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Let Corage and Hope Take On a Life of Their Own

Hope and Courage quote mobama

Courage and hope have carried me through a multitude of challenges. So much so that they truly have taken on a life of their own. They are my manifesto – they are my legacy.

Recently, a dear friend challenged me to expand on this theory. She is currently struggling with a flare in her chronic illness. And as I listened to her process, I heard resistance. Resistance of what is and what this means to her life right now (cancelling plans, making accommodations). And all this resisting has served is to turn her down a road with only one clear direction: FEAR.

I get this. I’ve been there. I think we all have at one point.

But when she reached out to me and asked me how I can calmly “label and describe” my current medical situation without any attachment, I felt poorly equipped with the words to help her. Until I read the above quote…

I realized that as soon as I put on my Cowardly Lion’s Badge of Courage, I remember that I am resilient, that my symptoms come and go with the tides, and that this too shall pass.

And even more importantly is my Beacon of Hope. When I shine it out away from myself, even when I am steeped in darkness, it banishes the shadows from the corners of my mind. Fear lives and lurks in the shadows. But when I bathe myself in Hope, it takes on a life of its own. It becomes my lead warrior in the battle against Fear. It will not allow me to succumb to the darkness.

So… I actually began writing this a month ago. At the time, it was in reference to a conversation we were having about my current flare in unrelenting, untreatable migraines. I was joking about my body’s reactions to the shift of the barometric pressure: more accurate than NASA! And my illnesses’ inane need to re-announce itself this time of year. Usually with a never-ending, looping parade of crashing cymbals and blaring trombones… all going off within the confines of my body.

In response to this “update,” she expressed bafflement at my ability to be so calm and accepting in the face of the unknown. “How can you let go? How can you not worry that these current symptoms will turn into a 6 week or even longer episode?”

And this is the crazy thing… it has turned into a 6 week + episode. The reason this entry never got posted is my body decided to go haywire over the last month; old symptoms popping up alongside new and disturbing ones, followed by a string of specialists and tests, including hospital stays, with no definitive answer yet.

But, this is the thing, the miracle of it all: the point I was at over a month ago has become completely irrelevant in the face of my current “predicament” (to put it mildly!). I have become sicker. But I have also continued to put one foot in front of the other. There is no formula that I can apply to figure the duration or depth of this current flare. So why would I waste the precious energy I have on trying to come up with one?

And, yet, I used to think I could.

I realized the true question my friend was asking was, “How can you not live in a constant state of fear?” Fear, most of all, that what is so painful now (whether physical, emotional, or mental), will forever be? That neither of us will ever return to a state of wellness… nor balance.

I can’t say I live without fear. It’s what I do with the fear that makes the difference. I don’t let it set up camp inside my mind and heart. I don’t let it put down roots.

The truth is, I don’t know when or if this (seemingly) never-ending flare will go away. But when I start to tell myself a “story” about my current scenario, I push the pause button. I tried to write my own story in the past, a “Choose Your Own Adventure” style. If A happens, I will do B, C, or D.  Or, if I do LMNOP in the exact right order, then X will not happen. And you know what? It did not work!!!!

All it served was to remind me of my current painful situation, over, and over, and over again. And each time I was confident I had it all worked out, life would throw me a curve ball. And I would have to figure it out on the fly anyway.

So instead I remind myself of my history: the places where Courage and Hope won out. All the times I did get better; all the periods there was a reprieve from a painful symptom, however short or long. I remind myself that I have a team around me to help, made up of friends, family and professionals. And that if (only if, not when) my current bout turns into something more severe, I’ll know what to do. That in the past, I did find treatment. I was able to “ride it out.” I did get better, even if only marginally, it was better.

Then I shift my focus onto the positive aspects of the now. All the ways I am engaging in my life, in spite of. That for every five events I have to cancel, there is one that I am able to participate in that lifts me up.

I ask myself: “Whose side am I on? Which side am I going to feed?”
The side of Fear & Despair…
Or the side of Courage and Hope?

No matter what fearful demons are lurking in the shadows, get out your flashlights and banish fear from the cobwebs of your mind. Just like spring cleaning, it takes a while. It also takes constant upkeep. Imagine what your house looks like if you only clean it once a year, now apply that to your mind…

Fear can build up if you let it, and then Despair sets up house.

OR… your can clear your mind and heart with daily prayer and meditation, with deep belly breathing. By keeping your feet firmly planted in this moment, asking “what can I do for myself right now?” By taking all the headspace dedicated to predicting, preparing, and preventing, and switching focus to the present… building support systems and nurturing yourself (a bath, a book, a nap, a good pet snuggle, …).

Before you know it, your soul will be flooded with light, fear banished.
And COURAGE & HOPE will start to take on a life of their own!

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Listening To That Intuitive Knowing

my story

So, you keep telling the doctor, “Something’s wrong.” And the doctor responds, “I just don’t see anything conclusive on your tests. It’s probably just… referred pain/muscle pain/arthritis/ adhesions (scar tissue), etc. etc.” And you say, once again, “No. Something is wrong. The pain is intense at times, and it’s different than the myriad of regular pains I deal with every day.” “Hmmm. Well nothing I can pinpoint. Sounds like intermittent constipation” But you know. You live in this body every day. You are not malingering or unnecessarily complaining. Yet this very judgment often keeps you from going to the doctor until the situation is unbearable. You know about accepting every day pain that many others don’t deal with. This is different.

So you’re faced with either: letting the doctors wormhole their way into your brain, making you question your intuitive sense. You may start think, “Well, I guess I may be overreacting. The doctors know best right?” But, there is that small insistent voice that grows more and more persistent, “Don’t let the doctors question yourself! You know your body better than anyone else! Every time you’ve said something ‘bigger’ is going on, you’ve been right!” Time for option #2: putting on your “Self-Advocate Hat” and getting to work. Be the squeaky wheel. Not allowing yourself to be a push-over. Keep insisting on further tests until you uncover the true source of your pain.

So you push and you push and lo and behold, there IS something wrong! Alas, something pretty majorly wrong. And now you start to think, “Hmm. I don’t know if I wanted to be right after all! Maybe denial wasn’t such a bad place.” Because now reality is smacking you straight upside the head. This pain will no longer be ignored!

This is the story that most recently played out in my life. I have had an intermittent pain in my upper right abdomen, right below my rib cage. At times it doubles me over, almost knocking the wind right out of me. But then it will quiet down, and I wouldn’t hear from it for a while. Starting about 6 weeks ago, it would no longer be ignored; the persistent and at times intense pain demanded attention. Hence began the above journey.

I started to question my own intuitive sense. I started to acquiesce to someone else’s opinion about my body. I almost didn’t seek out additional evaluations because I didn’t want to appear as someone who over-reacts.

Where does this irrational fear come from? I know I am not alone in this experience. A dear friend recently encountered similar resistance when she was sent to the ED to get treatment for an urgent condition. Hearing just one voice naysay her doctor’s advice was enough to make her shut down. Enough for her to push on, to work beyond what she should of being doing in her current state. Enough to keep her from calling the doctor when her symptoms flared again.

And I am intimately familiar with this self-conscious resistance. The advice I would so freely give to another, the concern I would have if they were experiencing similar symptoms, the nudging I would provide to encourage them to call a doctor asap… are all compassionate techniques I seem to reserve for others. Not for myself, heaven forbid!

Why is that?

Why do we joke that men will never let their ego stop and ask for directions, when we, females, are just as guilty when it comes for asking for help with our physical bodies?

This stoicism doesn’t serve us. It inhibits are well-being and our ability to fully be there for others. And most often, the end result is an exacerbation of the (physical or mental) situation, because we did not seek help or treatment in a timely manner… we blatantly ignored our intuitive voice.

And all of this is reinforced by society. How many stories have we heard of doctor’s dismissing women’s chest pains when they go to the ED, being told,:”you’re too young/the wrong sex/ too healthy to be having a heart attack… must just be indigestion.” Even in the face of irrefutable studies showing that heart disease is the number one killer of women!

I have already had a near-death experience (truly) due to listening to a doctor tell me that there was nothing wrong… again, the phone diagnosis was that I was constipated (what’s up with that?) and just needed to take a walk. When, in fact, my colon had ruptured and I was septic… and dying.

I now know what is happening inside my body. And I know when something is awry. Now I just need to trust myself. And, even when it is challenging, be my own advocate… push, push, push until I get the care I need.

So, here I am, today, waiting on an appointment with my surgeon on Tuesday to discuss removing my gall bladder. That pain that was “just constipation”… is in fact a large gallstone that appears to be also effecting my liver (hence the lovely cankles I have been sporting as of late!). And if I hadn’t insisted that the doctors keep looking, I would have found myself much worse off. Of course, I am not thrilled that there is something so serious going on. But with knowledge, comes power. Now that I know the source of my pain, I can focus on the treatment for my pain.

I encourage you to take a few quiet moments today and “listen” to your body.

Is there anything that has been lingering, nagging at you mind, that you’ve left unattended? Is it time to ask the doctor about that pain/ache/different sensation or symptom?

Have you held back from telling others how you are really feeling for fear of being judged?

Are you experiencing anxiety, worry, stress, sadness that you are trying to keep bottled up inside?

Or perhaps, it’s something more positive, but just as secretive. A voice in your heart that sings the song of your dreams… a wish left unfulfilled for fear of disappointing or stressing others; of taking time to feed your own needs for once instead of everyone else’s?

What are these intuitive thoughts telling you?

Do NOT ignore them.

They are the essence of your being.
And they are meant to be listened to… by yourself and others!

“What Goes Up Must Come Down”

tear

“What goes up, must come down.” These lyrics keep dancing around (banging around?) in my head.  They seem to be the only thing that accurately describes my current state of being. And let’s face it, my life in general.

Once again, the rug has been pulled out from under me. I felt like my life was traveling in an upward momentum. With starts and stops along the way, of course. But, truly could I expect anything less? Still, generally moving in a positive direction.

After such a struggle throughout the fall, with a constantly flaring body unresponsive to current courses of treatment, unrelenting fatigue, and an onslaught of back and forth calls to insurance pleading my case, there was finally some light at the end of the tunnel: infusion treatments were finally approved, literally in the 11th hour.

I began my Simponi Aria infusions around Christmas and experienced immediate improvement in my symptoms. My morning stiffness went from 3 hours to 2 and even onto a mere 1 many days!! My fatigue was abating and I was able to participate in multiple family gatherings without weeks of post-event “crash and burn.” It was a gift. It was a miracle!

I anxiously awaited my second infusion and experienced similar success, even a tad better this time! We may have finally found something that treats my autoimmune illness,” my heat sang with glee!

Visions of days without pain coupled with participating in, instead of just sideline observing my life danced in my head! I even allowed myself to daydream about a future of renewed productivity and purposefulness.

In the last couple of weeks, my body started to crash again (hence the lack of blog posts); locking, swollen joints, pain and fatigue. But this time, I was happy for the symptoms. Strange, I know. But they were clear indicators that the infusion indeed was working because I was on a downward trend heading right into my next scheduled infusion…

This Monday! Hooray!! I can’t wait! Bring on the relief!

But, then, remember the second half of my opening refrain? …

“…Must come down…”

And, come down it has. Crashing down.

Today, was my first follow-up with my rheumatologist since the start of the new infusion treatments.  I gave him the same low-down I just gave you. And he looked sad. Defeated.

“Has the billing office contacted you?” he tentatively begins.

“Guess they’re leaving it up to me to be the Bad Guy.”

What? What is he trying to say?! My heart begins to sink. Am I hearing this right?

Both Medicare and my (supposedly “super-duper”) private secondary insurance suddenly decided to retroactively decline my treatment.

“Its off-label,” they tsk. Tsk.

Well guess what numnuts?! EVERY medication I take is off-label.   I have a RARE disease that does not get studied because it is not profitable for the drug companies whom sponsor said studies. Never mind, that my disease, Relapsing Polychondritis, has an extremely high mortality rate in untreated cases (before discovery, most people were diagnosed post-mortem). Guess they don’t care when it’s only a 1000 people in the U.S. population.

So, now, not only have they denied any future treatments, they have also reneged on payments due for treatments already administered! That’s 2 infusions at the “cut-rate” price of $10,000!!! How can that even be ethical?

Doctor: “Legally, you could be held financially responsible for this amount. Ethically, I could never allow that to happen. And, we could continue treatments if you have a bunch of cash lying around to pay out of pocket.” Wry smile.

Full disclosure here: I just did our taxes and guess what? My husband and I currently bring in a combined annual income of a whopping $33,000! So, yeah, I don’t think so.

So, bottom line… it appears that insurance (or let’s face it, in this case, the government), feels it is more cost effective to keep me chronically ill (meaning more urgent care costs, hospitalizations and the such, in the future) and unable to have gainful employment (requiring on-going SSD payments), then to pay for a medications that will treat my disease (now) and prevent the progression of it.

What kind of upside-down world do we live in?

But, guess what? The ball has once again landed back in my court.  And what choice do I have but to evolve and adapt once again? To reassess life and the options it presents me, to pick up the pieces and try to build something worthwhile out of the rubble…

And I will.

But, for a short bit, I just want to have a pity-party.

To whine, “why can’t anything ever be easy, or at least simple, for me?!”

Because it just is NOT.

There must be some major life lessons I’m supposed to learn this lifetime around.

They say that when you pray for something, God doesn’t give it to you, he (she) gives you an opportunity to develop that skill. But did I really need another chance to practice Acceptance. Resilience. Inner Strength?

It feels like I have enough of that to fill 10 lifetimes.

Sigh.

Become Awe-Struck!

Tropical Hibiscus blooming on our deck in chilly October = Awesome!

Tropical Hibiscus blooming on our deck in chilly October = Awesome!

Awe (n.):

1. A feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.

Synonyms: wonder, reverence, respect, admiration, dread, fear, esteem

It surprised me to see the antonyms of “wonder” and “fear” used to define awe; same with “admiration” and “dread.”  Do we truly dread what we most admire in wonder?  Is it a fear of never experiencing a moment of awe again?  Or perhaps a dread that we are somehow missing something?

I was recently told, by a stranger no less, that I am a “feeler.”  This wasn’t meant as: “you’re so sensitive;” it was a complimentary observation.  She said I was so in tune with the energies of people around me (living and dead), because I feel, which is not a trait every one possesses. A friend also recently told me, “you are an engager;” that I actively engage in life and invite others to do the same.

I experience my life with all five (sometimes six!) senses.  I am blessed to be someone who is awe-struck at least a half-dozen times a day.

Awe has saved my life.  I realize that the ability to feel awe is one of my greatest coping mechanisms.  When I was “near-death sick,” I would gain strength through the awe-some acts of kindness from family, friends and strangers to the awe-inspiring views of blazing sunsets and even full rainbows gracing my hospital room windows.

As well, during moments of deep emotional distress; times when the pain was so great I felt like my only option may well be to end my life, moments of awe and the fear of missing out on awe, have kept me around to try one more day at a time.

An unknown poet describes an episode of awe as becoming “wholly dissolved” in the moment.  This resonated deeply with me. For when I let myself fully succumb to the experience, it is like the outer world falls away and I am now one with the moment in front of me; experiencing awe with all my senses. And this is where I think “fear” comes in; because it is a true surrender, a letting go of control, to be able to fully engage in the discovery of awe. For me, these reverent episodes fill me up with awe, so that I can experience this sense of wonder everywhere and in everything.

I whole-heartedly embrace awe and invite others to do the same.  I will make my husband turn around to watch fawns graze in the morning mist or a blood-red orange full moon rising just above the horizon.  I have been known to go back into stores and tell strangers to come outside because there is a double rainbow across the parking lot.

I am now going to do the same for all of you… I implore you to embrace awe in the month ahead.  Then let me know how it has changed your life! :

  1. A great way to begin looking at life through awe-colored lenses is to observe a child or a pet.  Children investigate and explore everything in their paths with a sense of awe.  And it never fails to make me smile when I observe my cat discover a sun spot on the floor; she will watch it, chase it, sleep on it, and almost breathe in its warming essence.  If you don’t have a child or pet in your immediate family; go to a playground and find a bench to relax on; just watch and become inspired!
  2. Start keeping an “Awe Journal:” document moments and experiences in your day that make you pause and sigh with gratitude.
  3. Experience a small chunk of your day with all five senses.  I like to do this when I first get up: I sit in my favorite chair and listen to the coffee percolating, relishing in its deep aroma; I hear the birds chirp their morning song and watch the sky rapidly change colors as it welcomes the day; I feel the softness of my favorite blanket warm up my muscles and the purr of my cat vibrating on my legs; I savor that first sip of my morning beverage, imagining all the phases it took before reaching my mouth (the coffee bean’s journey from field to pot; or the spring water’s path from waterfall to tap).
  4. Write a note to someone thanking them for bringing “awe” into your life.  Perhaps it was through a loving gesture, or as an inspiration to you, or by being someone who epitomizes awe-someness!!  Find someone to emulate and mimic their enthusiasm towards awe.  I guarantee it is contagious!
  5. Intentionally create an environment for awe… usually through an experience that engages the senses, such as a concert, an art exhibit, an art project, dance, theater, etc.
  6. Go through old photos and pull out ones where you have captured moments of awe: your grandson experiencing bubbles for the first time; a friend graduating from college at 30; the first flowers of spring; a riotous sunset or sunrise; your first time dancing again after knee surgery; a wedding; a birth… once you actively start looking for awe in your life, you’ll be surprised how many moments have happened without you realizing it.  Or use your smart phone to document moments of awe as they occur and then see what you’ve collected at the end of the month.

Once you open your eyes to awe, you will begin to see it everywhere.

Please share your awe-thentically awe-some ideas with all of us  🙂

“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.”

– John Milton

Breathing in the Now

Present moment

I was asked recently: “How do you stay so calm and in the present moment throughout all your health scares?”  This inquiry came from a dear friend who is filled with future worries over a loved one who may have cancer.  I include words like “future” and “may” on purpose.  Because upon reflection, I realize that this is the key to my acceptance, and subsequent serenity.

I must keep my mind in the present moment at all times.

This is a mindful practice. And as the word “practice” implies, it takes concentrated effort to maintain.  But with practice and time, it becomes more natural; like a form of breathing.

Breathing in the NOW.

Here are some steps I’ve taken to keep my mind, body and spirit in the here and now; neither fretting about the past nor worrying about the future…

SPIRITUALITY: The next question my friend asked was regarding to my spiritual health… “Is this what makes you so strong?” she wondered.  I’ve thought a lot on this. My immediate response was to explain that although I am deeply spiritual today, it was not always this way; especially during the throes of my most severe illness.  But, I was wrong.  Although it is true that my spirituality has only grown over the years and I can now comfortably say I believe in a Higher Power, an Energy that is greater than myself, there was always a spiritual trust deep in my soul…

TRUST: A trust that everything would (and will) work out the way it is supposed to be.  I can’t define what this is and nor should I (this is where I can get into trouble!).  But I do have an unexplained knowing.  And that “knowing” is the faith that I am going to die not on my time clock, but on the Universe’s.  And although that may sound scary, it can actually be very freeing.  Because once you let your mind release the worry of when you’re going to die, or get sick, or come upon hard times, you can focus on the HOW:

THE HOW: How am I going to live today to the fullest extent of my spirit?  What steps am I going to take to: nurture my mind, body and spirit; reach out to others instead of isolate; strengthen my relationship with my spiritual base (whether it is God, Buddha, the Universe, or the trees); show myself all the love I deserve; and reach out to others in need?..

SERVICE:  One of the best ways I have always found for getting outside of my own insular world of worry is to reach out to others.  This certainly isn’t the first time you’ve heard me sing this song!  Being of service to someone else (stranger or loved one) not only gets me out of my own head, it uplifts my soul, recharging my internal energy source, my Soul Beacon. And, let’s be completely honest here: there is always someone who has it tougher than you right now.  It’s important to keep that perspective!

IN THE NOW:  There are many techniques I use to keep my mind in the present… I will repeat the mantra “I have arrived” over and over while holding my hand on my heart.  I will use a God Jar (you can name it anything you want); this is a container where I write down my worries and place them inside.  Then when those worries resurface in my mind, I gently remind myself, “Oh, Tam!  You already sent that to the universe/God; you don’t need to worry about that anymore.  It’s taken care of.”

CONTINGENCY PLANS:  Stop making them!!!  I was master of this for so many years, and all it did was exhaust me!  I would figure out all the “possible future outcomes” and then come up with (several) contingency plans for each scenario.  But, you know what?  90% of the time my future would unfold completely different than anything I had “prepared” myself for.  So I would still have to fly by the seat of my pants, in the moment; but my mind would be so fatigued from all the ruminations, I wouldn’t have the energy to successfully face what was in the here and now.  Then, one day I just stopped!  And, you know what?  If I am doing all the above things to take care of myself on a daily basis, I can always find the tools to help me with whatever comes my way. And my life, my spirit, is much calmer because of it.

I realized all the anxiety I was feeling on a daily basis was self- created.  I decided to get off my own Merry-Go-Round of Hell (cue Twilight Zone music…).  You can, too!

STOP WAITING FOR THE OTHER SHOE TO DROP:  I thought that if I was always waiting for something bad to happen, I wouldn’t be caught off guard (disappointed, disheartened) when it did.  Yes, my life is constantly dropping shoes on my head!  But, all that waiting did was create a stress-filled environment where I was inviting trouble.  We attract what we expect!  So, I started expecting differently.  And because I stopped looking to the sky for these impending “bombs,” I am now able to recognize and celebrate all the calm days between the storms.

STOP ASKING “WHY ME?” AND START ASKING “WHAT NEXT?!:” Truly, there is no answer to the question “Why?”  I can’t tell you how many times loving friends have lamented, “Why you?  I just don’t understand why the nicest people get the hardest lives?”  I don’t know either.  But all this question does is create an environment of self-pity.  And when I am stuck in self-pity mode, I can’t see all the amazing gifts that have come out of my illness.  I’m not saying it’s all “unicorns and rainbows” here! But, I do know that in any situation, be it physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, financial, inter-relational… the only question that serves me is: “What next?”  What am I going to do with the hand that is dealt me?  How am I going to make this Situation serve me?  What skills do have to get through this?  And who do I know that can help me?

Once I move beyond victim mode, into action mode, I am living in the present moment.  AND, FOR ME, THAT’S THE ONLY PLACE I WANT TO BE!

Don’t Give Up 5 Minutes Before the Miracle Happens

everything-is-a-miracle

There is a catchy little saying, “Don’t give up 5 minutes before the miracle happens.”  There are times when this concept seems plausible. And yet others, when those five minutes feel like they won’t come for five years, if at all.  Last week was one of those “other times!”  But, I forgot while in the throes of anxiety, stress, worry, fear, and pain that miracles come in all shapes in sizes; that their messengers come wearing a variety of colors and cloaks.

Since August, life has been lobbing one curve ball after another our way.  Starting two and a half weeks ago, it was like the pitching machine got stuck; the balls were coming at such a high speed pace, from all different directions, there was no chance of catching one before the next one flew at my face.  And when all your time is spent juggling the balls of life, the mind is too exhausted to even comprehend the possibility of a miracle.

I knew this would make me blind to any miracle that happened, and I didn’t want to miss a one.  So I started my daily gratitude list, marking ways that “grace” had shown itself in my life.  Many days it was like pulling teeth trying to write down just three things I was grateful for that day!  This started to depress me even more.  I’m not saying the exercise didn’t help to “right size” me on many days; that is, put things into perspective.   But it’s also been awhile since I’ve struggled for so long, each and every day.

I really felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel.  My weeks were filled with a constant onslaught of medical stressors: five days(!!) of bowel prep for a virtual colonoscopy that discovered a suspicious polyp; a fitting for “absolutely necessary” orthotics that were costing me a mere $500 (no insurance coverage); my autoimmune disease (Polychondritis) that flared in every joint, tendon, and muscle in my body; asthma attacks for the first time in a long time, waking me at night “suffocating”; a subsequent visit to my rheumatologist where he was so concerned he almost increased my Prednisone (IE: steroids- oh, no!) but instead decided to put me on Remicade infusions (half day long treatments that are the strongest this class of medicines gets); the start-up of another “hemicrania continuum” (IE: daily, mind-splitting migraines, unresponsive to treatment); 20+ Botox injections in my head and neck for same (that felt like a barrage of wasp stings and triggered an increase in pain – ouch); a “suspicious” mole removal on my back after early years of over-sun exposure (and a subsequent wound that is not healing);  and lower back and hip steroid injections (never fun!)…

Phew! I am exhausted just writing that all down!

And, the stressors didn’t stop there.  Not only was my disease flared by the change in seasons, but so was my husband’s depression; resulting in daily anxiety attacks (many directed at me. Sigh.).  Several friends experienced emotional crisis during this period, and I was the friend they reached out to for support.  Our cat got sick and needed medical care.  Bills seemed to be landing in the mail daily at the rate of political flyers in November.  And the final straw? Our van, our only vehicle, died.  The frame rusted out and landed on the steering box, and, well… you can imagine the rest!

The fear started to set in.  What are we going to do?  How are we going to afford this?  What if we don’t qualify for a loan?

Then, I took a deep breathe, prayed to my higher power, and took the first step.  Information is power.  And, at that point, I had none.  All I had was mis-information that was swirling itself into a cyclone of worry and anxiety.  Not a good equation for an already over-stressed body and mind!

It got worse before it got better.  But, then, last Tuesday, the miracles began to happen.  And because I had “slogged” through those daily gratitude lists, I was able to see them, and appreciate them as they occurred.  After a few unsavory experiences with used car dealerships, we walked into a particular store and were warmly greeted.  For the first time, I felt like each person looked as us as just another human.  We were paired with a gentle soul from Nigeria whom had worked at this same location for 20 years and took deep pride in his work.  He was not paid on commission and spent hours working with us, never feeling harried or put-out.  He not only helped us find our dream vehicle, he figured out a way that we could afford it.  He gave us free credit-counseling advice, outlining a 3-5 year plan to establish credit (we are a one credit card family; a negative in today’s consumerism America!).   Then my mom stepped in to selflessly lend her name, backing our credit for the bank, so that we would get an interest rate under %5.

Friends graciously lent cars and emotional support.  We had some small gifts of “unexpected funds” come our way.  And yesterday I got news that my mole was benign. Thank, God!

And, I realized, after weeks of “getting by,” we were gifted a day of reprieve and then another.  And that this is the true miracle of life.  This new vehicle and all the angels who helped us to get here didn’t suddenly erase the physical and mental pain we are experiencing.  But it gave us Hope.  And hope is what gets us through the unbearable days. 

At some point, life lets up.  The miracle happens.  We just have to keep our minds, eyes, and hearts open to witnessing it.

Don’t give up.  You never know when your 5 minutes will arrive!

Creative Medicine for Pain Relief

One of my Colorful Manadalas

One of my Colorful Manadalas

I have discovered that some of the best medicine for pain relief is creativity!  There are so many benefits to engaging in Creative Therapy.  For me, the number one benefit is: distraction.  My mind becomes immersed in the activity at hand and before I know it I am no longer focused solely on my pain. It’s like the physical pain has transferred from my body to the page.  This technique is also extremely helpful in combating emotional and mental pain.  It can help one express the deep, painful feelings that can overwhelm without an outlet for release.  It can help one move towards healing.  Creative Therapy can help reduce stress, anxiety and tension.  I also find this approach deeply meditative; it can lead me into almost a trance state where my calm spirit is separated from my hurting body.  The pain becomes a distant entity.  It allows me to literally take a break from my pain. 

And the best thing is that you can do Creativity Therapy on your own or with a group, for no or little money, and at any time in almost any place (don’t know if I’d try it in the elevator, but you never know!).  If you are more comfortable learning techniques from someone else, there are certified Art Therapists and many cities offer Creative Wellness Centers with classes and open sessions.   Another option is to find a group of like-minded people on Meetup.com or to look into classes available at local churches, community centers or adult-ed classes at local high schools.

But, I want to take a time to explore all the options for doing Creative Therapy in your home.  Don’t get stuck up by saying, “but, I’m not an artist!”  This isn’t about creating “sellable art,” this is about free expression through creative outlets.  There is something for everyone and no one ever has to see your creation if you don’t want them to!  Here are some ideas to get you started…

  • Coloring Books!!… I find these extremely soothing.  My favorite are Mandala coloring books from Dover (found for <$5 on Amazon, etc.).  Mandalas have been used for centuries as meditation tools.  After mine are colored, I keep them to stare into when I am feeling stressed or in pain (sample above).

    "Sacred Place"  Collage

    “Sacred Place”
    Collage

  • Collaging… rip up pictures in old magazines and glue them onto a larger sheet of craft paper.  I love to collage “vision boards” ofthings I hope to achieve in my future, of things that make me happy (sunsets, babies, waterfalls) or of placesI’d like to visit.  You can make “word boards,” random collages, or collages that form a larger picture (like my “Sacred Place” ex.)
  • Knitting or crocheting… there are even weaving circles (at craft stores) for beginners that create a finished scarf!
  • Cross-Stitch or Latch Hook… with so many ready-made designs to choose from.
  • My Tasty Gluten Free Fruit Tart

    My Tasty Gluten Free Fruit Tart

    Cooking or Baking… yes, this is a creative activity, too!  Make something just for the heck of it.  I find this option very Zen; I spend thoughtful, purposeful time creating a visually appealing dish only to have it devoured soon after. Talk about a lesson on impermanence!

  • Gardening… create a pretty combo pot for your deck, porch or sunny window.
  • “Scratch-Off Books”… you can find these at the craft store; there are images hidden beneath black that you scratch away with the provided tool to uncover scenes beneath.
  • Zen-Tangles!… an awesome, new take on doodling.  Look for books online or in the library to get you started. Once you pick up a few different patterns, all you need is a sharpie and a notepad to create interesting, engaging, repetitive pieces anywhere.
  • Card Making… make cards with any of the techniques above and then spend a little time writing a personal note to a friend, loved one, or even yourself!
  • Photography… a great way to get you out in nature and become mindful about your surroundings.
  • Simple Beading… string a pattern of beads on elastic or “memory wire” to create a meditation mala/bracelet (say a mantra for each bead as you “travel” around your wrist).
  • FiMo… PlayDough for adults!  Roll and shape into abstract or formed designs and then bake them.
  • Decoupage… buy a cheapy cardboard trinket box at the craft store and use ModPodge to paste on collage pictures. Coat with an extra layer of ModPodge to seal.
  • Origami… I love trying to reach my life long goal of a “1000 Cranes for Peace”

PHEW!!!! Now pick just one and indulge your creative self today!  Then let me know how it felt and if you have any other ideas to share!

Here’s another blogger’s take on Creativity and Emotional Expression : http://myfibrotasticlife.wordpress.com/2013/09/10/the-importance-of-outlets-to-express-emotions/