#TherapyThursday Blog

Survivorship 0 comments on A mindful leap towards courage

A mindful leap towards courage

As I have written about in previous posts, when you are getting ready to process a major life event, it is important to find your jump off point. The jump off point is some aspect of your experience that is easily accessible, like a gateway into your conscious experience that through art will lead you to the less conscious material that is ready to be released.

I have been working on an art therapy workbook for people who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. The exercise below is in it, to help get people prepared for the sensation of diving in. I’m sharing it today as a sneak peek at what is to come…

Try using this visualization to practice the art of jumping off:

  • Before selecting a image or place to jump off from, think of how you want to feel as your jumping. Do you want to feel excited? Courageous? Playful? Willing? Worthy? A combination of feelings? I recommend thinking about an essence that feels inviting and inclusive.
  • Next, think about the environment you would want to be jumping off in, you might have several that you ultimately practice in your mind. Do you wish to be indoors or outdoors? Do you wish to be jumping into water or something cozy? Are you by yourself or with others? What are you wearing or are you naked? Is there something wild you’d like to try as you jump? Or do you wish to feel deeply safe and secure? What does the air feel like around you? Do you notice any sights, sounds, or smells? Do you wish it to be otherworldly, not recognizable to your daily surroundings?
  • Set aside 5-10 minutes a day to practice visualizing yourself jumping off, taking notice of how you feel about practicing it, seeing if over time if you become more detailed and more comfortable.
  • Finally, as you practice this exercise, see what bubbles up as to what happens next- what do you do and how do you feel about it? This insight will likely support you in understanding your nature and needs moving forward!

I included this visualization exercise in the book because it can be rather intimidating to begin actively processing something like cancer. This exercise is similar to the process of dipping your toe into water, to help acclimate you to the temperature- or in this case, to help acclimate you to taking a leap of faith.

We can build courage for the next step in many different ways. For those of you who try out this visualization, I’d love to hear about your experience! Feel free to comment below or to send me a private email.

-Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, and a former oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing emotionally from cancer. Through Creative Transformations, she works with people in person and online to offer the self assessment toolcancer coaching, an Art as Therapy program, virtual workshops, and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss a blog and find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Healing via Creativity 0 comments on What is the magic that I teach? ESP (and no, it’s not the psychic kind)

What is the magic that I teach? ESP (and no, it’s not the psychic kind)

I have been working on this project, something that I hope to announce to you in the nearish future. I mention it now, because that work keeps me reflecting upon why what I do has such an impact for my clients. This reflection speaks to the power of art and creativity for healing, and as I thought about why, the letters ESP came to mind.

What does ESP stand for?

  • Express
  • Soothe
  • Process

Unpacking the cancer leftovers is a big job and often you do what you can to manage it. Often you tuck aside (or rather, inside) the life altering moments that continuously crash into you as you keep your head above water. Yet despite your best efforts, at some point you are either too saturated or reminded by being triggered, and it starts to tumble on out.

Very uncomfortable for most of us! Yet these are the stories that must be told so that you can begin to release what you have been holding onto out of survival.

How does E.S.P. work together?

Express

When you start to unpack the stories, you might experience it as that closet you have been jamming all those things you don’t have anywhere else to put. It is something that at any moment the delicate balance of each part working together can be disrupted, and all of the sudden an avalanche occurs and it spills out everywhere.

OR

The process of tucking things aside has started to numb or freeze those thoughts and feelings- but you have become such a champ at shutting them down, the freezer has gone Awol and has frozen your ability to feel and think about the things you want to experience. And you fear that the defrost cycle will be too intense.

SO

You look to art and creativity to begin to express what you see, and the more comfortable you become with the process, you begin to find ways to re-organize or unfreeze these thoughts, feelings, and experiences so that you can process them with less overwhelm.

Soothe

As you begin to express yourself, you begin to develop ways of responding, not reacting, to what is coming forth. Using art/creativity supports you in engaging your creative problem solving skills, because unlike the mind (which may have an agenda), the art is speaking for this part of you that has been shut down or shoved aside.

The art leads you to contemplate what you need in that moment, which is often some form of soothing- or validation- of what you have been through. When you choose to soothe or validate your experience, your nervous system can relax- slowing down the need for fighting or fleeing.

Process

Once you have expressed and soothed yourself, you can begin the last and most juicy step that everyone wants- the repacking of the suitcase. This repacking is WAY more intentional- it is not a reaction, it is a response. It is where you make meaning out of your experience, it is where you feel more empowered to choose how it informs who you have become.  This helps you to integrate this part of your life story back into your identity, which recalibrates it to allow for you to not always have it dominating your world.

What does it look like if you’re only doing one or two of them, but not practicing the sacred trine?

If you get stuck in expression, you will likely feel like things are always falling apart, with no end in sight. You will likely feel exhausted.

If you get stuck in soothing, you will likely be stuck with habits that temporarily numb you, but have a high cost to your health and wellbeing over time. You will likely feel dependent.

If you get stuck in processing, you will likely feel like you are stuck in rumination, always coming to the same dead end because you have not really unpacked what happened or nurtured yourself. Rather you have started to read at the final chapter of the story, hoping that all of your questions will be answered.

This is why emotional healing must include the sacred trine, because after all cancer has taken enough from you. While this might not be a lesson in becoming a psychic, the insight you will gain from regularly practicing this trine via creativity and art- the more you will feel like one!

Do you want to start talking with others who are also looking to develop their powers of E.S.P? Request to join my private FB group- Creating Connections with Creative Transformations, by clicking here. We’d love to have you!

-Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, and a former oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing emotionally from cancer. Through Creative Transformations, she works with people in person and online to offer the self assessment toolcancer coaching, an Art as Therapy program, virtual workshops, and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss a blog and find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Healing Spirit 0 comments on Finding your jump off point

Finding your jump off point

This week’s blog may seem to contradict last week’s blog about the art of toe dipping, as perhaps your definition of jumping off likely means into water that is deep enough to allow it.

In this context, the jump off point is the place that you choose to begin when you are ready to consciously start unpacking the baggage cancer has left you.

However, I still like to call it a jump off point, because it is an act of bravery and courage to consciously decide that you are going to unpack that baggage. The experience of having cancer is so multi-layered, so complex emotionally, that it is reasonable to feel the desire to avoid unpacking it. It can seem overwhelming to do.

With that in mind, I define the jump off point as:

The jump off point is the entry point, in any given moment, that is going to allow you to begin the process of exploration through dialogue, writing, and art. It is the intuitive place inside of you that knows you are about to strike gold.

The jump off point is the place closest to the surface (ie your conscious mind) in which you are aware you feel something profound- whether it be a memory, a thought or a feeling

When I am in a healing session, the jump off point is one of the first things I guide my clients to feel energetically. It is something that takes practice, but over time it becomes easier and easier.

I often use the image of tentacles or roots to describe what it is like to follow a jump off point. When you are in the process of exploration- it can be so surprising to see how your psyche has interconnected your ‘here and now’ life experiences with the ‘there and then’ of the past. The more comfortable you can become with accepting that reality, the more likely you are to heal.

I often find that healing the present draws certain parallels to the unfinished business of the past- something that we begrudgingly can come to accept. Dang it universe for directing us towards resolving our suffering! (yes, a little humor can go a long way towards loosening the tension this brings)

Where do you feel you are being asked to jump off from? I’d love to hear it in the comments below or send me a private message via email!

PS- When you find your jump off point, I still highly recommend that you practice the art of toe dipping. Slow and steady wins the race!

-Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, and a former oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing emotionally from cancer. Through Creative Transformations, she works with people in person and online to offer the self assessment toolcancer coaching, an Art as Therapy program, virtual workshops, and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss a blog and find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 

Healing Self 0 comments on The art of toe dipping

The art of toe dipping

Did you feel the thrill of jumping right into the water when you were a kid? Of completely immersing yourself and playing underwater games, like having a tea party? The exuberance of being weightless as you splashed around? The freedom of trusting innately in your environment and the freedom of being so warm as a young person.

As an adult, are you less likely to just jump in without some form of preparation? Are you more wary of how the environment might impact you- the shock of the cold, the need to be mindful of others- especially if you are the adult responsible for children? Do you ease yourself in to respect the fact that your body needs time to adjust?

Or perhaps you avoid going in at all, which in the short run perhaps protects yourself from being cold yet also prevents you from experience the bliss of floating and feeling lighter than when you are on solid ground.

When you have been through something significant, like a cancer diagnosis and treatment, it can be overwhelming to imagine that you can wade through the thoughts and feelings that come along with the experience. You might perceive that the only options are to jump completely in, as you do not see a gentle way of easing in, and hope you can keep your head above water OR to avoid it all together.

It doesn’t help that the culture of the USA tends to have a mindset of all or nothing. Our propensity to live in the extremes, especially when it comes to our health and wellness, often sets us up for failure. And when we are faced with less tangible, less observable and unclear challenges, this dichotomy can become even more extreme.

Emotionally if you can identify a path or a map for healing as a cancer survivor, you can begin to break it down into pieces and parts that need to be addressed. This is why I developed the comprehensive self assessment form for survivorship, which you can access for free by clicking here.

Having a map is important, but in order to begin the journey you need to have the following lined up to support it:

  • a method or process for how you will travel from point A to B and beyond
  • an understanding of the support people you need to have in order to make it- often a blend of providers, family, friends and other cancer survivors that can get you the provisions you need (physical, emotional, spiritual, etc)
  • a compass that can help you find your way when you realize that your map did not have all destinations listed
  • provisions that will allow you to refuel yourself to support your resiliency
  • self awareness to support the undertaking- recognizing when you are ready to move and when you are needing to stop and rest
  • realistic expectations of how long it will take you

Learning to dip your toe into the emotional waters that surround cancer involves being patient, compassionate and understanding of yourself and your boundaries of when you are starting to feel overwhelmed. This is why using art can be such a powerful METHOD of traveling from point A to B, as the art happens through developing a deep connection to yourself and your experience. Check out what I wrote on the How art Helps page for more details on why.

I’m curious- if you were to imagine dipping your toe into the emotional waters that surround your cancer experience- where do you think you would begin? Feel free to share below or write me a private message!

-Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, and a former oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing emotionally from cancer. Through Creative Transformations, she works with people in person and online to offer the self assessment toolcancer coaching, an Art as Therapy program, virtual workshops, and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss a blog and find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Healing Self 0 comments on Sending love to the highly conscientious

Sending love to the highly conscientious

Have you ever felt guilty for being negative and perhaps feared you caused something to happen?

Are you the sort of person who often feels responsible for when something has gone wrong- yet often do not hold others accountable the way you do yourself?

Do you spend time ruminating about how to fix situations or do you find it hard to accept reasonable feedback from others because you feel ashamed that they needed to even give you feedback in the first place?

If so, it may be that you are someone who takes being conscientious and accountable to a level that goes from being healthy to harmful. This can happen for a number of reasons, a common one is being a parentified child. In essence, a parentified child is someone who was raised in a manner that they felt responsible for meeting their own needs, and likely the needs of the parents and family, rather than having faith that a parent was available to fill that roll.

When you are a parentified child, you are meeting needs and responsibilities that are beyond your capabilities, and when the parent fails to recognize this- the message that often becomes internalized is “I am not good enough”. This painful message drives you to try an adapt to the situation, to try and overcome the impossible, which often is not successful and creates a deep sense of failure and insecurity.

Imagine the impact of being diagnosed with cancer on someone who is a parentified child. The challenges of trying to accept what has happened, the challenges of moving forward staring the deep stress of the unknown and uncertainty that cancer brings, the challenges of confronting that even with your best efforts you are not in complete control of your destiny.

I’ve been there. I remember my initial sense of relief that I tested positive for the BRCA2 genetic mutation… because I felt like that let me off the hook for being “responsible” for getting cancer. That is how pervasive the needs can be of a parentified child- because sadly, while this might have bought me “grace” from being the one who failed to be good enough to avoid cancer- it also puts my kids at higher risk of having cancer. I clearly do not want that for them or their offspring and so this response raised my awareness of how I had emotional healing to do related to being a parentified child (yet again!).

This awareness is an example of how deeply impacted your psyche is by the experience of having cancer. It truly touches upon every aspect of your life, especially the areas in which you continue to carry wounds.

It’s a reminder that being tender and compassionate with yourself is an important part of healing emotionally from cancer, because some of those old beasties are going to raise their heads- along with all of the tentacles of experiences, memories and self beliefs that beast is attached to.

For better or worse, it is an opportunity to stare those beasts straight in the eye and to question their validity, while sorting through what salve will be needed in order to soothe the wounds that reopened again.

For these are the stories which must be told in order for our souls to be free.

-Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, and a former oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing emotionally from cancer. Through Creative Transformations, she works with people in person and online to offer the self assessment toolcancer coaching, an Art as Therapy program, virtual workshops, and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss a blog and find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Healing Self 0 comments on The mountains you never imagined you would climb

The mountains you never imagined you would climb

This week is the 19th anniversary of my mother’s final peak on her Appalachian Trail through hike- 2,100+ miles from Georgia to Maine. Two weeks from now is the 18th anniversary of her death from metastatic breast cancer. Yes, it is true that life can fully upend itself in a New York minute. On or around the first anniversary of finishing her remarkable hike, my mom made the decision to stop active treatment for cancer- it was not working and treatment was seriously impacting any quality of life that she had left.

As you might imagine, it was incredibly painful that her death fell in the month of October, because it is breast cancer awareness month. Until I became a cancer survivor myself, I had no community to share that agony with, nor did I fully appreciate why this is such a tender month for those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.

The grieving process took a long time to fully heal from, and I recall feeling like every October I was doing that death grip on the cliff that kept me from completely losing myself in the ocean of longing, isolation, and despair. This is one of the dark sides of being a caregiver, as we are often less visible and behind the scenes, supporting our loved ones.

When I was diagnosed with cancer, my treatment started in October, which added a new layer of meaning to the month- as well as a new layer of understanding who my mom was and what she had been through. Especially since I had become a mother myself, with children who were much younger than I was when she was first diagnosed.

The other thing that I did not realize about breast cancer awareness month until I was diagnosed with cancer itself, is that fundraising and research dollars are not spent equitably for metastatic cancer research. The death rate has not changed in the past 20 years- even though 30% of all breast cancer cases are metastatic and disproportionately impact younger women. With the multitudes of fundraising purportedly done during October and in numerous breast cancer walks, triathlons, etc., this was shocking to learn. Organizations like Metavivor are seeking to turn the tide, so if you are looking for somewhere to give that directly impacts metastatic breast cancer research- check them out.

In beginning this work with Creative Transformations, I think about the importance of creating community- for it is isolation that creates a significant amount of pain. Recently I have begun a private FB group- Creating Connections with Creative Transformations:

A membership community of cancer survivors (active treatment/not), previvors, and caregivers, who are actively using the tools and guidance of Creative Transformations, LLC. A sacred space to share your art-as-therapy creations, to receive and give support, to enhance your connection with those who GET IT- in a caring, compassionate, and genuine way.

Would you like to join us, especially during this month of Pinktober? If so, click here to request to join. Caregivers are more than welcome to join in as well!

For my community of motherless daughters who are also survivors & previvors, I see you… in all of the mixed up, layered emotions that this combo can bring.

-Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, and a former oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing emotionally from cancer. Through Creative Transformations, she works with people in person and online to offer the self assessment toolcancer coaching, an Art as Therapy program, virtual workshops, and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss a blog and find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.