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

What Will Be Your Next Challenge

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.

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

You Too Are an Olympian

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.

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

Are You Convicted?

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!!!

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

Internal Tug-O-War

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!

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

Job One: Overcoming Adversity

The world can change in an instant and if you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness you know this is very true.  We get so comfortable in the status quo that when something earth shattering happens, either figuratively or literally, we’re not sure how to cope.  The news is wide spread about the 7.0 earthquake in Haiti.  A country plagued with corruption and rampant poverty has seen a change for the better and then the quake.  They couldn’t prepare for it, but they have to begin to recover from it.

When diagnosed with an illness it’s a personal disaster.  The difference is that the rescue team is comprised of health professionals and others looking out for your emotional and spiritual well-being.  You can be rescued from the negative thoughts, but the disaster itself can’t be reversed, unless you were mistakenly diagnosed. 

Where can you go to prepare for the potholes in the road ahead on your journey to wellness?  Overcoming adversity requires a lot of self-knowledge, so the place to start is within.  What are your strengths and talents?  How are your relationships with family and friends?  How can you use the resources you have without worrying about cultivating a new set of coping mechanisms?

Overcoming adversity requires that you stay steady on the course you’ve set toward health and healing.  It requires that you not abandon yourself.  It requires honesty with yourself and perseverance.  Wellness is not a one-hit wonder.  It’s an ongoing process that needs your attention and commitment.  Yes, it’s true that it also requires you be on alert, but not a tense alert, but a consciousness to your physical, emotional, and spiritual self.

Letting others share your experience is another great way to overcome adversity.  I was at my spirituality group last night and we went through an art meditation.  Following the creative time we shared our experience of the process and the outcome of our creative energies.  Feeling safe enough to share even those things you’re not the most proud of gives you freedom to move forward toward health and healing.

There’s no one way to overcome adversity; it’s a personal journey.  Developing strategies that are in alignment with our beliefs and values will carry you far.

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

Become a Recruiter

Ever wonder why the military sends personnel in uniform to high school and college campuses?  Ever wonder why the military opens storefronts in strip malls? Ever wonder why there are television commercials, print ads, and radio?  The reason is that these are recruiting methods and they work.  If they didn’t work the Pentagon wouldn’t spend its money paying rent and stationing active military in these locations.

So how does this translate for you?  No, you’re not joining the army but you are facing a challenge unlike you’ve ever faced before.  There is a lot of skill and strategy you’ll have to adapt to and learn.  How are you going to do this?  You’re going to recruit a team.

What would your life be like if it were a business and you are the President/CEO, who’s on the board.  Consider who is the Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Chief Emotional Officer (CEmO), Chief Spiritual Officer (CSO), just to name a few.  These are people who are willing to support you and nurture you on your quest for health and healing.  They know you and understand the challenges you’ll face. 

I know you’re wondering where you can you recruit this team.  First look around at your friends and family and decide who is best suited for this job.  As an example, I’ve had many friends ask me to serve as their Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare because they didn’t feel their immediate family could make the tough decisions as per their request.  Support groups are a great place to recruit people for emotional support.  Many support groups encourage the exchange of phone numbers within the group so you have a go-to person when you need a shoulder to cry on or someone to share a triumph.

Then there are those outside your immediate circle, at least at the  moment.  This may include a minister, rabbi, imam, or other spiritual director.  Finding someone who aligns with your beliefs and values is critical at the point of your journey.  These people are not only trained, but are ready and willing to serve.  They want are supportive, encouraging, and compassionate.  They strive to ease the pain of others. 

Think about how you can become a recruiter and let me know how your progressing and the challenges if any to recruiting a care team.  It could make a world of difference in 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

Thresholds

Happy New Year and Welcome to 2010!

This time of year is filled with a couple of thresholds.  First there is the winter solstice, for me a really important day because I know from then on the daylight will be getting longer.  For many it’s a religious day, but certainly for all a threshold.  Then we just celebrated New Years.  The threshold there is obvious, but this New Year’s Day was special because it marks the beginning of the next decade.  All weekend I’ve been listening to different news and entertainment outlets talk about the first decade of the 21st century and now we’re starting the second.

You know about thresholds!  You crossed a major threshold the day your doctor gave you your diagnosis.  There are days we want to mark, remember, and celebrate, and those we’d much rather ignore and forget.  Obviously the choice is yours, but you can’t revert back to the land before time…it’s just not possible.

We get the opportunity to create thresholds all the time.  We create thresholds each and every time we take on a new experience, or explore a new belief.  We create these thresholds because prominently marking those times and experiences ceremoniously is what new beginnings are all about.  Each threshold can be a new beginning.  We can create new rituals, attitudes and beliefs.  We have developed the capacity to establish new boundaries for our patience, tolerance and levels of perseverance. 

It’s clear that thresholds can be scary, but well worth experiencing the fear for what lies beyond the threshold.  It’s not uncommon for those facing a health challenge allow the threshold to be a declaration of independence.  We’re not tied to negative thoughts.  We don’t have to be burdened with negative attitudes.  Shedding those layers or negativity is crossing a threshold.

This isn’t about a resolution.  Resolutions are for people who have good intentions but seldom if ever have the stamina to see the intention to its completion.  When we cross a threshold we create a way to walk in the world.  What thresholds have you crossed and what’s been the result?

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

Is There a Middle Ground?

If you’re a procrastinator you only have about thirty-six hours left to shop before Christmas Eve arrives.  We’ve all had plenty of time to go out to the stores or make something, but what this season is about are hopes and dreams.  When a kid makes that list to Santa they’re world is full of possibility.  They begin their own journey as they wait for the big day to arrive so they can see if what is front and center in their consciousness actually materializes. 

As we get older we ask for bigger things with bigger prices.  “Why don’t we wish for the small things?”  I ask this because when faced with a health challenge the obvious wish is to be cured.  There are some who ask for healing (different from curing) but overall the wish is for a return to a life before the diagnosis…that’s not going to happen. 

What if we wished for things that are smaller but are still big?  Is that even possible?  Would you be okay wishing for fewer symptoms?  Perhaps you’d like to take fewer medications?  That wish has come true for many diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.  At one point there were clients of mine taking upwards of 20 pills a day, at different intervals, some refrigerated, and some not.  Today, the pharmaceutical industry did answer many patients’ dreams by combining medications into one pill or coming up with more effective meds that can be taken in fewer doses.

Another example is for those facing fibromyalgia.  It wasn’t too long along that there weren’t any FDA approved medications to help with the intense pain, but the past couple of years have seen strides that give relief to those with this particular health challenge.

Maybe you should wish for more pain-free days so you can dance, even if it’s in your living room.  Maybe you should wish for a good night’s sleep so your body has time to recuperate and you get to explore the wonderful world of dreams.  Just chunking the wishes down to more attainable outcomes will be a gift you give yourself. 

Wishes do come true when we maintain a bit of perspective.  Don’t forget to wish that the medical scientists of the world have enormous breakthroughs in the coming year…that’s one that would make us all rejoice!

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

Holding the Positive

No matter your age, gender, ethnicity, etc. it’s important to have a tribe.  I’m a fiber artist so I love all things fiber.  One of the community website is the Men Who Knit (MWK), www.menwhoknit.com, website.  Male knitters from around the globe post pictures of their work, ask technical questions and share resources.  Little did any of us know that we’d be sharing more than just knitting.  A young man known to us as Jason1978 shared in the spring that he was fighting metastatic testicular cancer.  His positive attitude was infectious and we all believed he’d be able to fight the illness.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case and Jason died this past weekend. 

What amazed me was not only his own positive attitude, but the well wishes and healing energy sent to Jason from the entire MWK community.  Once Jason’s partner posted the notice about his death I would visit the post to see who had responded and overwhelmingly the words were gentle, kind and full of love.  They offered comfort and support to his partner Jonathan who was with him till the end.  The frightening part of all this is that Jason was only 30 and his partner Jonathan a mere 22.

We’re never prepared for people to die much less die at such and early age.  It’s amazing that his caregiver/wellness partner is so young and so ready to take his place beside someone he loved.  Having a community that continuously check in and wants to know how you’re doing, even when the news isn’t good is powerful.  It brings you out of the depths of isolation and fills your soul with a sense of belonging.  Knowing that you are in the consciousness of others means you have touched their hearts and tattooed your name and your energy in their soul.

It’s sad that such a young life ended.  I commend the Men Who Knit community for being ready to support Jason every step of the way.  They even put out a call for knitted squares that were sewn together to make a healing blanket for him.  Once all the squares were in and the blanket completed it was shipped to Jason in Vienna.  The global community heard the call and responded.  Isn’t that the type of community you want for yourself when facing a health challenge?  Seek it out and feel the love; it will do you a world of good and will brighten even the darkest days.

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

Secure in Your Ability to Survive

Can it really be that simple that simply by wanting to survive a chronic or life-threatening illness it shall be done?  Obviously there are many factors that contribute to your ability to survive, but we usually make reference only to physical survival; what about emotional or spiritual survival?  Isn’t the mind, body and spirit triumvirate deserving of equal time and equal attention? Haven’t you found that emotional health has a direct impact on your physical being?

When discussing “how secure are you in your ability to survive”, we’re really focusing on your level of resilience.  It’s you’re ability to get up and fight following the initial blow; the diagnosis.  I know the diagnosis is like getting the wind knocked out of you, but taking a moment to regain your ability to breathe you can begin to make plans for the future.  Having the capacity to get up makes me think of the old Chinese proverb, “Fall down seven times, get up eight”.  Can you think of a proverb more fitting following the diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness?  It’s the cornerstone of tackling your health challenge.

Survival not only references longevity, but it’s the ability to have the strength to take the next step.  It’s the fortitude and determination to begin the pilgrimage to health and healing.  There’s no greater point of embarkation than understanding that the journey may be long, but it’s your level of security in your ability to survive that will determine how you will complete the marathon.  These moments are incredibly impactful upon your emotional and spiritual health.  Understanding that the term “survivor” is not simply about the physical body still pumping blood, although that is clearly one definition, but the inner strength to move along on your journey to wellness.  Can you think of anything more potent or powerful than backing up your beliefs with words, actions and prayers? 

You’ll need to get grounded and take a personal inventory of your physical, emotional, and spiritual strengths.  Once you have that personal inventory you have to know what you’re willing to invest to achieve health and healing.  You will be required to demonstrate that you’re understanding can be translated into decisions and actions.  Don’t sell yourself short!