the way you answered them will be the roadmap for all future challenges. One of the things I’ve learned from my twenty plus years of working with individuals and families facing a health challenge is that life lessons are generalizable. We don’t learn a lesson and then can only apply it to a health crisis. The lessons learned from facing your health challenge are the catalysts for coping and thriving through any challenge.
This isn’t about finding out how life can be ideal; but how life can be fulfilling. It’s about taking each challenge and taking the lessons you’ve learned to branch out and explore more of your own emotional and spiritual worlds. It’s about deepening your relationship with yourself. Once you take on that challenge those lessons will be applied to your relationships with others. For example, when you learn to treat yourself with loving kindness and compassion; you’ll be more likely to treat others with loving kindness and compassion.
We don’t live in isolation, that’s why our life lessons can be transferred to other arenas of our lives. Know that your diagnosis isn’t your last challenge. Know that you have resources yet untapped waiting to aid you in your health and healing. Know that each challenge gives you clues to increasing your quality of life and making your mark on the world.
The Winter Olympics have been going for eleven days and obviously the competition is fierce. These athletes have trained for years, if not their entire lives to try to achieve this one goal…the gold medal. They make sacrifices by their own choice and reap the rewards of hard training. You on the other hand were catapulted into a new arena where there is no chance to train for the desired outcome, health and healing.
It takes Olympic perseverance to achieve health and healing. If you think of yourself as an Olympic athlete you know that it involves all aspects of your life, not just the physical. How many athletes did you see get psyched out by their opponents? How many athletes did you see get psyched out by the power of their own mind and allowing a crack of doubt to enter their consciousness?
So what does this mean for you following the diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness? It means that your level of determination plays a role in some level of your health and healing. I say some level because not all illnesses can be cured so it’s about remission or diminishing symptoms or increased quality of life. Whatever level your at that’s the level you need to play at in these heroic acts of wellness.
If you think you can go it alone and win, you’re wrong. Your body may respond, but your emotional and spiritual self-will be isolated and alone. This is why so many illnesses sponsor retreats for individuals with a particular diagnosis. The one I’m most familiar with is Commonweal, in Marin County, CA. A place for cancer patients to learn about mind-body medicine, diet and nutrition, integration of body, mind, and spirit as a treatment modality, just to name a few goals of the program. It’s like the Olympic training center in Colorado Springs because you’re surrounded by people, information, and practices that will allow you rise to your highest level of healing.
I hope you think of yourself in Olympic proportions because it’s that type of determination that gets results. It’s the choice, the desire, and the mission to gain as much information and self-knowledge to ensure that you stand on your own medal podium on your journey to wellness.
You may be wondering why I’m writing about being convicted on a site that discusses living life beyond illness, well I’ll tell you. I am not referring to being convicted as in a court of law, but having conviction toward achieving a goal or reaching an inner destination.
It’s important when facing a chronic or life-threatening illness to be filled to the brim with conviction. This was really punctuated for me this weekend when I watched the movie “Gandhi”. Is it possible for one person, a small man with big ideas to change a country? Can one man’s conviction change the lives of 350 million people? The answer is obviously YES and it did change the lives of all Indians.
How is it that Gandhi was able to stay true to his convictions? It’s simple, he deeply believed in the cause. He embodied the ideas he put forth so there was separating his philosophy from his being. He lived as he thought and felt.
Since you’re diagnosis would you say that you have developed a high degree of conviction? What is your conviction? Have you made a declaration for health? Have you proclaimed your right to health and healing? If we met, how would I know about your conviction to get well? Is it visible or palpable?
I ask these questions because when you have conviction it is clear and stands front and center. There is no question about your motives. Your motives, decisions, and actions are all geared towards health and healing; you eat, breathe, think, and feel health. Are you doing that? What would it take for you to move in that direction?
These are the things I focus on when I work with clients newly diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness. Taking the physical, emotional, and spiritual pulse of your current health and creating a plan that moves your toward healing and improved quality of life. It’s not easy, but nothing worth having is ever easy. It’s your conviction that separates you from those who are simply hoping to get well and those who are actively working toward health and healing.
How do you want to live your life? Do you want to stand in the space of focused attention and action or let things happen by chance and hope it swings in your favor? The choice is yours…choose wisely!!!
The poem by Robert Frost speaks about “The Road Not Taken”. The poem starts, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both…” It’s common to feel that way in your life, two roads before you and you can only choose one. How do you know which one will be in your best interest or is the correct on that leads to health and healing?
Last night I was at a lecture and woman speaking is a Shaman. She apprenticed for over 7 years with a Shaman and she delivered a very powerful message. She shared that in this world we have one of two choices to make about lives; you can either choose to be a victim or a creator. I heard her words and I felt as if I had one of those lightbulb moments.
This world is full of those choosing victimhood. As a psychotherapist it was a common issue for clients, but if you watch the news, read the paper, or venture out in public it shows up in everywhere. There are certainly life circumstances that will direct you in one direction or another, but isn’t the eventual goal for everyone to become a creator?
As an artist it’s not uncommon for me, every few years, to lay out my work in chronological order to see its progression. It’s an easy process because the art is something tangible and can be displayed. How can we do that with our lives?
I took a workshop with Angeles Arrien, author of The Nine Muses. We were discussing creativity and one of the exercises was to do an autobiography of our creative lives by decade. Most of us had lived past the age of 30 so we actually had a few decades to explore. Couldn’t you use this method for any and all areas of your life? What would you like to see the progression of in your life? Think about a quality, characteristic, or action you take and see how it has transformed over time.
This is a great practice for those who are facing a health challenge because you can see the personal transformation that often takes place after receiving a diagnosis. It wasn’t the chosen road, but the detour so how have your ideals, ideas, beliefs and values changed over time. This is part of the healing process; it’s part of your healing journey!