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

Is Your Life A Page Turner?

If you’ve read any of my more than 700 posts you know that I’m all about the story.  I believe it’s our stories that allow us to connect to people and help us heal.  Think about the importance of someone bearing witness to your life, and how that witness becomes part of your story.  I’ve sat in numerous support group, therapy group, and story telling sessions and the one thing in common is how mesmerizing our stories are, and how they shape not only our own lives but the lives of others.  So is your life a page turner?

I like to look at the Sunday New York Times (online) because the book section lists all the newest books and has a review of each.  I’ve gotten some amazing recommendations and each one was a page turner.  There are stories all around us that captivate us like the people who saved a family from a car that went over an embankment into a river, or the story of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords amazing and ongoing recovery from being shot at point-blank range in the head.  We tell these stories because we connect to them in some way.  We want to connect with the heroes around us, or be inspired by those who make an amazing recovery, especially if you’re facing the diagnosis of a chronic or life-altering illness.  We need these stories because they feed us and give us the nourishment our mind and souls need to continue telling our own story.

Your story doesn’t have to be a bestseller to be impactful.  You don’t have to be a national hero or a guru with thousands of followers for your story to be impactful.  Your story has to be real.  Your story has to be told from the heart.  Your story can’t be like a sitcom in syndication that we see as reruns over and over again because people get tired of those stories and move on.  Your story has to be evolving because we as humans are constantly evolving.  If you’re living your life with the philosophy of  (pardon my expression), “Same Crap, Different Day”; then you’re stagnating and that may be killing you more than any health challenge possibly can.

Your story is important and I’d love to hear it, read it, help you live it!  Feel free to tell your story in the comment section, or as always you can email me at greg@survivingstrong.com …. That’s all Folks!

Posted in Having a Voice in Healthcare, Living with Illness

Medicine and the Human Factor

I was watching the news yesterday when a report about a Southwest Airlines pilot hit the airwaves.  Evidently, the pilot didn’t know that his mic was stuck in the on position and he went on a tirade about the fact that the flight attendants were either gay, old, or fat, leaving him with limited choices for sexual exploits.  It obviously took those on the radio frequency by surprise, but more importantly it raised some eyebrows amongst the Southwest Airlines crews.  So what does this have to do with being diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness?

It’s been discussed and written about in multiple books about how physicians refer to patients as “the kidney in room 202”, or “the brain tumor in 202”, reducing you, the patient, to the most minimal of descriptions.  Why is this important?  Because the goal is to have the medical team look at you as the total package, not simply your disease.  There is more to you than simply your diagnosis; the diagnosis is a part of you, it doesn’t define you.  When or if we hear providers speak this way it reduces our faith in them as people.  This is why so many medical schools are starting to incorporate Medical Humanities into their curriculums.  The idea that if you bring some humanity into the medical arena the relationships between physician and patient get better, diagnostics are more accurate because future physicians are being trained to listen to the patient’s story; their illness narrative.

If you haven’t read Jerome Groopman’s, “How Doctor’s Think”, please finish this post and rush to the bookstore for a copy of this book.  If you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness this book should be surgically attached to your body so you have it handy at all times.  The introduction shows the importance of the illness narrative because it helped diagnose a young woman who had been battling her illness for over 15 years.

Words are powerful so using them to improve the doctor-patient relationship instead of hinder it is crucial on your journey to health and healing.  As your illness narrative unfurls it provides vital information for your care and treatment.  The doctor should be more of a detective then mechanic.

What would you like your medical provider to know about you?  How do you think your story could help in your care and treatment?  What have you been leaving out of your story when you visit the doctor, that could be the linchpin that makes you better or well?

Posted in art and healing, creativity and health

Accessing New Creativity For Telling Your Story

Welcome to Art and Healing Wednesday!!

It’s that time of year when some of my old favorite and new favorite reality shows are on television.  My old standby is “So You Think You Can Dance”.  I think those young dancers are amazing, have enormous talent, and speak volumes with their bodies.  My new favorite is “The Voice”, because the show is geared to talented people regardless of age, and the selection is based on their voice, not a stereotype of what a successful singer should look like.  The key in both of these shows is that the contestants are true to their craft.  They tell a story, express themselves, and are following their passion…it’s their oxygen.

I understand that with all my heart.  As a textile artist I work hard at telling my story through my art.  I know that I’m not a painter, sculptor, or performing artist.  It’s not about a comfort zone, but an acknowledgment of my gifts and talents.  So why am I thinking about doing something different?  I’m not looking to shift the focus of art, but add to my repertoire.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to expand my story telling options.  Aside from my textile art I try to write on this blog Monday thru Friday.  This writing is a practice for me because it allows me to share my thoughts, create an exchange of ideas, and provide resources that may be helpful on your journey to health and healing.  So what’s the problem?  No problem.  I know that I’m a very verbal person.  I like to tell stories and doing it verbally is easy whether it’s to one person or 500 people.  I’ve been looking for other methods of accessing hidden secrets in my soul.

When I was in my dissertation class, one of my classmates is doing a Doctor of Ministry and her dissertation is about the collages she’s created and how they impact her life and her spiritual journey.  I’ve started toying with the idea of creating collages.  It’s an artistic voice, isn’t about artistic talent, and gets me out of my head because it’s nonverbal.  The more we can uncover what lies deeper in our minds and our hearts the greater pool of internal resources we have for health and healing.  It’s not about substituting but adding to my arsenal of self-expression.

How will you access deeper aspects of yourself?  What might emerge when you open yourself up to the possibility of greater self-expression?  How do you utilize this outward expression of your soul on your journey to wellness?  I’d love to know what creative endeavors may capture your intrigue and aid you on your path to getting better or well.  Share your story below or send me an email at greg@survivingstrong.com

Posted in art and healing, creativity and health

One Seam At A Time

Welcome to Art and Healing Wednesday!!

Over the past week I decided to begin sewing a new quilt.  I’ve been working on original art quilts over the past six years, but decided to go back to basics.  I’m working on a 9 patch quilt, a simple pattern.  There are a couple of reasons that I decided upon this pattern.  I wanted something that was focused on the activity and not the outcome.  I wanted to hear the hum of the sewing machine and what I was sewing was secondary to the soothing sound and rhythm of the needle going up and down.  The last reason was a trip down memory lane.

Yesterday while I was sewing I was working to match the seams.  I reflected back on a dear friend who I’ve known for 30 years who started me on my quilting path.  She was a seamstress and for fun she was making 9 patch pillows.  She asked if I wanted to make one and a quilter was born.  As I was sewing yesterday I began to think about all the times I shared with this friend and got a deep sense of peace and gratitude.  I was transported in time and I could feel a physical change in my body and respiration.

It doesn’t matter what creative venture you engage in, but there was a point in time when you started utilizing this creative activity for self-expression.  There was something about this creative endeavor that captured your attention and your imagination providing you with joy and comfort.  You had a time in your life when your creativity needed to take center stage as a means of relaxation and reflection.  If you go back to the beginning I believe you can tap into the cell memory in your body.  Your body’s cells remember wellness, so why wouldn’t you want to tap into that memory on your journey to health and healing?

It’s important to give yourself every opportunity to get better or well.  When you take a moment to begin at the beginning you can see how far you’ve come in your creative journey.  You can look back at the story you’ve been telling for years.  You have the opportunity to see your story in a different form, unadulterated and pure.  This honesty is beneficial to your journey to wellness.

How did you get started in your creative venture?  How has your story changed?  How do you use your art/creativity for health and healing?  I’d love to hear your story…email me at greg@survivingstrong.com

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 art and healing, creativity and health

It all starts with a single step

Welcome to Art and Healing Wednesday!!

I’m always amazed at how impactful art can be in every aspect of our lives.  Last week I was watching my summer indulgence, “So You Think You Can Dance”, when they introduced a contemporary piece to be performed by two contestants.  The choreographer, Travis Wall, had been a contestant in the competition in season 2 so he knows the ropes.  Last year he began choreographing for the show bringing a fresh new perspective to contemporary dance.

The piece he choreographed was about his mother who had undergone some major surgery.  It depicted her struggle and the support she received from others throughout the process.  One of the two dancers performing the piece was able to identify strongly with the piece since his mother had breast cancer and had not only undergone surgery, but chemotherapy and radiation.  Before the dancers danced, the choreographer shared his perspective on the piece and that’s where the piece took on a life of its own.  Travis Wall stated, “Every step is a storytelling experience.”

When I heard him utter those words I was awakened to the possibilities that dance provides for self-expression.  I was also impressed at how he was able to share his story and how it resonated with so many in the studio audience and the viewers at home.  He was able to model how powerful our stories are and emphasized that there are a multitude of ways to share that story; his is through dance.

We’re all creative beings; it’s just that some of us have easier access to that creativity because we nurture it and use it.  The goal following the diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness is to access the resources that already exist within you.  We’re all not going to be professional dancers, but most of us can move; even if it’s only tapping our foot.  If we have mobility in our hands we can write words that express our deepest thoughts and share both our struggles and our triumphs.  If we have speech then we can hum or sing a tune that resonates with our soul.  I always recommend that clients find a theme song that punctuates their story.  In fact, have a few so that as things change you always have a song to sing.

Travis Wall gave us the gift of his talent and his heart.  He was able to capture a part of his story and interpret it in a way that could be shared with all of us.  Even if you feel you can’t create, you can certainly enjoy, connect, and experience others’ stories by  being an observer/participant.  I hope you find the single step that will tell your story.

Posted in Caregiving

Did The Three Musketeers Have it Right?

Welcome to Caregiver Friday!!

The story is one of the most empowering ways we’ve come to communicate in our modern society.  It doesn’t matter if the story is spoken, written, or artfully transmitted…it’s powerful.  It’s for this reason that finding the lessons in other’s stories is mesmerizing.  Even when we’re talking about fiction the author’s beliefs and values creep into the essence of the work.

The Three Musketeers were famous for saying, “One for all, and all for one”.  What if that were everyone’s motto, would the world be different?  The answer is a loud YES, but since we don’t have control over everyone in the world; we’ll all simply have to be responsible for ourselves.

The idea that we’re all in this together is important for you, the caregiver/wellness partner, because it’s easy to fall into the trap of isolation and world on your shoulders.  It’s important that the person you’re caring for be on your team as much as you’re on theirs.  I know this may sound like a lot to expect, but sometimes it’s up to us to create the culture of mutuality.  When someone is facing a health challenge it’s too easy to get caught up in your own life and only your life.  Developing the capacity and the expectation that this journey to wellness is two sides of the same coin will save you lots of grief and bring you together instead of dividing the two of you.

Wouldn’t it be fun to stand in the middle of your lawn or at the park and shout out, “All for one and one for all”?  Others may think you’ve lost it, but the truth is that however you say it, it needs to be a declaration.  It’s not about negotiation, but collaboration. It’s important that you and the patient don’t try to compete for who’s worse off, or who is shouldering most of the burden.  A health challenge impacts everyone in the family, so living the motto of the Three Musketeers is the mantra that will help catapult you and your loved one toward health and healing.

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

The Right Words at the Right Time

Ever hear a story that makes you say to yourself, “boy did that story come at the right time?”  That’s why story is so powerful, because it’s a universal way of communicating deep thoughts.  They help us navigate the difficult times and celebrate the good times.  Our stories, especially the ones that we retell show what is important in our lives because we want to share our personal revelations.

This morning I was watching a rerun of The West Wing  and the following story was told.

     A guy falls in a hole with very steep walls and can’t get out.  A doctor passes by and the person yells, “Hey doc can you help me?”  The doctor writes a prescription and throws it down in the hole.  A little while later a minister walks by and once again the guy in the hole yells, “Reverend, can you help me get out of here?”  The minister writes a prayer and throws it down in the hole.  A little while later a friend walks by and the guy yells, “Hey Joe, can you help me get out of here?”  Joe jumps down into the hole .  The guy says to him, “why would you do that now we’re both stuck in the hole.”  Joe replies, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know how to get out!”

That story is important because it punctuates a couple of points.  We can’t get by in life without support.  Even more importantly, finding those who have walked a mile in your shoes, maybe even are a bit ahead of you on the journey to wellness could be a true life saver. 

This story is important because I’ve learned both personally and professionally that accruing information shared by others about how to live a full life with a chronic or life-altering illness is crucial to our sanity.  The lessons learned about how to deal with the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of a health challenge can save you a lot of suffering.  Having someone who will serve as a Sherpa through this steep learning curve will allow you the freedom to focus on healing instead of fighting against an entity you can’t see.  It’s an uneven playing field and that’s why you need the support of others.

Having a trusted person who understands your struggles, knows where the potholes are, and knows the resources to alleviating the strife can ease the pain experienced on all levels and free you to concentrate on one thing, getting better.  As I’ve shared before, not everyone will be cured, but everyone can experience healing.  I’ve been honored to accompany thousands of people on their journey to wellness over the past twenty-four years. 

If I can provide you with any further information check out the website, http://www.survivingstrong.com or call me, Greg Katz, at 720-851-6736.