#TherapyThursday Blog

Healing via Creativity 0 comments on Deep in the feels of the feely feels

Deep in the feels of the feely feels

Yes- I am feeling both silly and sad, reflective and energized, and deep in the feels of the feely feels. I like to call this type of time an emotionally dense moment- for the feelings I am feeling are seeping with intensity and flare.

It’s October, a month that is personally loaded with major life milestones and memories… a month that is huge for the breast cancer community (“patients” and loved ones alike)… a month that stirs all the feels- asking you to somehow bare witness to it all. Something that for most of us is tremendously hard to do.

So when you are feeling all of the feely feels- what is your instinct?

Do you build a wall of protection, to safeguard you from falling apart but one that also prevents you from connecting?

Do you find a deep need to flee away- escaping from the pain that beckons at your doorstep?

Do you stuff the feelings so far in that you end up feeling numb or disconnected from recalling exactly what it was that you pushed away?

The thing is, if you want to feel authentic joy and connection, you cannot afford to only allow certain thoughts and feelings into the party while excluding those which cause you alarm. They come as a package.

Often we feel like it is impossible to allow all of the feels to be present at the same time- it feels completely overwhelming. Yet often it is our fear that prevents us from exploring the possibility of creating a container large enough to allow them to be.

Because this month is so tender, I want to offer what I can to my community. As I mentioned in a video yesterday, I recently opened a closed FaceBook group- Creating Connection with Creative Transformations. I’d love to spend this month with you all using art, creativity, and check ins with one another to help you build that container. You can find the group by going to Creative Transformations’ FaceBook page or by emailing me.

-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 Deep in the messiness…

Deep in the messiness…

Hello again! I can’t believe that it has been a month since I last wrote a #TherapyThursday blog. I have been deep in the messiness of transition and growth this September, which I totally underestimated… most likely a blessing (ie to be a bit naive about what was about to happen) but one that had me coming to terms with needing to be in the flow of all the messiness that change can bring.

I saw this phrase as in response to someone who bravely voiced her vulnerability about how others seem to be managing cancer treatment ending better than she was. I thought ‘Oh how the tentacles of self judgment, shame and guilt can seep into our psyche!’

As Nietzsche said:

When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago.

Comparison leads us to distorted places.

Deep in the messiness- when you have been told “you have cancer” it is abundantly clear that life is much messier and unpredictable than you tend to accept when you are moving through the repetitiveness of daily life. This reality is thrust forcibly into your face- and the ripple effect trails into every sector of your life.

Yet as humans, we deeply yearn for the safety and security that homeostasis- or equilibrium- that predictability brings. Anyone coping with cancer, or life after cancer treatment ends, seeks the safety of a lifeboat that offers protection from the constant storm which brews in your body, mind, spirit and self.

However, cancer and post treatment pose a tremendous challenge to this deep need, because in order to find a sense of protection, safety and predictability, you need to accept the antithesis of these deep needs insecurity, vulnerability, and uncertainty. Conditions which drive us to those ideas we conquered long ago.

You may wish for swift resolution; still, moving swiftly towards resolution typically involves some form of suppression. This was why I had such deep appreciation for the post described above- because by sharing this moment of authenticity and bravery with her community- the community replied to honor and hold her when it was needed most.

When you are at the point when life seems to be profoundly messy, profoundly steeped in emotional energy- sometimes what you need the most is a lifeline that you can grasp onto while you feel immersed. If you are someone who is at the point of ending cancer treatment and you are feeling overwhelmed by what to do next- I recommend signing up for the free survivorship self assessment form I offer on my website. The week of October 8th, I will be offering a 5 day virtual week to support you through the completion of that assessment, a week that seeks to support and build a community amongst survivors. Learn more by clicking this link!

-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 from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, she works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, an Art as Therapy program, workshops, and this weekly blog. Check out the individual packages, the self assessment tool, and virtual workshops.  Sign up today so you never miss a blog and find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Healing Mind 0 comments on Just to be safe…

Just to be safe…

As a cancer survivor- do the words above make your skin crawl?

They never used to bother me much, but following a cancer diagnosis, these words are almost always followed by some sort of procedure- likely a scan- because rather than make assumptions, the direction is to err on the side of caution, just to be safe.

On one hand, it is certainly not super helpful to leave the unknown up to your imagination. When it comes to cancer, it is really hard not to fear the worst when you are facing uncertainty. Staying totally zen when your onc has found something that they want to “take a look at” is a high expectation to have of yourself, and if you try to cling to that expectation- the internal reaction is likely to be more intense. As I have written before, our feelings are messengers, and they do not appreciate being ignored.

On the other hand, hearing the plan that unfolds from the desire “to be safe”, has you staring straight into the abyss. If you were to imagine that the only way across the abyss was the finest of tightropes, you would be compelled to walk it and likely it would scare the heck out of you. Yet it would be far more logical to cross the abyss using the tightrope, rather than trying to run and jump over it.

When your onc suggests a scan, just to be safe, it is in service of trying to find out important facts- rather than working off of hypothesis. This is crucial, yes, but the tests that follow stir the massive pot of SCANxiety, which in turn requires you to slow down and find a way to support yourself through it.

You may be wondering- how can I support myself through it? Being a big believer in only using compartmentalization as a last resort- this means finding ways to sit with the turmoil within, without getting attached to the thoughts and feelings that are mostly reacting to fear. A tall order.

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you are not going to be surprised that I am advocating for art making and creativity as a critical part of supporting yourself. If you want to learn how, I highly recommend you check out the virtual workshop I am running in September, SCANxiety: Taming the BEAST thru art. You can read all about it by clicking here. I hope you can make it!

-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 from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, she works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, an Art as Therapy program, workshops, and this weekly blog. Check out the individual packages, the self assessment tool, and virtual workshops.  Sign up today so you never miss a blog and find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Healing Body, Intimacy and Parenting 0 comments on Censoring our scars = Censoring our pain

Censoring our scars = Censoring our pain

Yesterday I had an amazing conversation with Sondra, one of the masterminds behind Bullshit Breast Cancer. Sondra and Mia started Bullshit Breast Cancer to offer a safe place for breast cancer survivors, women and men alike, to share their stories and support one another, offering tips, suggestions and resources.

We talked about so many things, one of them being the emotional harm that comes with being censored by social media, by being locked out of your account, when images of chests post surgery are shared. Shut down, locked out, without any inquiry to clarify your reason for the post, no opportunity to explain, educate, or stick up for yourself.

An invisible, unseen hand that not only represses an expression of vulnerability, but likely leaves you with the indirect message that what you did was shameful.

Speaking for myself, when I see someone’s post about their mastectomy, their reconstruction or their decision to go flat (ie no reconstruction), I see someone who is willing to be brave, who is trying to make sense of what has happened to them, who is trying to express that breast cancer is not an awesome opportunity to get a “boob job” for free. I see someone who is seeking to connect with others, to share personally what they have been through, to show a different angle on beauty and strength. I see someone just like me, and it gives me comfort, hope, inspiration, and a sense that I am altered, yet I am worthy of love and affection.

I understand that if you are not a part of the breast cancer community, you might not understand the power of these images. However, I think we need to look very carefully at taking responsibility for our discomfort, rather than having a knee jerk reaction to censor what we don’t understand.

Censoring does not just apply to social media or large organizations- it happens in our most intimate relationships. The ways in which we hide ourselves because we see someone’s discomfort, fear or rejection of who we are or what we have been through. Or we worry that we will be rejected, so we preemptively do it to ourselves, for protection and preservation of the relationship.

Many cancer survivors have felt this, of someone turning away, disconnecting, or censoring who they are (or what they are willing listen to). Often this is driven by that person’s own fears, own uncertainty, own incapacitation that they don’t know what to do. However, if a relationship is truly going to stand the test of time- the test of adversity- the test of cancer, censorship can’t go on. It will eat away and destroy the fabric of the relationship.

Rather than getting caught up in our own personal whirlpool of uncertainty, of complication… what if you did one brave act- the act of starting the conversation. You don’t need to know all of the answers, you don’t need to solve the problem. What helps is the willingness to notice that something has changed and be willing to listen.

Overcoming censorship in our intimate relationships, the sort that keeps us hiding who we are and how we feel, is vital if we want to have deep intimacy with our loved ones. Just as spreading education, awareness and advocacy will hopefully impact the larger scale censorship that needlessly hurts a community that is trying to heal.

-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 from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, she works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, an Art as Therapy program, workshops, and this weekly blog. Check out the individual packages, the self assessment tool, and virtual workshops.  Sign up today so you never miss a blog and find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Healing Body 0 comments on Abrupt moments of awareness

Abrupt moments of awareness

Do you remember a moment in which you became acutely aware of how detached you had become from yourself?

A moment when something triggered your awareness that in order to survive treatment you had pulled away from being fully present in your body?

A moment when perhaps you had realized that the feelings of betrayal and fear of cancer had impacted your connection to your body, yourself?

For me, it was the touch of my physical therapist that reminded me my body still needed my love, support and attention. My breasts still existed in their altered form. They were still a part of me, even if it had been removed.

I had been fighting against really being able to look at myself in the mirror AND I had been having all the feels about how deconditioned my body had become, the body that had been so strong prior to cancer. Yet when I would notice my feelings, I would feel so conflicted knowing that I was so lucky to have been able to end treatment in the first place.

Yep, that first year post treatment was a constant up and down, back and forth, round and round in my head of so many thoughts and feelings.

They only began to quiet when I started the process of painting and drawing out my diagnosis and treatment experiences. Each time I sat down and leaned into what had happened, I was able to discharge the experience a little bit more from my psyche, leaving room for deeper awareness and letting go.

Allowing these experiences to no longer haunt me.

-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 from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, she works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, an Art as Therapy program, workshops, and this weekly blog. Check out the individual packages, the self assessment tool, and virtual workshops.  Sign up today so you never miss a blog and find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Healing Self 0 comments on Let’s make space for the elephants

Let’s make space for the elephants

Elephants are such majestic creatures, and I suppose it is their size that made them a great metaphor for the discomfort that comes from ignoring the elephant in the room.

I’m tired of the elephants being ignored- it does not serve you or me, in fact, I spend a lot of my worklife talking about the deep pain that one has when the elephant is being ignored, unacknowledged, dismissed, devalued, diminished…

We all deserve to be included, especially the elephants- because often they represent our most vulnerable selves. Since cancer reminds you that no one has a guarantee as to how long you will be on this planet, you no longer tolerate neglecting yourself or avoiding hard conversations- because one day there won’t be any more opportunity to have them.

Yet making space to have them is a whole other ball of wax, because while you might be motivated to unleash those elephants- your loved ones might not be. Pushing the boundaries of taboo subjects is always challenging- and when you throw in the profound undercurrent of uncertainty that cancer brings- it can drive you or someone you love to avoid, repress, dismiss, etc. even more avidly than before.

My advice is to begin with an invitation- an invitation to acknowledge the elephant. It is normal to be anxious about breaking down and breaking through, and it may not go well. But if the energy is presented as an invitation, that may be gentle enough to calm the defense mechanisms to find a place to begin.

Pre-work is often vital to making a successful invitation, unpacking your own feelings about this elephant and how it has impacted your relationship. This is a great time to break out the art journal and reflective writing AND a great time to get support from a trusted friend, therapist, group. Not only is this excellent self care, self validation, and building self understanding, but it will help prevent you from roaring into the conversation like a lion, due to your own vulnerable feelings.

Here are some of the most prominent elephants out there, related to cancer:

  • facing the fear of dying, of being alone
  • changes in sexual functioning and intimacy
  • body image and self worth
  • feeling abandoned by our treatment team
  • feeling hurt by how our support system reacted to our cancer diagnosis, treatment, etc
  • fear of the future, fear of cancer recurrence and growth
  • separation and isolation- feeling left out of the “sea of normalcy”- especially when you are Stage 4

And so forth.

To invite the elephants in, you need to grow your capacity to be with your vulnerability, your ability to stand with life as it is, discerning when you need walls of protection AND when you don’t. Walls are important to have with people who are toxic. Yet they also serve to cut us off from being deeply connected to sources of love, compassion, connection. Developing the ability to discern who it is safe to let in, begins with developing a deep connection to yourself- so that you can trust your instinct about people you meet.

I leave you this week with a wonderful Ted Talk by Brené Brown on vulnerability.

-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 from a life threatening illness or injury. Through Creative Transformations, she works with people in person and online to offer cancer coaching, an Art as Therapy program, workshops, and this weekly blog. Check out the individual packages, the self assessment tool, and virtual workshops.  Sign up today so you never miss a blog and find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.