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

Crack Open the Fortune Cookie and Be Surprised

I went to the Chinese restaurant for dinner the other night and at the end of the meal, as is customary, I received a fortune cookie.  Most of the time I’m indifferent to them because they say something either so obvious or so absurd that I leave it on the table to be swept away with the other trash.

This evening was different.  I had one of those fortunes that actually made me think.  It was even something I could agree with, so I’m sharing it with you.  What if you, “Make your life an exclamation, not an explanation”.   It’s simple and to the point, but what does it mean for you, someone diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness?

I believe it’s about claiming each and every day.  It’s making conscious decisions about what you do on your journey to health and healing instead of looking back at what might have happened.  It’s proactive and doesn’t reek of shame.  It’s about taking responsibility for what the decision you make in your life instead of the excuses you may be prone to making on a regular basis.

When you “make your life an exclamation” it becomes a celebration.  It may not be a ticker tape parade, but it’s the soapbox you stand on, not the thing you hide behind.  You show others what’s possible instead of backtracking about what could have been.

Let’s face it; coming up with explanations is exhausting.  It drains you of the precious internal resources you need to get better or get well!  When you need to explain things it enters the realm of storytelling and with that comes a certain degree of fiction.  Is that how you want to live your life?  As a fiction character?

Living life as an exclamation is the true story.  It’s the story you want to share with others instead of one you hope no one asks you about.  It’s the story that serves as a catalyst for the next day of our life and hopefully every day builds upon the day before!

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Illness Narrative, Storytelling

What if You Were Interviewed?

It’s the beginning of the new television season and for the first time in years talk shows are filling every nook and cranny of the television schedule.  This year big names like, Katie Couric, Jeff Probst and Ricki Lake, have entered the race for ratings with some very interesting guests and well-seasoned interviewers.

As I mentioned yesterday, I just returned from California and have just conducted interviews for my dissertation.  I had the opportunity to interview artists in their homes/live-work spaces where there was an intimacy that’s hard to describe.  The experience of asking someone questions about their lives is a privilege that I will treasure forever.  Having the opportunity to explore the depths of artists’ stories was life changing.  When I got on the plane to come home I tried to think about what it would be like to be interviewed about my own life.

I’ve been pondering that thought for the past few days and now I’m asking you.  If you were being interviewed, what would you like to share with the interviewer?  As you move through life after being diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness, what would you like to share that would be relevant and impactful for those watching the interview?

It’s imperative that you share the moment you were diagnosed, because that’s the starting point for your health and healing journey.  Beyond that moment, what has driven you forward as you strive to get better of get well?  What resources have you utilized to serve as a catalyst for health and healing?  What did you learn the hard way that you’d like to share to make the journey for others a bit easier?

These interview questions serve two purposes.  They allow you to tell your story, and when others bear witness to our journey it is healing.  The other benefit of an interview like this is that it serves as a teaching moment.  You are able to serve others by sharing what you’ve learned; you’ve become the expert.

What are some of the most important things you’d like to share?  Feel free to share them here so we can create our own community.

Posted in after the diagnosis

Leading Your Own Master Class

The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) may not be a success, but some shows are obviously taking center-stage on the network.  It shouldn’t be a surprise, but the shows that are doing well are the shows where Oprah’s touch is evident.  In these cases she’s either doing the interview as in, “Oprah’s Next Chapter”, or “Oprah Winfrey’s Master Class”.  It’s the later that caught my attention last night when the guest of the show was the famous actress, activist, and fitness guru, Jane Fonda.

If you haven’t seen the show it allows the guest to speak about their life dividing the segments into “life lesson” segments.  The show is tasteful, insightful, and inspiring.  When I was listening to Jane Fonda speak last night I kept my notepad close by waiting for those bits of wisdom that would get me to think about my own life in a new way.  The lessons that caught my attention were: Allow your vulnerabilities to show; we’re not meant to be perfect, we’re meant to be whole; and Empathy is revolutionary!

This got me thinking about all the client/participant stories I’ve heard over the years and the lessons I’ve learned from all of you.  On the other hand, I started wondering what it would be like if I put you in front of a camera for an hour and you got to distill your life down to four or five pivotal life foundations.  This is very different than conducting a life review because it’s not about summing up your life at the end; it’s about punctuating those things that have made you who you are today!

I believe this can be a great part of your health and healing journey.  After your diagnosis you may have began to reflect on your life, your experiences, relationships, and adventures.  What have you taken from each of those experiences that will support your journey to wellness.  One of the things that Jane Fonda made very clear is “It’s never too late!”  That would mean that even for you, getting a diagnosis of a chronic or life-altering illness doesn’t have to be an end, but a beginning.  It can be a launch pad for your new life.

What would you impart to us if you were filming your own Master Class for the Oprah Winfrey Network?  What do you believe are the most important, helpful, inspiring lessons you’ve learned that will propel your life and ours forward?

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 art and healing, creativity and health

The Power of “The Voice”

Welcome to Art and Healing Wednesday!!

So you may be thinking that I’m going to talk about the NBC show “The Voice”, now wouldn’t that have been convenient.  Although I do enjoy the show, there’s another angle of our voices that’s even more impressive and scores big with me.  I like to sing and these days the only time I usually sing is in the shower or the car (sometimes I don’t end the call in my car and the person I was talking to gets a rendition of something I’ve been listening too…lucky for them, huh?)  I’ve always loved to sing.  I sang in choirs through high school and college and a community choir upon graduating from college.  I never wanted to be a singer, but I love the joy of singing something from the soul.

Eric Whitacre must feel the same way because he took the choir experience to new heights.  Although wanting to be a “pop” star, he became an American composer.  In his travels in the music world he put together a virtual choir of 2,052 voices.  It’s hard enough to get 40 or 50 people to sing together, on key, following a conductor, so doing it virtually is an amazing accomplishment.  It comes with the advances in technology and a great editor.

What Whitacre accomplishes is not only beautiful but inspiring.  What’s even more encouraging are the 2000+ singers who joined in the project.  Being a part of something so big from the comfort of your own home is amazing.  The final cut of the piece is moving and jaw dropping.  It takes creativity and perseverance to not only create such a work but to be able to share it with the world ignites a spark of possibility.

They say that there is strength in numbers.  Being a part of something bigger than yourself reduces isolation, something that many who face a chronic or life-threatening illness face following their diagnosis.  This is one of the reasons that support groups are so helpful; they bring voices and stories together that inspire the journey to health and healing.  You may not be a singing virtuoso, but your voice has power.  Your voice has the power to express yourself fully, powerfully, and convey a message to your body, mind, and spirit that you’re committed to getting better or well.

Please watch the link and experience the magic that Eric Whitacre has to offer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2NENlXsW4pM&NR=1 then think about how you can use your voice for health and healing.  Who knows where our voices will meet!

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 art and healing, creativity and health

Mr. DeMille…I’m Ready for my Close-up

Welcome to Art and Healing Wednesday!!

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the movies that are glamorous, full of adventure, or take you on an amazing journey.  These stories allow you to lose yourself for a couple of hours, even more if you buy the film and watch it over and over.  I think that film is an incredible medium and even more so since I’ve been exploring the world of visual anthropology.

As I move forward on finishing my degree in art and healing, I’ve been thinking about how to capture the lives of the artists in a way that is non-intrusive, honest, and allows their authentic selves to emerge.  I’m doing my thesis on artists who have been diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness.  In addition to interviews, I’d like to film the artists in their studio/work space doing what they do…tell stories.

I carry a flip video recorder around in my car so that at any time I’m ready to record a digital image.  Yesterday I was talking to my neighbors who have started a film production company so I literally have this type of expertise in my backyard.  I think there would be something amazing, honest, and pure about what emerges filming artists engaging in their process.

If you haven’t checked out my website www.survivingstrongtv.com you should watch some of the videos on health and healing.  It’s a way for us to connect with each other since the invention of things like blip.tv, you tube, and other social network sites.

What is it that you would like to say?  How do you see the shot?  What is it that you would like to convey to your audience?  It’s easier than ever to begin the journey into film.  You can become your own screenwriter, director, editor, and producer.  You can pick something that is unique to you that may impact the lives of others facing a chronic or life-threatening illness.  Who knows, it may be something you love doing, transforming your life vision.

If you’re an artist who has been diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness and you’d like to be a part of my research or potentially the film, please e-mail me at greg@survivingstrong.com

As Porky Pig would say…”That’s all folks!”

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.