Healing Self, Healing via Creativity 0 comments on Unexpected opportunities

Unexpected opportunities

In a couple of weeks, I will be packing up my boobs and mailing them off to Illinois.  That is, the casts of my breasts, that I have used as the canvas to process my experience of having cancer.  They will be a part of an art show, curated by the artist Caren Helene Rudman, at the Evanston Art Center titled “Undefinable: Women’s Health in America”.  I am so thrilled and honored to be included with this group of artists, who are exploring a wide range of health issues and their impact on each individual artist.

I’ve never been in an art show before, and thinking of myself as an artist can send me cringing.  Yet, when I look at what I produced thus far, I do feel deeply that each cast really reflects my experience, and that lends me confidence to send a piece of myself off to be witnessed by others, and hopefully be in service of whatever healing they are seeking.  Since this is an opportunity that found me, I am going to trust that I am worthy of it.

Having a life threatening illness is not something that any of us wishes for; however, the unexpected opportunities that arise because of it often bring richness into our lives.  In particular, the retreats and conferences that exist for the survivors.  I recently presented the workshop, Building Resiliency, at a breast cancer retreat weekend that has been operating for 30 years.  Listening to the women, it was clear that while none of them ever wanted to have cancer, the relationships they built with other survivors and life transformations that happened as a result were priceless.

Being a part of that club gives us the opportunity to confront the 4 universal fears that I have referenced before- fear of being along, of dying, of losing freedom, of losing our sense of purpose.  Facing them head on is an opportunity to grow, to evaluate the direction of our lives, and to consider making some changes that allow us to question what might be expected of us and take chances by going the unanticipated path.

Recognizing the opportunities doesn’t mean squelching the much needed grieving process that any significant loss of innocence entails, it is the opposite.  In order to fully live each breath that we are given in this life, it is important to create space for the full story to co-exist side-by-side.

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, who works as an oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, Stephanie works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, a DIY Individual Art Therapy program to enhance any healing work you are undertaking; workshops; and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Healing Self, Survivorship 0 comments on For when you’ve lost your way in the sea of normalcy

For when you’ve lost your way in the sea of normalcy

Have you ever felt adrift in a sea of normalcy? In which everywhere you look it appears as if everyone is carrying on as usual, and you are not, even though on the surface it may appear as if nothing has changed…

It’s soccer season here in the Northeast, the crispness of fall air is starting to appear, and I am on the verge of my 3rd cancerversary.  I was diagnosed just days after my youngest started kindergarten, and just a week or so into their fall soccer season.

Every weekend, just a few blocks from our house, the fields would morph into a sea of kids all dressed in their uniforms and parents, eager to watch their kids and connect with their adult friends.  The year I was diagnosed, it was such an odd place to be in, I was immersed in a sea of normalcy, while my life was anything but normal.  I might as well have been lost on an island, because as hard as I tried, I really could not connect with what was going on.

We were coming to terms with what was happening to us.  We were shell shocked, so to be out and about in public felt like being in an alternate dimension, kind of like the Twilight Zone.  Everything looks familiar- but there is a certain quality of surrealism and unease that keeps you from fully relaxing.

Cancer, of course, is not the only thing that puts us in that boat.  Any significant life change can create that jarring sense of discord, even when the change is positive.

Besides coping with the actual curve ball that has been thrown your way, the other major challenge of these moments is sitting with the unknown and sitting with our mortality.  Even when the prognosis looks promising, on some level we are being reminded that no one lives forever.

It’s understandable if your gut instinct is to want to paddle like hell to any possible shore that you can find.  Yet often there is value with learning to accept the fact that you are adrift, and rather than rushing away from it, finding a way to center and ground yourself enough to simply be with it.

There was a story this summer in the paper of a family with local ties, who had recently returned after sailing around the world for 6 years with their young children.  The family had spent time living in various communities, but they also were often at sea for long periods of time.  In the interview, I was struck by how the youngest child described his response to the high seas, storms and ocean crossings:

“I was asleep the whole time,” he said with a shrug. “They’re just big waves.”

If you find yourself adrift, perhaps you can borrow some of the essence of what this 9 year old did instinctively, re-defining what could have been catastrophic into something more manageable, yet honoring what is rather than minimizing it.  It’s going to take some time before you find your way, and through acceptance we reduce the suffering that we feel in this moment of uncertainty. As Pema Chödrön wisely advises:

Sticking with uncertainty is how we learn to relax in the midst of chaos, how we learn to be cool when the ground beneath us suddenly disappears

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, who works as an oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, Stephanie works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, a DIY Individual Art Therapy program to enhance any healing work you are undertaking; workshops; and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Healing Body, Healing Self, Survivorship 0 comments on What does furniture off-gassing and emotional healing have in common?

What does furniture off-gassing and emotional healing have in common?

Yes, I am trying to make you smile, but actually I also believe that this metaphor has a lot of significance. Here’s how it works in my mind…

Several years ago, we bought a Tempurpedic mattress. Once it was set up, we were so delighted that we would be sleeping on the most comfy mattress we had ever had. However, in order to fully reap the rewards of the mattress, we needed to accept and move through the off-gassing process. We couldn’t avoid it, we certainly weren’t going to return the mattress, because we knew that in the long run it was all going to be worth it.

The emotional healing process is quite similar. There are going to be times that we begin to reap the reward of taking the time and energy requires to heal ourselves; however, to do this we must walk through the process of off-gassing, i.e., releasing the aspects of your experience that caused suffering. When you have been diagnosed with cancer, your body, mind, spirit and sense of self has to store these events that we can’t fully process in order to cope with the crisis we face.

As we begin to heal, the triggers which set off the cascade of unfinished healing reminders, are kind of like the process of furniture off-gassing. It can strike us at unexpected times, prevent us from feeling fully comfortable, and the only way to heal it is to find ways to support yourself through the process.

So why are metaphors important in healing?  They are important because they help to transform something that is deeply personal, quite vulnerable, and subject to self criticism/judgment into something that is more compassionate, more universal, a part of the human experience- allowing ourselves to see the possibility that we are not alone but rather a part of a community of fellow travelers who are also working through similar challenges.

Metaphors can also help to normalize and validate our experience.  We’d love to have our mattresses off-gas completely the moment we obtain them, but in reality it is a process of unfolding that takes time.  When we become more realistic about what it means to heal, we can begin to accept the process rather than fight it.  We can remind ourselves that eventually the mattress no longer smells like chemicals; therefore, if we allow ourselves to feel through an experience, one day those triggers will not be as painful as they once were.

Like the mattress, our bodies hold the most raw, unrefined aspects of our life experiences.  Our physical self is the receptacle of the energy and sensations that we have trapped inside in order to survive.  These sensations can not be rationalized or avoided, so we need to create the skills and conditions that allow them to be felt, understood, and released.

Like that song I used to sing as a kid, “Going on a lion hunt”, advised:

Can’t go over it.
Can’t go under it.
Can’t go around it.
Gotta go through it.

So the real question is- what do you need in order to sustain yourself as you find your way through emotional healing?

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, who works as an oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, Stephanie works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, a DIY Individual Art Therapy program to enhance any healing work you are undertaking; workshops; and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Healing Self 0 comments on Rebuilding self-confidence following a cancer diagnosis

Rebuilding self-confidence following a cancer diagnosis

One of the unexpected ways that a cancer diagnosis can impact our psyche is the effect it has on our sense of self confidence.  While self confidence exists on a spectrum, from low to over-confidence; as we mature, the goal is to have self confidence that is defined by a realistic appraisal of our judgment, ability, power, and so forth.  When our self confidence is based in reality, we can often feel capable of navigating the ups and downs of our lives as we know it.

However, hearing the words that you have cancer, isn’t something that most of us anticipate.  It brings us face-to-face with one of our deepest fears, our mortality.  It causes us to come to terms with our lack of control over our lives.  It asks us to take action and accept medical interventions that have serious side effects.  It asks us to take a major leap of faith, to trust that our doctors will be able to safely get us to the other side… This list could go on and on.

Since sitting with the unknown is such an uncomfortable place for most of us to be, we may struggle to accept the changes and confusion that this time brings.  Parts of our life that use to feel more effortless to navigate can suddenly feel foreign and unknown, causing further disruption in our self confidence. If we tie our self confidence to the desire to control the experience, we can deepen our pain.

In these moments of dire need, it is critical to find ways that allow us to stay present rather then kicking off the fight or flight response.  To do so, this often requires a blend of relaxation techniques that keep us inside of our bodies, while stoking the fires of resiliency that can help us tolerate the distress we feel in order to remain in tune with our lives for as long as we have the honor to live them.

Dictonary.com defines resilience as:

1. the power or ability to return to the original form, position,   etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity.
2. ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity,   or the like; buoyancy.
I find that when I don’t have the answer to a dilemma, I often seek guidance and inspiration to help me find my way.  I love the definition above, because when we are faced with a crisis, we may not know how to be or feel resilient.
However, if we pluck out the words “elasticity and buoyancy” from above, we can use them as a mantra for what we are seeking, moment to moment, to help us through.  We can apply this mantra to our body, mind, spirit or self.  When we focus on what we seek, we are much more apt to recognize it when it arrives.
For example, I continued to go to yoga during cancer treatment even though I knew that I would need to accept that my ability would be different.  Not only did this help keep my mind more elastic (i.e. willing to expand it’s ideas of what my yoga abilities were), but it became more buoyant (i.e. able to float in the unknown) because I really began to understand the concept of seeing what the yoga teacher was always talking about, being with what my body was capable of that day, in that moment.  This practice continued to grow my capacity for self compassion, which improved my resiliency and ultimately allowed me to feel deeply confident in my ability to face adversity.
In the documentary, Tig, Tig Notaro bravely allows us to witness how 3 traumatic life experiences that happened back to back, including a cancer diagnosis, effected her self confidence.  In my mind, this is such a gift because so frequently we hide behind a social mask when we are feeling so vulnerable.  To watch her stumbling forward, following her instinct to continue on despite the confusion, fear and sadness was really moving.
Cancer can be a transformative experience.  The trick is to continue to keep your well full enough, to give you the strength to move through it, embracing the vulnerability and trusting you will come out on the other side whole.
– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, who works as an oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, Stephanie works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, a DIY Individual Art Therapy program to enhance any healing work you are undertaking; workshops; and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.
Healing Self, Healing via Creativity 0 comments on Visual Journaling for Healing

Visual Journaling for Healing

As a therapist, I often hear from my clients about an intense moment that they had in between sessions, in which they wished that they had been with someone supportive. I think we all can relate to this dilemma, something triggers an strong reaction within our mind, body, spirit or self and we feel overwhelmed and alone.

For so many of us, this happens late at night, when our loved ones are asleep or perhaps we are all alone. Whatever the circumstances may be, the need is to help us ride the wave of the experience without falling into behaviors or thought patterns that do more damage than help.

Or perhaps you have just had one of those delicious “Ah-Ha!” moments, when something clicks and you stumble upon some meaningful insight into your experiences, and you want to capture it so that you can recall what it was, to lean into the juiciness of self discovery and healing, to create a deeper sense of letting go.

Then again, perhaps you are feeling a sense of confusion, unsure of what or how you are feeling yet knowing that there is some sort of turmoil or unease brewing inside. Your thoughts might not be able to do justice to understanding it. It is something less verbal.

This is where a visual journal can support your healing.

Metaphorically, I imagine a visual journal like one of those mason jars you might use to create a little habitat for a caterpillar to eventually morph into a butterfly. Inside the jar, you will continue to add bits of food, to nourish the caterpillar while it gently grows, preparing itself for the cocoon. In your journal, you are capturing moments, snapshots, of your experience as they wash over you, slowly building towards understanding, healing and transformation.

A caterpillar cannot morph into a butterfly overnight, it must work towards the goal, bit by bit. Each action it takes is imperative for its final transformation. Nor can we heal fully from the experience of facing cancer or another life threatening condition, without taking small steps to understand how it has impacted our body, mind, spirit, and self.

So if you are intrigued by this idea, give it a try. I recommend visual journalling, the process of transcribing our emotional, internal landscape onto paper through color, shape and form, because so often when we face a life threatening condition, words can only capture our experience up to a certain point. Through the practice of using art to symbolize our less verbal experiences, they become more tangible and easier to identify, allowing them to eventually be incorporated into our sense of self. Writing after we have spent time drawing, can help us to deepen the understanding. Over time, the pieces begin to come together.

If you are not sure where to begin, check out this blog post, Healing through Art and Writing, or consider contacting me for a free consultation. We can discuss your needs and I can share how I work with people virtually or in person.

Until next week…

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, who works as an oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, Stephanie works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, a DIY Individual Art Therapy program to enhance any healing work you are undertaking; workshops; and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Healing Self, Healing via Creativity 0 comments on Legacy’s impact on healing

Legacy’s impact on healing

This morning I found myself with some extra time, and it allowed me to spend some time at my art table working on the breast cast that represents the conclusion of treatment.  A few weeks ago, my creative self whispered an idea into my psyche and it really suited the metaphor of finishing the 9 months of active treatment.

I started to paint, and my consciousness started to drop into my body, into my memory of that moment.  As I was feeling my way through, I quickly understood that this was representational of my experience but new awareness of the under layer of that moment struck me.  I recognized something I never had consciously realized before, that part of my healing was related to my mom.  She had breast cancer twice, the first time she finished treatment, she was in remission.  The second time she finished treatment, she died two weeks later.

As I came to this understanding, my body tingled (a sign that I was on the right path), and my mind whispered- yes.  My spirit tapped into the unprocessed grief around these two endings, and my Self recognized an aspect of the experience that was deeply tied into my own experience of treatment ending.  A shared experience with my mom that we never had the chance to process.

I was in college during her first round of cancer, so while I was concerned and checked in frequently, I was not present for the day-to-day and I did not witness her ending treatment.  The one clear memory I have is of her sharing the reason why she went to weekly massage for one year post treatment- to help her body heal and release the poison.

The second ending I was present for, she had a terrible reaction to her final chemotherapy treatment, and in the discussion that followed with her doctor, we all came to the conclusion that it was time to stop.  I regret that I never had the chance to ask her about how she felt about ending (or if i did, I have no memory of it). I can make an educated guess, but I wish I had a memory of a direct conversation.

Once I identified the under-layer of this particular life moment, it was if a pop happened deep inside my body and psyche, the energy was released and I felt peaceful, calm and settled. Scientists have studied why animals in the wild do not show signs of PTSD, even though they confront life threatening circumstances frequently.  What they discovered was, if an animal survived an attack on its life, it would shake uncontrollably once it was safe again.  Releasing the energy and adrenaline after that event, rather than trying to control or stuff its experience.

As humans, we unfortunately often shut down that reaction, in a variety of ways.  And thus it gets trapped in our psyche, and always in our body which holds the rawest renditions of our life experiences.

I share this experience, because it demonstrates how important it is to give ourselves the opportunity to process and explore our significant life experiences.  If I had not sat down to do some art therapy around the experience of ending treatment, I would have not recognized this unmet need.  To me, this speaks volumes as I have actually spent a lot of time thinking about this moment and it’s impact on the body, mind, spirit, and self.  It was one of the critical moments in my life that propelled me into building what has become Creative Transformations.

We all carry legacy in our lives, it shows up in a variety of shapes and forms.  Even if your cancer story was not a part of the family legacy, it is important to listen to the cues our body, mind, spirit, or self send about when we are re-experiencing a personal moment tied into the legacy of our ancestors.  They are interwoven into the tapestry of our lives, and when we take time to unpack them- we learn so much about ourselves and our extended family.  As a therapist, I have witnessed time and time again how healing this awareness is to our sense of self.

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, who works as an oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, Stephanie works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, a DIY Individual Art Therapy program to enhance any healing work you are undertaking; workshops; and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Healing Self, Healing Spirit, Survivorship 0 comments on Acceptance + Gratitude = Full Spectrum Living

Acceptance + Gratitude = Full Spectrum Living

“Have you noticed this bump before?” asked my oncologist at a follow up appointment.

“Hmmm… I don’t think so” I replied (surprise and confusion (have I?) step into the room).

“I don’t see it mentioned in my notes, I think we should either decide to monitor it or schedule an ultrasound.  What would you like to do?” my onc replies.

“Ummm… (anxiety stops by to say hello) not sure.”  A little time passes as I mull it over.  As I was feeling the little bump, I asked for clarification where she considered the bump to be since my foobs tend to confuse my internal body map.

“The chest wall”.  (Adrenaline starts to flow, the chest wall is scary place for breast cancer survivors)

“Ultrasound please”

In the two weeks between the appointment and the ultrasound I knew I needed to practice acceptance of the various thoughts and feelings that crossed my path.  If I were to draw it, I imagine a narrow path surrounded by whirlpools and quick sand.  To continue on, I needed to be mindful that they were there, recognizing that I was capable of walking past them without having to be sucked into them or having to will them to go away.  They exist as a natural response to potential danger as well as reminders of the healing process all survivors need to walk through in order to heal.

Our culture tends to value the power of gratitude, which many of us interpret as focusing on what is positive.  As I have written before, I am a believer in positive thinking, but not when it is taken to the extremes of causing shame, guilt, avoidance, and so forth of our “negative” thoughts and feelings.  Interpreting feelings as being good or bad lends itself to black and white, concrete, judgmental thinking that deeply impacts our capacity to embrace the gray tones of flexibility, non-judgmental openness that are the building blocks of being a resilient person.

What we don’t always anticipate is that if we rely on repressing, avoiding, or freezing out all of the negative thoughts and feelings, we also repress our ability to feel confident, joyful, peaceful, content and so forth.  If we desire the positive feelings, we must make room for all of the other feelings as well.

In fact, if we proceed down the path of repression, we ultimately lose the capacity to feel anything at all.  While the short term impact may seem attractive since it alleviates pain, the long term implications are often very detrimental to our well being and can create a lot of anxiety about how to manage when finally we reach the point of no return and they erupt.

If our feelings are messengers that carry important information to help us survive, turning them off would be like turning off the emergency warning system that helps us prepare for a disaster (like the tsunami warning system).  Will the tsunami not come simply because we turned off the warning system?

Returning back to the title of this blog, practicing acceptance of our thoughts and feelings allows for a more complete and complex view of gratitude.  Gratitude for our blessings as well as for the challenges we have faced.  By accepting them, we access new levels of resiliency, which strengthen our ability to manage adversity and increase our confidence to do so.  And with that, we gain the opportunity to live more fully, more thoughtfully, more lovingly with ourselves and others.

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, who works as an oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, Stephanie works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, a DIY Individual Art Therapy program to enhance any healing work you are undertaking; workshops; and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Healing Self, Healing via Creativity, Survivorship 0 comments on Unpacking cancer’s baggage

Unpacking cancer’s baggage

Many moons ago a client told me about an article that she had read about the process of how and why therapy works.  She said the author described it as the process of unpacking our old baggage that we have been lugging around, exploring what is inside, and then repacking it in the manner and style we wish to.  This made sense to me, especially as often our baggage has items in it that we didn’t place in by choice.

Taking the time to unpack, observe and then re-pack allows us to let go of that which we no longer need and to be more conscious of what we are carrying around.  Sometimes we need to repeat this process over and over again, especially with those bags that hold our more tender, vulnerable, and intense experiences.  Through this process, we begin to make meaning from what we have been through and it’s importance in how it shapes who we are.

This week, I passed the two year marker of completing active treatment for breast cancer.  This day also happened to coincide with my kid’s final day of kindergarten and 2nd grade, along with other milestones for myself and my immediate family. BOOM it was done.  Another suitcase jammed full of experiences that we would need to unpack again when the time was right.

This anniversary marker has been floating in and out of my consciousness for the past week, but that afternoon I ended up with some free time, and thus it became first time I have given myself the opportunity to take a peak.  I was feeling out of sorts, wanting to be able to sift through efficiently and yet that was not in the cards for me.  Recognizing it wasn’t going to be a resolvable moment, I decided to just find a way to be with it rather that wrestle with the angst of not getting what I thought I wanted.

So here is what I did:

  • I found a way to accept where I was at
  • I found a quiet place to sit, and did a brief body scan- systematically going head-to-toe to observe what was happening inside myself
  • I quickly found this energy sitting in my chest, it was stingy, sore, uncomfortable.  I allowed myself to feel it
  • As I felt it, I increased my awareness of how my initial perception was changing, so I grabbed my art journal and supplies to put it on paper
  • I listened to my instinct about how to represent it, then finished with a few words to capture what was happening
  • I recognized that I was not going to be able to come away with a neatly re-packed suitcase.  That was not what my body and mind needed today, rather the need was to sit with the uncomfortable, the incomplete, the unknown.
  • I accepted that, closed my book, picked up my supplies, and walked away.

It’s impossible, said pride

It’s risky, said experience

It’s pointless, said reason

Give it a try, whispered the heart

-Unknown

I realize that it takes a lot of courage to face our baggage.  It can be overwhelming.  It does not have to be done alone.  The power of art and meditation can help us build a safe space in which to begin.  Allow your heart to guide you, and reach for support when you need it.

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, who works as an oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, Stephanie works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, a DIY Individual Art Therapy program to enhance any healing work you are undertaking; workshops; and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Healing Self, Healing via Creativity, Survivorship 0 comments on A Cancer Story told through Art

A Cancer Story told through Art

Last October I gave a talk called “A breast cancer story told through art”, in which I discussed the how and why art can be used to heal emotionally following cancer.  I interwove the art work and writing that I had done from my cancer treatment experience to illustrate the theory in action, hoping that it would inspire others to find their own unique creative voice for healing.

I have been re-listening to the talk in preparation for a presentation I am doing.  Giving the talk was one of the highlights of my life, to be able to tell the story and share how art has helped me to heal, was such an honor.  You will find below a photograph of my breast casts, that show the treatment experience, and a link to the audio recording.  Please enjoy!

Above- the casts, Below- the link to the audio recording

The wound is the place where the light enters you

Rumi

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, who works as an oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, Stephanie works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, a DIY Individual Art Therapy program to enhance any healing work you are undertaking; workshops; and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

 

Healing Mind, Healing Self 0 comments on Becoming empowered even in the face of uncertainty

Becoming empowered even in the face of uncertainty

Raise your hand if after you heard the words “you have cancer”, you did a lot of soul searching to figure out what you did to cause it.  It’s a natural impulse to look for reasons, but so often there is no easy answer.  Our actions and efforts can help to support our health in many ways, but they do not guarantee outcomes.  That’s a hard pill to swallow, especially if you have always tried to do the right thing.

When we base our security upon a belief that we are powerful when we are in control, we are left feeling highly vulnerable in this life. This is a common concern for those of us who have faced life threatening circumstances, because it is a natural response to want to have control when we face traumatic/life threatening situations.  Our brains are wired for survival, which means they can become hyper-vigilant about what is a threat to our safety.  Sometimes our brains get it right, but so often they attach meaning to innocuous things.

When we attempt to deal with a life threatening situation though logic or by trying to just “move on”, rather than processing it, our feelings can become the number one threat to our sense of control- and thus we spend a lot of time repressing those feelings.

Logic and rational thinking are important tools, but they are not omnipotent. Our feelings are the gatekeepers to our deepest wisdom, our intuition, and for the healing process.  They hold the material of our experience.  They are the messengers that want to be heard.  Even if they threaten our perception of control, they are the ones that will guide us through the experience.  They hold up the red flag, warn us that if we continue to try and control them rather than feel through them, we run the risk of damaging ourselves.

An empowered, resilient person is someone who can accept and respond to life and it’s curve balls.  Someone who does not need to control every moment in order to feel secure.  Someone who is connected to their core self, their emotions and who is present to what is happening.

Increasing your capacity to be empowered and resilient is something that we can all do, it is not a static process but something that evolves throughout the lifespan.

In fact, working on feeling empowered and resilient is ideal when you are facing a life threatening situation, because you will have ample opportunity to try it out and assess how you are doing.  Here are a few tips of where to begin:

  • Learn to slow down, when we are anxious or speeding around we keep the tension/adrenaline coursing through our bodies and this limits our ability to stay connected to ourselves
  • Allow your emotions to flow, when we become adept at experiencing our feelings as they occur they are less likely to build up inside ourselves and become overwhelming.  Imagine your feelings as messengers who need to simply alert you to important information
  • Revise your expectations, expectations are future based, which means they are predictions/guesses.  Even if you are an excellent strategist, it is impossible to know in advance everything, not only will this keep you engaged in trying to control, you might even miss information/opportunities that could help you if it does not match what you predicted.
  • Find ways to increase your sense of safety, this is so important, because when we are in a crisis we need to accept our circumstances and then value ourselves enough to create as much safety as we can.  Having a solid relationship with your medical team, spending time with loved ones who are compassionate, setting boundaries with those who are not capable of being supportive, connecting to others who are going through something similar- these are some examples of building safety even when danger exists.

You don’t need to do this in isolation.  For those of us who have prior histories of trauma or family dysfunction, becoming empowered may feel like a tall order.  If you are struggling, it’s an ideal time to engage in therapy.  If you’ve never been in therapy before, talk with your medical team as they will likely be able to connect you with resources.

– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, who works as an oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, Stephanie works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, a DIY Individual Art Therapy program to enhance any healing work you are undertaking; workshops; and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.