Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Emotional Health, Empowerment, Living with Illness, newly diagnosed illness

What Makes Us…Us?

We all have that moment when we look in the mirror and truly see ourselves for the first time.  It might be the day of a big birthday, graduation from school, or for some, the diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening illness.  It’s a moment when clarity mixes with curiosity.  A split second when you ask the question, “Who am I?”

I spend a lot of time in my studio and I listen to podcasts to keep me company.  This is a recent shift because music used to be my go-to studio mate, but there’s so much to learn that the podcast has been like being in a virtual classroom.  Listening to podcasts coupled with watching interviews on the DVR gives me plenty of material to convert into creative iterations of my life.

On Super Soul Sunday Oprah interviewed Pastor A.R. Bernard.  A pastor for forty years he has one of the largest congregations in the country.  Well-spoken and thoughtful, he gives you the feeling like you’re sitting in his study ready to experience an epiphany.  He turned to Oprah and said, “Every personal crisis starts with an identity crisis!”  Can you think of anything more poignant when considering the diagnosis of an illness?

When we couple the question of mortality, quality of life, and identity in one equation we’re faced with a big challenge…who are we?  What makes us who we are?  What do we need to learn?  How will this/these experiences change my life, change me?

I’ve facilitated thousands of hours of support groups over my twenty-five years as a therapist.  The question of identity is center to a diagnosis.  All too often people surrender to a label.  All the qualities they embodied prior to the doctor saying, “I’m sorry to tell you….” disappear into thin air.  There is a tendency to redefine ourselves by our diagnosis, our side-effects, even our limitations.  What would happen if we redefine ourselves by adding qualities instead of subtracting them.  Imagine adding qualities like determined, dedicated, self-loving, and conscious to your personal identity!

If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a hundred times in these posts, “We may not get well, but we can always get better.”  So how has your identity been altered?  What do you see in the mirror that you may not have seen prior to your diagnosis, or other life challenge?  What new qualities will you inhabit with your ever-evolving identity?

We’re all in this together…I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Posted in after the diagnosis, Caregiving, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, overcoming adversity

Saved by the Scruff of Your Neck

As a psychotherapist I spent much of my time in classes studying human nature. I’ve read countless books about personality theory, psychopathology, and human development. I’ve sat with thousands of patients over the past twenty-five years, each time gaining a little more information about the human condition and how our lives are shaped.

I’ve been thinking about the missing link in my education and the only thing I can come up with is the nature connection. What is my recommendation? I’ve started playing with the idea that part of the education curriculum needs to studying the animal kingdom. We’ve become so caught up in technology and industrialization that we’ve forgotten that our primary instincts are embedded in our reptilian brain. Our motivations and survival instincts are not new found ideas, but long standing actions that have been cultivated and reinterpreted to fit modern day society.

When we go through tough times it would be great if we had someone to save us. I was watching a news report about a bear cub that was on the edge of a freeway. The cub’s mother reached over the meridian and grabbed the cub by the scruff of the neck bringing it to safety. The mother instinctually knew how to save her baby. Are humans any different?

I was watching an interview with famous author Anne Lamott. Her history is fascinating and how she has shared accounts of her true life has been inspiring. On an episode of Super Soul Sunday (on the Oprah Winfrey Network) she discussed how she got sober. Lamott shared, “I felt like God picked me up by the scruff of my neck and I got sober.”

What if we all had that safety net? Who’s to say we don’t? There are forces working around us every day that serve that purpose. It may not be what you perceive as the hand of God, but a force that protects you like that of a superhero. Watching the news and Facebook posts there are continual stories of people helping others less fortunate or in dire need of being saved from a challenge whether it be physical, emotional, or spiritual.

Developing a sense of community is part of this safety net. When we have a community, a tribe, we can take risks that we believe will further our desire for hope and healing. It gives us the courage to move beyond our self-imposed limits of what’s possible. It’s important because without pushing boundaries we’ll never know how capable we are of achieving personal greatness.

Who’s grabbing you by the scruff of your neck when you need saving? Are there people, agencies, programs that are your safety net? How will you push your personal boundaries knowing you have back up?

Facing a challenge in your life?  Looking for education, support, and inspiration?  Visit

Want to experience how art heals the body, mind, and spirit?  Visit

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

Is Your Life Lived Conditionally?

I’ve been watching Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, watching some amazing interviews.  Watching these interviews begins to engage my inquisitive mind and I begin to think about our relationship to others and ourselves.  We’re complex beings and we all have gifts and talents that allow us to live successful lives, and contribute to the Universe.

I guess the big question that comes up is, “How conditional is your relationship to your gifts and talents?”  I ask that question because for many of us have to squelch our gifts and talents to make it day-to-day in our jobs and everyday life.  We engage our gifts and talents when we have “free time” or in times of crisis.  Is that any way to treat your gifts and talents?

Which of your gifts and/or talents would you like to explore further?  What benefits do you derive when you engage in activities that utilize your gifts and talents?  Do you find that when you engage your gifts and talents there is a positive impact on your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being?

Illness is just one of the many transitions we may experience in life.  During these times of transitions, obviously filled with stress and anxiety, there is a need to utilize all the resources, inner and outer, that are available to you.  Your gifts and talents don’t only have to be a well you go to when you’re thirsty.  Your gifts and talents can be a mainstay of your physical, emotional, and spiritual life.  They can be the nourishment you need to survive and thrive.

These are troubling times, even without an illness.  However, a diagnosis obviously complicates matters.  I’m amazed each and every time I engage someone in a conversation and they share their gifts and talents.  They’re face lights up so bright that it’s like looking into an eclipse; it’s blinding.  This is the exuberance that allows us to create a healing environment within our bodies, and in our interactions with others.

What gifts and or talents will you summon today and how will you infuse your day with possibility?