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, Healing via Creativity 0 comments on The Cancer Family Tree

The Cancer Family Tree

In May, I had the chance to work on an art piece that explores both my immediate family cancer history and the sisterhood/brotherhood that is formed between all cancer warriors.  This interconnection is so powerful yet so bittersweet, because it asks us to not only face our own mortality, but the mortality of those we know and love.

One of the hardest aspects to face is a sense of survivor guilt.  In fact, independent of the severity of someone’s cancer, if you ask someone how they are doing they will almost always relay some way in which they have it easier than others who have cancer.  This humility is often at the core of empathy yet may also be a signal that survivor guilt is present.

While the presence of survivor guilt is a very natural response, it is important to be mindful of how much impact it is having on those who feel it.  If it is triggering a desire to isolate or withdraw, then it is imperative to seek out someone who can help you work through it.

When I made the original cast pictured below, I felt a release of something important, but at the time I could not express myself.  Earlier this week, I realized it was time to re-visit the cast to learn what it wished to tell me.

I leave you today with the poem that arose as I sat quietly with the cast.

The Cancer Family Tree

Our story is not unique

The pattern repeats itself over and over

The cancer code crawls through the family tree

Sparing some, taking others

Living with the possibility

You are next on its target list

 

Her story is not unique

The pattern repeats itself over and over

She had cancer once, and then it came back

Her valiant efforts were not enough

To stop it in its tracks

 

My story is not unique

The pattern repeats itself over and over

14 years after burying my mother

The doctor called to say “You have cancer”

A bittersweet moment of deep inter-generational connection

Walking in her shoes, this time from the perspective of daughter and mother

 

Our story is not unique

The pattern repeats itself over and over

The sisterhood and brotherhood of cancer warriors

Binds us tightly together

And while our story may be common

EACH ONE OF US IS UNIQUE

For the effect cancer has on our lives

Intimately impacts us in deeply personal ways

From my heart to yours, Namasté.

– 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, 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 via Creativity 0 comments on Chilling with your cells thru art and meditation

Chilling with your cells thru art and meditation

When I was diagnosed with cancer, someone recommended the book, The Biology of Belief, by Bruce Lipton, PhD, a stem cell biologist who writes about the connection between science and spirit.  The premise of the book is that our beliefs impact us at a cellular level, meaning that cells under the microscope look different depending upon the context of the environment- ie happier or relaxed environments cause the cells to respond in kind, whereas a stressful environment causes the cells to go into a protection mode.  Dr. Lipton states that this happens because our cells are in essence mini humans.

Whether or not you can get behind this theory, I do think that it is at minimum an interesting way to think about our insides.  When you have been diagnosed with cancer, it is quite natural to fear what is happening inside of your body, and as a result we need to find ways to support ourselves through it.

Vipassana meditation is a form of meditation in which we actively observe the deep interconnection of the body and mind.  Using this style of meditation, we ask ourselves to find and follow a focal point, which I applied to my technique of cellular meditation.

Before we look at cellular meditation, let’s consider how it may be of use when you have cancer:

  • To cope with chemotherapy– chemo often stirs a lot of anxiety for people, after all it is a toxin which we are actively choosing to put into our body.  Sitting in the infusion chair is a tremendously brave act.  When you use cellular meditation, it can help with the transition into the chair and into the treatment, talking to yourself at the cellular level with soothing messages as well as envisioning the chemo being really successful at killing those cancer cells.
  • To cope with blood draws, scans, and tests– cancer causes a lot of scanxiety- the anxiety that comes with diagnostic testing.  Yet we must find a way to move through it with as much ease as we can find.
  • Recurrence fears– as cancer reminds us, we only have so much control over the outcome of our lives. If we are suffering with fears of recurrence, it’s important to check in with our oncs to see if our symptoms are requiring attention. And, we can help tolerate that process through cellular meditation.
  • To bring peacefulness and joy– during and following cancer treatment, we have to be realistic with how our bodies and minds are doing at any given moment.  Often this means that we need to tap into patience and decrease fear that we will never be the same again.  Focusing our cellular meditation on peacefulness and joy can bring a calm to the storm.

A cellular meditation involves taking a few simple steps, which can be applied in a number of ways:

  1. Withdrawing our attention from the outside to the inside, through softening our gaze or closing our eyes.
  2. Connecting to our breath- by taking breaths that travel all the way into your belly before expanding into your chest (placing a hand on your belly helps to increase awareness of this action).
  3. With your minds eye (ie attention) travel down from the top of your head into the core.
  4. Take a moment to observe what you find.
  5. Set an intention of the environment you wish to bathe your cells in, let it become the focal point for a period of time until you begin to feel the effect it is having on your system.
  6. As you notice a shift, begin to see how that impacts your internal environment, your cells, returning to your intention as needed or desired.
  7. Before ending your session, take a moment to notice how you are feeling now.

Meditations don’t need to happen always from a seated posture, here are some other ways to enjoy a cellular meditation:

  • Through art– Dr. Lipton described the cells thru the microscope, which brought to my mind the idea of using a mandala to meditate on my cells.  A mandala is a circle that is drawn on paper, in which one draws, and it is used by Buddhist monks for healing.  Imagine that the circle is a microscope that is looking inside at your cells.  Follow the above flow for cellular meditation using whatever are supplies you have on hand to represent each step- here is an example of one I did for this blog.
  • Through yoga– the practice of yoga already asks us to go inside and connect with our bodies.  If you select a more slower and gentler style, such as Hatha, it is possible to do the cellular meditation right on the mat.
  • Through music– have you ever tried listening to music with your whole body, including your cells?  It is quite an experience- you might even create a play list that takes you through different genres and feelings, ending in the final place you wish to reach.
  • Through nature– this one is most successful if we imagine the qualities of nature that we enjoy to flow from the outside into our insides, into our cells.  Whether you are walking, running or resting, this is a lovely exercise to try!

From my cells to yours, I hope that you find bliss through this practice!  Namasté.

– 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, 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 via Creativity 0 comments on The healing power of poetry

The healing power of poetry

Have you ever noticed how poetry has the ability to cut to the chase, diving directly and deeply into its subject matter?  One of the books I have still from grad school, The Therapeutic Potential of Creative Writing, subtitled the chapter on poetry and autobiographical writing as “something hatches”.  A remarkably simple phrase that truly captures the sensation we have when our poetry captures our experience.

Even if you do not have much experience writing poetry, there are a few simple “tricks of the trade” that I find makes it accessible for everyone to use.  For me, I personally find it the easiest to connect to my inner scribe after making art.  If you want to experiment with that idea, this post Healing through art and writing, can help you find a place to start.

Here are some ways to get started:

  • Practice free writing– i.e. setting a timer (start with something shorter- 5 or 10 minutes) and write whatever comes to mind, without concern for spelling or punctuation.  When you are finished, go back through and select words or phrases that appeal to you, and see if they can combine into a poem or be the kick off point for getting one started
  • Free writing with focus– this is very similar, but involves first tapping into an experience that you wish to explore through writing.  One very powerful example is getting in touch with what it was liked to be diagnosed.  Once you feel that you are in touch with the experience you have selected, follow the instructions above for free writing. For a little more guidance on getting into that frame of mind, check out the FB Live video I did with CancerGrad.
  • Try Ransom Note Poetry.  This was one of my favorite directives from grad school.  It does involve a little prep work, which is having on hand a large variety of words that are cut our from newspapers and magazines.  This can be an awesome task for when you are feeling tired and are sitting down.  Over time, you will collect a lovely little stash.  Once you have a nice collection, take a few minutes to connect to yourself, and then mull through them- selecting words that seem to call your attention.  Once you have some, play around with how they might work together, and allow your instinct to find the words that you might need to add to complete your piece.  Collage them together and/or write them down somewhere so that you can toss them back into your box.

Some of us feel drawn to the structured form of the haiku, sonnet or limerick; whereas others might prefer a free verse style that has less rules and form.  Learning to tune into ourselves and our experience helps us determine which form we might want to use on any given day.

Not only does following our creative intuition build our creative muscle, but it also comes with the added bonus of re-building a trusting relationship with our instinct once again, something that often suffers when we face cancer.  My post about self-confidence and cancer unpacks why this happens, clear here to read more.

When we connect to our creative instinct and act upon it, we are subtly working on re-building our self confidence, while receiving the gift of time and attention to the unsettled parts of our life story.  When we capture our experience in words (or whatever art form speaks to you), we are validating our experience.  Through validation from self and others, we begin the process of releasing our pain and integrating and reclaiming our identity.

– 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, 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 Mind, Healing via Creativity 0 comments on The tentacles, layers and roots of our lives

The tentacles, layers and roots of our lives

Have you ever had the experience of talking about one life event, only to have it trigger all sorts of thoughts, feelings and memories that initially would have seem unrelated?  I see this happen all of the time in my own life and in the conversations that I have with clients.  When it happens, people often express surprise at how the conversation can wander in such unexpected ways.

To which, I always smile and reply:

Talking about our personal lives often feels like a series of interconnected tentacles, layers or root systems, and that our bodies and minds store them together- even when we might not have considered throwing them into the same box.  It is the quality of the emotions that are present which set off a wild and spontaneous ride through our psyche

As a therapist, I am always thrilled to see this happen in session, because it is evidence that the individual feels relaxed enough to just follow the path that is being laid out by our psyche.  It can almost feel like a state of being awake and dreaming, because we are unpacking the box as it is, rather then predetermining what was in there in the first place.

To stimulate this processing, we often look for a jump off point in a person’s story, or use a prompt to get the juices going.  This is the intention behind the individual art therapy sessions that have been designed to help heal emotionally from cancer and other life threatening experiences.  To fully heal from cancer, it is going to take time, and I wanted to design a tool that people can use as they move forward with their lives.

As Shai Tubali writes:

Emotions cannot evolve though intellectual comprehension; there must be direct access to them, access that allows them to go through a transformation from the plane in which they actually exist

When we find our leap off point, and then explore through art, writing and ultimately sharing through talking, we find ourselves leaning into what has happened and experiencing the emotions through an observational place- as we are trying to represent them in some way.  This allows us greater ability to move in and out of a painful experience, rather then going around and around in an unending thought loop inside of our minds.  The result allows us to begin the process of transformation.

Sometimes we need to move in and out of something rather quickly, in order to get used to the process.  Kind of like moving your body in and out of the ocean in order to acclimate it to the temperature, before leaping in completely.  If we respect our pacing while challenging ourselves to continue to move towards fully jumping in, we will find a greater trust in our own ability to do so.

So tell me, where do you wish to begin?

– 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 Storytelling, a powerful tool for healing

Storytelling, a powerful tool for healing

This week I had the opportunity to do an in-service for the Dempsey Center staff about Expressive Arts Therapy. It gave me the opportunity to share again the healing power of art through the example of the breast casts that I used to process my cancer experience, which was powerful.

However, it was what happened after the presentation, when we moved into the experiential exercise that really spoke volumes. I asked everyone to get in touch with either something personal or an experience related to their work of being in service to cancer patients and their loved ones.  I asked them  to go inside and figure out how they felt about what they chose, the impact it has had on their body, mind, spirit, and self. When they were in touch with what they wanted to explore, I asked them to represent it through color, shape and form.

What came forth was a reminder of how powerful it is to take the risk and share your story. The exercise of putting it out onto paper made the stories more tangible to tell, and when the story and images were shared, it added depth and richness to the experience. In that moment of witnessing, we became more intimately connected to one another, seeing our different roles from a new lens.  For a moment, we embodied the experience of another, which in turn allowed us to connect more deeply to our own.

This form of art making, the visual journalling process, is a practice of being in silence with ourselves, in an active, curious way.  Silence can be an intimidating prospect for many, especially in the world we live in.  Yet silence allows us to create an attunement to our inner world and an attunement to the experience of others, strengthening our capacity for compassion.  Since art making is a form of moving meditation, it can build a bridge to feeling greater ease with silence.

It takes courage and trust to share something personal. It takes time to build confidence and trust with the ability to share, so be gentle with yourself if you are not ready to share actively with others.  The rewards we reap from sharing and witnessing help stoke the fire of resiliency and decrease our sense of isolation.  As one of my favorite quotes reminds me:

If you ask me what I came in this life to do, I will tell you: I came to live out loud ~ Emile Zola

So tell me, what is the story you wish to share?

– 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.