Thursday, April 30, 2015

Circle the Wagons

When facing trauma, circling the wagons may not cure you, or change the outcome of the trauma, but it changes how you face it. 

Support is important to peace of mind and strength of heart.

Whether one wagon or many, we can make a difference for each other during times of crisis just by being present in the moment, no matter how difficult.

These moments are precious. Make the effort. It matters.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Bountiful Mutiny

On this day in 1789, Fletcher Christian with 25 petty officers and seamen committed mutiny on the HMS Bounty, seizing the ship from a commander they believed to be oppressive. 

Against all odds, the bulk of both the mutineers and the men they set adrift after the mutiny, including Captain Bligh, survived.

Bligh survived an incredible nearly two month, 3,600 mile voyage in an overcrowded, under-supplied 23 foot-long boat, and later successfully returned to Tahiti. While Christian and a handful of his men landed on Pitcairn Island where many of their direct descendants remain to this day.

Like the men of the HMS Bounty, survivors can often feel the weight of oppression, in both body and soul, since we endure many traumatic events which are beyond our control over the course of our battle to survive. Therefore, mutinies can and do happen.  

We also fight long and hard odds ending up at destinations which had not been part of our original planned routes. Therefore, we adapt.

It is natural to rebel against a crushing weight. It is rational to push back when pushed. Allow yourself these rebellions. They are part of how you will survive. Make room to give yourself the time and space to breathe, when you need it. Plans of action often need moments of inaction to refortify.

Life has a definite way of leading us down different roads then we intended and forcing us onto paths we would rather not travel. But, we can find the strength to walk these roads and adapt to new environments. 

We have the ability to make choices along the way. To evolve and grow, as we battle and heal. We can change course when we need to.

In the bigger picture, mutinies and destinations are mere moments in our complex journeys. Do not get weighted down in these moments. Find the beauty in having set sail in the first place.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Ribbon Road

Survivors notice ribbons. We can't help it. Once you have related to a ribbon, been represented by a ribbon, been supported by a ribbon, or shown your support and solidarity with a ribbon, you tend to notice all the ribbons, no matter what the classifying color, from yellow to black. (For the record, brain aneurysm awareness ribbons are the burgundy ones.)

So, driving down the road today, I noticed a minivan with a purple ribbon on it. The ribbon was emblazoned with the words Abbis Road. Since I didn't recognize that reference, I looked it up when I got home.

And, stumbled upon a special survivor's Facebook page.

Survivor Jewelry is about being part of a supportive community, sharing our stories, showing our scars without shame, telling each other we are loved, and helping each other to breathe brave together through our unique experiences during traumatic times. Embracing our light to lead each other through the dark. Providing safe havens for each other when we need to feel the most protected.

Abbi's Road is about one family doing just those things and a little girl inspiring them all with her bravery as she battles cancer.

People are amazing. Our stories are powerful and we create communities of understanding by sharing them. One person's story can help others survive. We can give each other hope. One person's struggle can inspire a community of compassion, love, and vital support. We all need to be there for each other. This is how we survive, endure, and heal.

Every life matters. Every one's story is beautiful.

Every ribbon you will ever notice came from someone being loved. Someone being brave. Every single one. Remember that. Notice every ribbon, it is tied to an important life.

Share your stories. Support each other. Make a difference in someone's life. Build a community of support. Love each other. There are a lot of us. We are not alone. We all breathe brave together.

(Note: We value all survivors' privacy and are not sharing Abbi's story here. But all our stories are powerful. I did share a link to her Facebook site solely because her family is sharing her story eloquently with their own words in the community they built for her out of love. We support and respect that. We noticed her ribbon and we are inspired by it. Thank you, Abbi, for being beautiful and brave.)

Monday, April 27, 2015

One Word Sentence

Illness, trauma, and crisis create the need for a lot of decisions. 

There are choices you will have to make, sometimes during the precise moments you are least equipped to make them. Important decisions, vital to the course of your survival, which need to be made, often without much time in which to make them. 

These decisions involve massive input from many sources, which will contain a vast range of differing ideas, warring beliefs, and conflicting opinions about which decision you should make. 

Some treatments follow a specific route while other treatments choose a different path. A family member may believe one thing while a friend believes something completely opposite. One doctor may have one opinion while another doctor desires a entirely alternate course of action. A blur of every one and every thing telling you what to do and how to do it.

It's a lot to process in an emotional and physically vulnerable time. The pressure, real or imagined, to make the right decision for you can be overwhelming, especially if there is a time factor with a scary deadline looming. You want to appease others and defend yourself. You risk being caught in circling debates with repetitive explanations, which wear you down and can leave you second-guessing yourself. 

You might feel the need to justify your choices and in doing so begin to doubt you are making the right ones. You can feel forced into a corner by overbearing opinions or strongly held beliefs. In being cornered, you can often feel metaphorically gagged, or at least emotionally muted, to what you actually want to say. Suddenly your decision isn't exactly your choice.

As a survivor it's extremely important to remember one thing...
"No" is a complete sentence.

There doesn't need to be anything beyond "No". You do not need to explain yourself beyond that. You do not need to defend your actions beyond that. You do not need to justify anything to anyone beyond that. 

You don't have to say yes to anything just because you are told you should.

You have the right to make choices about your body and your soul. You have the right to ask questions and change your mind. You have the right to say yes, or no, in the decision making process about your life. Your choices don't need to be elaborated on like something out of Shakespeare, unless you want them to be. 

"No" is a one word sentence. Do not be afraid to use it when you need to. Speak up. Be clear. The choices are yours to make.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Ghost Story

Important, vital people to your life will fade and disappear, whether because of the trauma you are facing or because they faced it with you. Sometimes the more you reach to keep them close, the more easily they seem to slip away. Survivors leave a trail of ghosts in their wake.

Their presence remains. Moving in and out of your life and your dreams. Reminders frequent and moving. These memories can leave you both hopeful and hopeless. 

Your very soul becomes the house they haunt. They stroll through your thoughts and live restless in your pulse. You miss them. What they were to you. What you hoped they would be. How they still matter. How often you still feel their presence.

When you lose so much of yourself while struggling to survive, it is interesting that some of what you will miss the most is about what you lose with other people.

Crisis can bind people together and rip them apart. But, even torn bindings have a way of reaching with wispy tentacles which wrap your heart in longing and loss.

Ghosts are confusing. They make you angry. They make you sad. They hurt. Yet, more often then not, they tug at a deep quiet place within you, for once they weren't a ghost. Once, they were very much a part of your life. 

Ghosts are felt most acutely because they matter. You need them. You reach. They step back into the shadows. You forget for a moment, then they brush past like they were never not there. 

There is grief and envy, true mourning. It's the deepest kind of wound to feel people so important to you become ghosts, especially with the painful knowledge that in the moments they chose to fade from your life, they became more willingly present in other people's.

Being haunted has a unique way of making you less tangible. 

You fight to remain solid. You struggle to be seen yourself. To feel valued and know worth. Losing those who matter to you can make you lose sight of your own beauty. Ghosts fill you with self-doubt. They wound already damaged self-esteem. Surviving takes strength, but it also leaves you weakened, more vulnerable to additional loss. Ghosts seem to thrive most vividly when you are the most exposed.

If there are ways to repair a haunting, they are hard to keep a lasting grasp on. For each step you take to fix the loss there are three more steps back into the shadows. Losing your footing makes repairs even harder, because you hesitate the next time you have a chance to make up lost ground.

You must be brave. You must forgive. You must have hope. You must believe that ghosts happen for a reason and not all ghosts remain unreachable. 

Even ghosts have feelings. In fact, there is a chance they became ghosts because they felt too much. Trauma is hard. Love without fear is harder.

Maybe someday your ghosts will visit in memories more soothing than painful. Maybe someday your ghosts will find the strength to come back to you, stepping out of the shadows, removing their sheets, and smiling at you like they once did. 

Maybe someday you will reach out and find you touch a human being who is brave enough to not fade away. Maybe hope is reason enough to keep reaching.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Every Chance You Get

Life is hard. Love makes it bearable.

Surviving is difficult. The people who you love, and who love you in return, make surviving possible.

It is important to stop amid all of the struggles and tell the people important to you that they are loved. There are not enough opportunities in life to let these chances pass you by.

Life is too short and love too precious to leave love unvoiced.

Fight for it. Cling to it. Hope for it and dream of it. Give love a voice and a presence in your survival.

Every single chance you get to tell a person they are loved is a moment to be seized. Every chance you get to let love in, when you are told you are loved, is a moment to treasure. It can make all the difference in your life and the lives of the people you love.

Friday, April 24, 2015


Surviving takes a toll. Trauma, illness, and crisis have devastating affects on our lives, emotionally and physically. It weakens our bodies and spirits. It wears us down and wears us out. It can reduce us in form and function.

Survivors also pay a hefty toll in their struggles to survive. We lose part of ourselves. At times, we compromise and change to adapt to our situation. We give up things within ourselves in our attempts to continue to fight.

We find we are paying out more than we ever thought there was of us to give.

These tolls on us, and from us, can be truly costly and often feel too overwhelming to bear. But, we must continue to believe life is worth the price we are paying.

Many times when we take a great journey, there are tollbooths along the way. We hand over our toll to travel the road and get to our destination.

Surviving is no different.

Each day of our lives has a sunrise at the beginning and a sunset at the end. Both are beautiful to behold no matter what happens to us in between them.

Envision the path before you. See the journey as a whole and not just the tolls along the way.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Inner Voices of Joan

When she was merely a teenager, Jeanne d'Arc, now more commonly known as Joan of Arc, left her village, petitioned a king, charged into battle, and led an army into infamous victories and not as popularized defeats. Before she was twenty years old, she would face a religious tribunal and be burned at the stake for heresy. Posthumously, she would be retried, found innocent, be martyred and eventually Sainted.

She was moved into action under the counsel of those she believed to be the Archangel Michael, Saint Margaret and Saint Catherine. A lot of her early decisions were affected by these blessed visions which spoke to her conscience. Basically a child facing massive upheaval and crisis, as well as literal war, Saint Joan was guided by her belief in what godly voices told her needed to be done.

Since people living in crisis often face situations beyond their control, survivors can feel like we are under attack, caught in a revolution within ourselves. Bodies and emotions betray us. Illnesses and anxieties battle inside us. We war everyday on a complex and devastating battlefield. We risk becoming martyrs in our own lives.

What we want and what we need to survive can often be overwhelmed or overlooked by other warring factions. Doctors and diseases dictating our choices. Family and friends affecting our decisions. Stress, anxiety and fatigue shaping our actions.

We do not need to martyr ourselves on our traumatic battlefield, but there is nothing wrong with a little revolution and listening to your own inner voice.'

Make time to listen to what your heart is telling you. Speak up for what you want. Reach out for what you need. Shape a course of action that is guided by you. If other factions are pushing you, breathe deep and push back.

You have the right to your choices. You have the right to speak up. You have the right to seek knowledge. Be self-aware. Listen to your conscience. Let your soul guide you.

You may be in a crisis beyond your control, which forces you into situations and onto battlefields you would rather have avoided. But, you have the power to make choices about how and when you go to war. You can choose your own weapons to survive. You need to listen to your inner voice. Take comfort in and allow guidance from what your heart has to say.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Earthen Keys

Today is Earth Day, a worldwide event to demonstrate support for environmental protection. It is vitally important that we protect, respect, and nuture our surroundings. 

This is true of the Earth, but also our bodies and our hearts. 

Do something today to protect the Earth you live on.

Do something today to respect the body you live in.

Do something today to nurture the soul inside you.

To survive, we all need a place to reside. 

We all hold the keys to opening the doors to a better place for ourselves. Do something for yourself and for others to help make our world a safe and healthy place, full of respect and love. Not just today, but everyday. Breathe Brave.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Wound Licker

My therapy dog, like most dogs, likes to lick.

He will lick a plate to get a taste. Lick any cup to get to the last drop. Lick his fur to get at an itch or remove itch medicine. When he hurt his foot last year, he had to wear one of those big collars to keep him from licking his wounds.

In support and empathy, when he thinks I am sad or hurting, he will even lick me to try to make me feel better. It is an instinctive response in animals to try to heal with a lick.

Survivors could learn a valuable lesson from my dog.

We often get so caught up in the battle to survive, we forget to metaphorically take time to lick our wounds. Sometimes we can push so hard for so long to keep going, we forget to take care of what is hurting us in the first place.

It is important to fight the good fight. It is vital not to give up.

But, when we are so overwhelmed we can't even think, we must find a calm place. When we are so tired it becomes hard to move, we must rest.

When the tears come flowing out, we must breathe and soothe ourselves. When it hurts too much, we must make time to heal.

It doesn't do anyone any good to pretend everything is alright when it isn't. It doesn't help you to deny your body or soul the time it needs to feel better.

You will cope better in the long run, if you steal moments to lick your wounds. Take the time to soothe what is bothering you. Make the time to heal.

( The Irish Rogue is a dog of much enlightenment and joy, as well as a licker aficionado. Feel free to follow his anticson facebook - and on - @_theIrishRogue_ )

Monday, April 20, 2015

Bunch of Thrones

Survivors can feel like they are living in an alternate reality, where they are constantly under siege with surprising attempts on their life. Imagine being trapped on Game of Thrones, forced to wear the costumes against your will and battle for survival. Living emotionally bloodied, exhausted and paranoid all the time, with no clear view of your own outcome.

Surviving, like Game of Thrones, is bloody awful business. Full of sinister twists and turns and surprise assaults. It is complex and confusing. It's living with layers of darkness, under constant threat. Pain and turmoil become commonplace.

Surviving in such an alternate realm often makes people dream with envy of being able to slip into something more comfortable. Wishing they could wear a more perfect life. Illusions of The Brady Bunch, where life's problems can easily be addressed and resolved in a relatively painless half an hour.

And, to ensure our humanity and survive the insanity, there are moments we have to grasp at the routine and casual. Like The Brady Bunch, there is comfort in family and friends. There is a certain kind of grace in the normal activities of your life, during times of crisis. You can anchor your struggle in the day to day, even when the day to day starts to border on the surreal.

But, we also have to battle against whatever we are facing, no matter how overwhelming it may be.

In real life, the truth of surviving lies somewhere in between. It can't be Game of Thrones all the time, but there will be times we have to rage and wage war to survive. And, it will never ever be The Brady Bunch, but we can cling to the rare moments of calm and pull closer those who will provide us with support, which can help us maneuver through the darker battles.

Surviving can make you feel like you have only the war to look forward to. But, life is a little more complex than that. Take the time to notice. Allow yourself safe moments where you take the dented armor off and just breathe, surrounded by people who don't care if you are in pajamas or bad 70's clothes.

Sunday, April 19, 2015


Yesterday, the star of the "Anne of Green Gables" series, actor Jonathan Crombie, died of a brain hemorrhage. He was only 48 years old.

Three years ago, right before my 43rd birthday, I had brain surgery to treat twin aneurysms. I survived, many do not.

The numbers who die daily from crisis and disease are staggering.

Today, thirteen-hundred and seventy people will die from a brain aneurysm.
Today, two thousand, seven hundred and forty people will commit suicide.
Today, four thousand, three hundred and eighty-three people will die from violence, including rape and assault.

There will be six thousand, eight hundred and forty-nine alcohol related deaths, today.
There will be twenty-one thousand, nine hundred and eighteen deaths from some form of cancer, today alone.

To put this in perspective, today three thousand, five hundred and sixty-one people will die in a motor vehicle accident.

Shockingly, of the forty thousand, eight hundred and twenty-one people listed above, more than 82% of them could have survived. With access to help, support, therapy, proper treatment, available medications, and early diagnosis, 82% of these people could still be with us.

That is Twelve Million, Two Hundred and Seventeen Thousand, Seven Hundred and Twenty-Five human beings this year alone who did not have to die.

We have to get educated. We have to seek help. We have to report abuse. We have to get tested. We have to listen to our bodies, our hearts, and eachother. We have to speak up and reach out. Do it today.

Get a mammogram. Get a brain scan. Have a blood test. Enter rehab. Go to therapy. Call the police. Go to a shelter. Talk to a priest. Seek treatment.

Do something today to survive.

Today matters, because we all need more tomorrows. Breathe Brave.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Bit Parts

As a survivor, you are the lead in your own story, surrounded by the supporting characters in your survival. But to each and every one of these supporting characters, you are a supporting character in their story.

We all must keep in mind, no matter how vital our role feels to us, no matter how glaring the spotlight, we are the bit parts in other people's stories. 

We do not survive alone. Others, who love and care about us, share in the pains and trials of our survival. We are each a part of each other's brave and amazing stories.

There are no bit players in surviving. Everyone's role is important.

The hand you hold that gives you comfort needs to be held in return. The tears you shed often well up in the eyes of someone who cares for you. The hug which makes you feel supported also wraps around the person hugging you. The fear and worry which paralyzes you can stop the heart of someone who loves you as well

Every touch we feel is felt, in turn, by the one touching us.

The support of a supporting character is a two-way street. The support works in tandem, like dancers in the footlights. Enhancing and enduring together, through all the soaring leaps and the painful falls.

You do not wait in the darkened wings by yourself. Remember to share the stages of your survival. The same curtain which opens for you, opens for the ones sharing the stage with you.

Each act consists of many players. Be thankful for the people willingly taking the stage with you. And, when you know victories, whether large or small, be sure to take the time to acknowledge and thank the people who helped you survive.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Rhino Skin

Scars hurt. Both the mental and the physical ones.

You can be reminded of your scars when you least expect it and are the least prepared for remembering.

One of the most noticeable reminders is flinching when someone gets too close. Like scar tissue, this can occur from both physical and emotional proximity.

Surviving takes strength. But sometimes that strength is missleading, because. while the act of surviving can empower us, it can also create sensitivity in new areas. Scars are a unique reminder of this.

We all build walls to protect ourselves from damage, whether we mean to or not. We grow thicker skin when we have to. But, even rhino skin feels pain.

No matter how high up the walls go to keep us from additional hurt, there will always be a crack where someone or something can sneak in. Scar tissue can react instinctively to the closeness that comes through the cracks. Scar tissue is beyond sensitive.

An unexpected word or touch that gets too close and we pull away. We don't mean to be that wounded or so damaged we avoid contact. But, a body and a heart will protect itself, beyond rational thought. No one wants to hurt on top of scar tissue. No one wants to be reminded of the pain that caused the scars in the first place.

But a hidden scar, one we keep walled up or buried, doesn't have a complete chance to heal. If a scar is allowed to remain so vulnerable and raw, kept so cloistered, it will forever hinder closeness of contact. Thicker skin doesn't protect us either, since there is always something unexpected which can penetrate and do damage to the tender skin below.

There is no shame in having been scarred or guilt in wanting to protect from additional scarring. We are all human. But, one of the most important things we can do in our survival is allow honest views of ourselves. It is far from easy. It takes a certain kind of bravery to be open and that level of honesty leaves us exposed. We have to find ways to carefully peel back the tough layers of skin and remove bricks to widen the cracks in our walls. It takes a conscious effort, but physical and emotional closeness is how people find the bravery to heal.

Perfection is not actually beautiful. It only seems so on the surface, because it's so unobtainable. Perfection is always false, because nothing, and no one, is ever perfect. True beauty in human beings lies in our uniqueness and similarities. The things which make us who we are, more often than not, came from our unique struggles along the way. Since everyone is flawed and struggles with something, we all have that in common.

We all have scars. We all try to protect ourselves from more hurt. But, we all need each other. We all need contact to heal and survive.

Let go of the shame of not being perfect. Forgive the pain. Risk trusting your scars with another. Share the scarred side of yourself, so your deepest scars can heal and fade. Fight against flinching from closeness. Accept who you are and share that with others.

Our scars hurt, but they are part of what makes us beautiful.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Vocal Volunteers

Volunteer:  a person who voluntarily undertakes or expresses a willingness to undertake a service. 

This week is National Volunteer Week and survivors come into contact with a lot of volunteers. People who seek to help and give of themselves freely. For survivors, volunteers, especially in hospitals, can make a real difference in their struggles. They are a welcome comfort and support during very tough times.

However, many often support causes and people in their hearts, but struggle to find the time to support them in their actions. Life is distracting and busy. It is easy to let the opportunities to help slip away.

Time, work, assistance, and skill-sharing are the most acknowledged views of volunteering. But, there are ways to be of service that often get overlooked or are under appreciated.

One of the most powerful of these is your voice.

On the surface, it may not even seem like volunteering, but speaking up for things you support and believe in is a beautiful way to be of service. Taking action for people in your words can be one of the bravest forms of help. Expression makes a real difference in awareness and allow those struggling to feel less alone.

Speak up, whether about something near to your heart or pulsing in the global consciousness. It can have a far-reaching affect and lasting ramification.

Volunteer your voice. It is impactful. Share awareness. It is empowering. Speak up. It is courageous.

Just the other day, Ricky Gervais volunteered his voice about animal rights with a post about a giraffe hunter and ignited a firestorm on Twitter.

Over the last couple of years, Angelina Jolie has volunteered her voice about proactive, preventive measures regarding cancer and opened the topic up for women around the globe.

Martin Luther King volunteered his voice in his "I Have a Dream" speech and rallied people to affect real change for equality and Civil Rights.

Otto Frank volunteered the written words of his daughter and the humanity of Anne Frank's voice moved the entire world.

Words matter. They make a difference, for individuals and the human race.

Even an unspoken word can volunteer an extraordinary voice.

In Tiananmen Square, a lone student stood in front of a column of tanks and without saying a word gave voice to non-violent protests which still resounds today.

One voice can be a candle sharing light in a very dark place which leads the way for others to follow. Your voice can volunteer in a unique way which helps others survive and be heard.

Take action. Volunteer. Be willing to be of service. Give of your time, share your knowledge, and use your voice. Help one human being and you help the world entire.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Funhouse Mirrors

Surviving trauma, crisis, and illness is painfully hard work. So much of your life suddenly takes on great weight. You can get lost in the seriousness of it all. It can be destructive  and very negative. It is not easy to survive in such unhealthy pressures.

Like a funhouse mirror, you need to change your perspective. Alter the view.

Make room for creativity. Make space for joy. Make time for fun and silliness.
Laugh. Smile. Be ridiculous. Throw decorum to the wing. Let light in when you can.

You have to take the time to be yourself again. Do something very un-serious to remind you to be you. De-stress yourself. Be childish. Remember what it is like to be fun.

Dress up in a surreal costume. Dress your dog up. Put on a silly hat. Put on a moronic outfit. Jump in the ocean in your clothes. Jump on your bed. Wear mascara and eyeliner like David Bowie. Rock out. Sing into a spoon like it's a microphone. Hold a bottle of shampoo up and recite your Oscar acceptance speech in the bathroom mirror. Laugh with a friend over something just plain stupid. Skip to your loo. Waltz with Matilda. Anything not anchored in the seriousness.

Do something lighthearted every day to alter the heavier seriousness. Even if just for one minute.
Even when you hurt. Even when you are sad. Even when you are scared. Even when you are tired. Even when you don't feel like smiling.

Random moments of light push back amazing amounts of darkness. Giggles heal a lot more of your soul than you think. Sometimes even one smile is enough to give you the strength to keep going.

Surviving is serious, but life is too short not to laugh.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Man in Black

On this day in 1865, American President, Abraham Lincoln, was shot in Ford's Theater while watching a play. He would die the following morning, after remaining in a coma for nine hours.

Many people know of this man's life and death in great detail. Most even know about the mental instability of his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, who was institutionalized for a time after his death. But, few discuss the fact that President Lincoln battled clinical depression and thoughts of suicide his whole life. At the time, it was most commonly referred to as his "melancholy" and was widely accepted by all who knew him.

He was known to cry in public, to be gloomy and maudlin during triumphant times, and viewed the world as a very grim place. He had more than one bout of complete mental collapse during which he had to be watched due to becoming temporarily deranged. These collapses would be followed by a deep, unshakable depression which was known to linger for months. This state of melancholy projected onto his public persona, which was viewed as serious, earnest, and stoic.

He sought treatment and doctors' counsel on numerous occasions. He experimented routinely with different types of medications. He openly acknowledged his lack of fear in dying, but also spoke of his "irrepressible desire" to accomplish something great while he lived. 

It was not a frivolous desire, but something powerful which he plainly believed actually gave him the motivation to live, so he could benefit his fellow man. It shaped his course of action about how he would live his life. He sought to improve himself, develop self-understanding of his feeling, and allow the discipline it took to achieve these things to formulate the strategies which would shape the man he wished to be and build the foundations of his character. 

During an era when there was no real diagnosis for depression, and treatments tended to rely more on ignorance than scientific fact, President Lincoln worked hard to incorporate his life-long struggle into the way he faced life.

He worked to stay alive, making conscious choices that led him to develop skills and tricks to overcome. He was infamous for inappropriate stories and jokes told at odd times. He was open about his need to use them, because they helped him laugh which he believed was vital to being able to survive. He let his depression guide him, sometimes rather painfully, as a way to search in himself for the core morals and beliefs which would shape his decisions, and eventually the decisions he made which shaped the very nation he was leading. 

His determination to survive and not give in to his melancholy, but be open about it, allowed him access to hard earned insights which guided him through tough times. His often creative ways of dealing with his depression gave him an alternate way of looking at complex issues on other subjects, which led to inventive thoughts on how to address them successfully.

His acceptance of self, and the depression that was such a part of him, gave him the ability not merely to survive, but thrive. It was a brave choice, at a time when people didn't even realize there was a choice being made.

A lot of survivors struggle with depression. Some seek treatment and therapies which are helpful in overcoming the deep valleys involved in their depression. Others live in denial, refusing to believe there is anything which can help. Sadly, many give in to the weight of the darkness and are overcome by it.

Fortunately, we live in a more modern time, then President Lincoln, where we have more options for a healthy survival. A world where there is deeper compassion and comprehensive understanding of the struggle. A community of help where we do not have to face the burden and sadness alone.

But, we can all learn a lesson from a man who worked to face life with a greater acceptance of self and found creative ways to incorporate his struggles into brave choices. We can all be reminded to breathe brave one inhale at a time.

Lincoln's favorite poem was Mortality, written by a Scotsman, William Knox. A discourse on the delicacy of human life. He was known to recite it so often, many people believed he had written it himself. The last two verses were said to be his favorite, and I thought worth sharing:

"Yea! Hope and despondency, pleasure and pain,
 Are mingled together in sun-shine and rain;
 And the smile and the tear, and the song and the dirge,
 Still follow each other, like surge upon surge.

 'Tis the wink of an eye, 'tis the draught of a breath,
 From the blossoms of health, to the paleness of death.
 From the gilded saloon, to the bier and the shroud
 Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be proud!"

Monday, April 13, 2015


When I was little, we would play a game when we drove through a tunnel. We would hold our breath. 

There is some old superstition that if you make a wish and can hold your breath all the way through a tunnel, your wish will come true. 

However, half way through a long tunnel, it became much more about actually being able to hold your breath the whole way. Desperately waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel, so you could exhale. Your pulse thundering in your head and your lungs screaming with the pressure. The overwhelming need to breathe. The wish forgotten, fixating utterly on the end of the tunnel.

Waiting is like this. The longer you wait, the harder the waiting is. The more the pressure builds. The harder it is to make it through the tunnel.

Surviving has a lot of waiting. Truly horrible forms of waiting. Agonizing waits full of worry and stress, panic and fear. Waits overflowing with hope and sadness, dreams and grief.

Waiting for doctors and for test results. Waiting for treatments or surgeries. Waiting for pain to ease. Waiting to feel better. Waiting for word and waiting for answers. Waiting for help to come. Waiting to heal. Waiting for good news, or bad news, or any news at all. Waiting to live. Waiting to die. Waiting to exhale. Waiting to inhale. Waiting to survive or waiting for one you love to survive. Just plain waiting.

It is excruciating.

The waiting twists and turns a person literally inside out. It is frustrating and frightening. Paralyzing under a crushing weight of dread. There's uncontrollable panic in the waiting. Worst case scenarios run amok. You pace and churn. You can not turn the thoughts off. Layers upon layers of complicated anxieties. 

You become acutely aware of everything around you, while at the same time get completely lost in the chaotic act of waiting. You can not focus, yet are fixated. You pray, you curse, you beg, and you give up. Then, you start all over again, because the waiting outlasts you.

It is exhausting.

Waiting is the loneliest thing, even when you don't wait alone. It affects you and everyone who loves you. It applies pressure on an already stressful situation.  Emotions are overwhelming and felt deeply.

It can make you feel like you are losing your mind. It can make you believe you are dying. Incredible loss is felt just in the waiting. Agony in holding your breath.

Yet, you will have to wait. and wait. and wait...

Like a child in the tunnel, try to envision the light at the end. Try to anchor yourself in the wish and not focus on the holding of your breath. Try to imagine the beauty of finally being able to exhale the dark and inhale the light.

There will be a lot of tunnels. Just remember to breathe at the end of them.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Alter-Native

Pain creates a version of you that you can't even recognize.

Surviving with pain can be like living inside a stranger. Because, whether emotional or physical, it utterly alters your unique version of self. 

It is still you somewhere buried inside the pain, which is one of the worst parts. Seeing a side of you, you previously did not know existed or intend to ever know. Native to self, but altered beyond recognition.

This pain Alter-Native is destructive and brutal. It is instinctual and cruel. It's merciless. Stripping a soul of its humanity and erasing the view of its own worth.

It affects your moods, your esteem, your dreams, your body, your mind, your hope, and your ability to cope or function as you once did. It changes how you interact with other people. It twists how you see the world and the future. It traps you in the moment. Pain leaves you dreading the moments to come.

You overreact, lash out, and close off. You turn on yourself and others. At its worst, there is no future or world beyond the pain. It is everything and inescapable. It is devastating and changes you.

The Alter-Native attacks the parts of you that make you feel like you. It steals joy and eats hope. It reduces you to the ugliest parts of being human.

Seeing this alternative version of yourself is incredibly hard. At times, you delve into deep denial about the extent of the changes. Then, you tear yourself apart from the loss of yourself. It becomes very hard to believe you will ever be you again. Especially when pain can literally alter the way you look. So much so at times, that you will be shocked at your own reflection staring back in a mirror.

You can rationalize and prepare to fight, but, in extreme throes of pain, the Alter-Native will always momentarily win. Realize that in its entirety. 

There will never be enough of you to fight off the Alter-Native when every part of you is struggling to survive the pain. There is no ability to focus on coherency of self during such a primal, epic battle. True pain trumps all. Reducing you to the most basic form of survival. One agonizing breath at a time.

But, it doesn't last. There will be moments the pain eases. So when the Alter-Native wins the battle, do not lose sight of the war. 

In the relief of the moments with less pain, do not allow the Alter-Native to live for even one more second. Every breath without soul-altering pain, forgive yourself. Let go of all guilt and shame. Recognize that you are only human. The Alter-Native is merely a by-product of your pain, it is not and never will be the true version of you. Find you again in each moment.

If you have trouble finding you in the peace, look back and see you in the agony. Look hard. You are there. Look back with clear eyes. 

When in pain, you screamed, you begged, and you cried out. You grieved. Human beings do that, not monsters. You fought. You survived. The Alter-Native did not.

Apologize to yourself, and others if you need to, but let the Alter-Native go. It is not an easy task, but life is too precious to hold on to monsters. You are too important to let slip away. Surviving shows you alternative versions of self, but you still have the power to make the choice that the true of you survives.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Falseness of Numb

When combating crisis, whether it be in the form of trauma, illness, depression or loss, we often become so overwhelmed we desperately seek outlets of escape. When feeling everything too acutely, it seems a blessing to find a way to go numb.

Lessening pain is very important, whether emotional or physical, but we have to tread careful. Not all outlets of escape have a lasting, positive affect. All numb is not always a good thing. Some escapes can actually cause more harm to an already vulnerable soul.

A doctor once pointed out to me, while I was taking Dilaudid, why I was being watched so closely for signs of euphoria. He explained that when a body rages with physical pain, medications surge around that pain trying to push it back. You might sleep, become less cognizant, have trouble focusing or reacting quickly, even get a little loopy as a result, but the medication is treating the pain, making it more bearable.

However, when you become beyond giddy, feeling high, the physical pain is no longer where the medication is primarily going. It is a sign to the doctors that it is time to ween onto a lesser or different medication. On the surface this makes sense, but the truth of struggling with trauma is you would love to feel something besides the trauma.

This is where escaping starts to cause trouble.

Maybe you take an extra pill. Maybe you have a drink, maybe you have a couple of drinks. Maybe you take drugs. Maybe you do something risky or dangerous to take your mind off your reality. Maybe you behave out of character in a way which gives you a momentary escape, but emotionally endangers another aspect of your life.

Many behaviors can have a numbing affect, but they are not healing. Numbing of this type only masks the pain and the trauma. It is a false escape and does nothing to cure the crisis.

It can actually weaken your ability to cope even further as it progresses, adding more vulnerability to and compounding an already delicate situation. It may also lead to additional crises as a person relies more and more on seeking numbness while focusing less and less on surviving.

When these happen, an outlet of escape can become traumatic in itself. It may put you on a path towards more pain, complications, and loss. In advanced attempts at numbing, you may actually endanger your survival or chance at mental, emotional stability. The affects can be long term and drastically alter your life.

Try to find healthy ways of escaping and easing your burden. Find alternate forms of escape to rely on, even if they feel less effective in the moment.

It isn't easy to choose to endure more of your pain, but sometimes it is better to feel something other than numb. In the long term, it is more important to be present in your own life, then to escape into the false comfort of numbness.

Friday, April 10, 2015

One Person is Contagious

We all need help at one time or another. We all have something to give.

It only takes one person willing to help another to affect change.

In 1982, Paul Newman & A.E. Hotchner founded Newman's Own which has generated over $400 million for charity.

In 1987, Oprah Winfrey established the Oprah Winfrey Foundation, with over $200 million dollars it supports the inspiration, empowerment and education of women, children and families around the world.

In the early 2000's, conversations between Bono and Bill Gates eventually lead to the creation of ONE to fight against extreme poverty, hunger, and preventable disease around the globe.

In 2000, 4 year old Alex Scott opened her lemonade stand to raise money for cancer. She lost her battle with cancer, but Alex's Lemonade Stand foundation has raised over $1 million dollars to continue to fight cancer.

In 2001, 16 year old Maddy Beckmann started Coat-a-kid which has now given over 18,000 coats to children so they will not be cold.

In 2003, Eddie Izzard ran 43 marathons in 51 days, despite never having been much of a runner, raising over £1,152,510 for Sports Relief an initiative of Comic Relief which helps vulnerable people.

In 2006, Jamie Tworkowski wrote a story which led to the movement TWLOHA helping countless people fighting addiction, self-injury, depression, and suicide.

Also in 2006, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt established the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation to assist with humanitarian crises around the world, donating millions to help.

In 2007, Taylor Swift launched a campaign to protect children from online predators, helping shed light on the need to keep children safe. She continues to donate to a vast variety of charities.

In 2010, Sean Penn founded J/P Haitian Relief Organization which helped almost 60,000 people displaced by the earthquake there.

In 2014, Chris Kennedy than Pat Quinn than Pete Frates focused the ice bucket challenge on ALS sparking over $100 million in donations

And a long time ago, in 1946, Ludwik Rajchman helped create UNICEF with the United Nations which has helped millions of people with billions of dollars, and continues to affect real change and hope for people around the world.

What did you to today for another human being? Do just one thing today. Anything.

It doesn't have to be a big thing. For people in need and fighting to survive, a single small random act of kindness isn't random at all. It can make a real difference in their lives. One single act can expand into many. One gift can keep giving, expanding out, helping others.

Charity is contagious.

Invest in the survival of another human being. Give your time. Give your hope. Give your help. Pull someone else up. Hold someone close. Reach, listen and respond. Do something. Just one thing.

We all matter. We can all make a difference. One person at a time. One act of kindness at a time. Be Random.

Thursday, April 9, 2015


Ballet dancers train for years to master the art of tiptoeing around "en pointe" in their ballet shoes gracefully. Survivors and the people who love them have far less skill in the tiptoe. Grace is rarely a factor and the missteps can actually be damaging.

During the roughest times of survival, people will tiptoe. Sometimes as a form of denial. Other times, to protect themselves or another from scary realities or additional pain.

We will tiptoe to avoid conflict or face our fears. We will tiptoe around sadness and worry to prevent upsetting each other. We will tiptoe around the darkest parts of what could potentially happen to escape thinking about possible loss.

However, the worst of the tiptoes is the lying one.

We will tiptoe to protect another from the hard truths. We will tiptoe to hide the deepest secret truths we can't admit because they will hurt someone else. We will tiptoe with false steps because we think it is better to keep dancing than admit fear or failure. We will tiptoe to make the loss seem less like losing.

But, the lying tiptoe is not real. It is not graceful. It doesn't promote healing. It isn't supportive. At a time when need to be the most honest about who we are, it can cause lingering damage to tiptoe misleadingly. It creates a false supportive foundation, which will eventually crumble beneath us from the weight of the lies.

In fact, people often tiptoe at the exact moment they should be making the loudest stomping noises of their lives.

We all want to have hope. We all want to be okay. But, we have to find the strength to be honest about what we feel, what we think, what we believe, what we want, what we need, what we dream of, what we hope for, and what is happening to us as we survive. We can not tiptoe around the very real pain, nor can we tiptoe around overwhelming fear or hurt love.

Giving voice to these things can be more important then we realize. In expressing truth, we often thrive by understanding each other better and can trust sharing more of ourselves. It can make a real difference in feeling less alone and empowering us to continue our fight to survive. It creates a vital bond of closeness and worth.

We can be delicate and graceful in our truths though, just because we choose not to tiptoe doesn't mean we need to kick or lash out. Like dancers trusting each other, we can lift each other up honestly and support each other with the strength of our truths. It makes the dance of life more moving, more genuine, and much healthier to survive.

(If you really feel the need to tiptoe, please do it because someone needs to be able to get some sleep. Naps do help with the healing.)

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Disappointment Lure

Disappointment: the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the non-fulfillment of one's hopes or expectations. 
Lure: an appealing or attractive quality also a devise used for attracting.

Life seems to have a great many Disappointment Lures. Surviving certainly does.

As human beings, as well as patients, victims, and survivors, we are drawn to attractive things and ideas. Promises of love, friendship, and happiness. Hopes of treatments, therapies, and cures. We seek things with promise and grab hold of things with hope. We reach for people who can help make our journey more enlightening and successful.

We long for understanding and sharing being understood with someone else. We long for promises to be fulfilled and hopes realized. In often unvoiced, secret parts of ourselves, we expect the best case scenario. It is where dreams live.

But, with promise, hope, and expectations, we all risk setting ourselves up for disappointments. The more powerful and attractive the lure, the bigger the risk, because it inspires the strongest belief in it.

Because life and surviving are often wrought with the worst case scenarios, or, at the very least, less than best case, we can easily find ourselves dashed against the rocks of reality. Overcome with sadness when an expectation goes unfulfilled. 

Risk is part of life. Without it, there can be no reward. 

We can not let set-backs or fear guide our actions. We can not survive by being like a child who reaches and touches a hot stove, learning never to touch it again. We have to risk being burned, over and over again. We have to keep reaching and touching. It is how we will survive.

Continue to reach for the lures, seek the understanding, hope for the cures, and dream of the promises of something better. For each disappointment fight within yourself for the belief that it is merely the precursor to eventual fulfillment. 

Breathe brave every single day and tell someone they are loved, even if that someone is you. Because love can survive even in disappointment and guide your soul towards fulfillment. 

The perfect lures

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Creating Something Beautiful

For Easter Sunday, my mother and I were kindly invited to join a couple for a holiday dinner at their house. It was a lovely affair. It began by sitting on their porch eating cheese and crackers with a variety of drinks. 

A warm Spring day to spend in old fashioned Southern style: rocking in rocking chairs, feeling the breeze, admiring the daffodils, listening to soaring music, and just having free-flowing conversations covering many interesting topics with great people. It moved inside to a wonderfully prepared dinner and festive decorations, including whimsical bunny-driven cars, handmade from PEEPS candy and Twinkies. 

Then, for dessert, our friend brought out these beautiful sugar cookies. She had made them from scratch and hand-painted pastel colors onto their glorious springtime flower designs. They were breathtaking in their simple grace, as utterly gorgeous as any cookies could ever be. A true gift made to share.

She had found the molds in a local shop, searched for paint brushes to apply the dyes to color them, made the dough, hand pressed it into the molds, delicately removed the dough keeping the design intact, baked the cookies, mixed the pastel dyes, then painstakingly hand-painted them with a flourish for detail. Graceful, elegant, and exquisite, like something out of a fairy tale. We admired them greatly and, although they were delicious, it felt like a shame to devour something so wonderful. But devour and savor we most certainly did.

At times, surviving is like those cookies. It takes time, effort, planning, patience, and care. Not to mention fortitude of will, focus, creativity, dedication, and love. It also can be painstakingly hard to finish.

It isn't the simplest of tasks to create something beautiful or to survive something hard. 
It isn't easy to find beauty in hard things or overcome the harder parts of creating something beautiful.

But, like those precious cookies, it is worth all the effort.

Surviving is worth all the time, the effort, the planning, the patience, and the care. Continue to fight to have the will, maintain the focus, find the creativity, be dedicated, and always acknowledge the love. Share the struggle and the gentle grace of surviving. As hard as it may be to get there, there is beauty in your survival.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Maybe Tomorrow

Today in 1924 the first around the world flights left Seattle, Washington (as a group). Three of the four planes completed their flights taking 354 hours and forty seven minutes of flight time to return to Seattle. The trip actually lasted until September, because the planes stopped many times along the way.

Around the world only 21 years after the Wright Brothers managed the first successful plane flight of 20 feet for 12 seconds.

The first brain aneurysm treated by surgical clipping was in 1937. The first attempts at chemotherapy involved World War II mustard gas derivatives in the early 1950's. The first heart transplant happened in 1967, last year 2,174 were performed in the United State alone, thousands more world wide.

My last intravenous treatment for anemia involved a new drug that was approved by the FDA at the beginning of this year. It can treat me with a higher dose in a shorter treatment cycle and has less dangerous side effects.

For any number of illnesses, there are ongoing, possibly revolutionary, drug trials starting every day, advances in cutting-edge technology and approvals for treatment options are constantly changing, and people are surviving things they couldn't have survived even five to ten years ago.

Just as fighting to survive changes us, modern medicine is continually changing and evolving as it fights for deeper understanding, advancing treatments, and finding the cures to help more of us survive.

Maybe tomorrow, there will be a new treatment to help your pain go away. Maybe tomorrow, the drug you need to survive longer will be approved. Maybe tomorrow the cure you are searching for is found. Maybe tomorrow... maybe the next day.

Do not give up. Do not lose hope. We have all come a long way and are not done yet.

Today I hurt. Maybe tomorrow I won't. May all of our tomorrows hope for better tomorrows after that.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Momentary Springs

Spring is known as a time of growth, renewal, and rebirth. A season that starts fresh with promises of a new beginning. It is a special time of warmth and light, after a long season of cold and darkness.

Surviving has its own unique springtimes. Moments when the dark clears and the horizon can open up like a soft sunrise. Sometimes this spring of promise lingers and blossoms, while other times it is a sweet momentary gift.

We are all familiar with the latin saying "Carpe Diem" or seize the day, but few are as familiar with "Capiat Lucem", seize the light.

It is extremely important to not let these times of warmth and lightness go unnoticed by dwelling too long on the dark times you have been struggling through. They are far too rare and precious to not grab a hold of. Do not let the light escape unsavored. Capiat Lucem.

We are the roads to our own enlightenment and seizing the light, when we glimpse it, keeps us on the right path. Hold onto it tightly.

These moments, no matter how fleeting, can bloom into the strength that feeds your soul so you can to continue to breathe brave and endure. They are the beautiful miracles of survival and in them lives the grace which helps us to heal. 

Happy Easter.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Angel Wing Talisman

Throughout history, man has found comfort and sought protection in objects. Tokens of power and sources of spiritual support. Talismans were even used in medieval medicine as a form of treatment when all prior forms had failed, sometimes to great success, because belief is a mysteriously powerful thing. People's belief in such objects have given some items sacramental weight which has outlasted even the objects themselves.

We all have them. Good luck charms, security blankets, and little trinkets which mean much more to us then their actual worth.

There is no frivolity in your heart giving an object such weight, if it gives you comfort and hope in a time of fear and despair. That is a very real thing of worth.

During my brain surgery, a very special ring, which had been gotten as a gift for me based on how another person saw me during my darkest time of struggle, gave me immeasurable hope. Sadly, I never wore it on my finger or even held it in my hand. It was half a world away. Its delivery delayed awaiting a more personal arrival. (The ring was eventually stolen, having never been received.)

But, its very existence showed me a side of myself I could not see, but desperately needed to feel. At my ugliest moments when I felt utterly worthless, and could muster no reason to keep going, when I most wanted to give up, I would close my eyes and think of that ring. I would find beauty and worth in myself, because someone else had seen me in a way I could not. It gave me strength and the gift of its soft grace to find beauty in the darkness.

No one else will ever know the depth of my feeling for that far away ring. Nor grasp its importance to my fearful, wounded heart. That ring was a salvation of light, my survival talisman. Its worth far beyond any price tag. (I often still dream of it when my soul hurts and I feel lost. The beauty of its curves, the splendor of its shape, the graceful elegance of its design, and the unique view of me within it... Its memory still provides comfort and is a safe place during dangerous times.)

So hold close the things that matter to you, that give you comfort and hope. Treasure your little treasures. It is not shallow or silly. Do not let anyone belittle your need for a possession, nor allow them to trivialize it, for it is no small thing when something gives you the strength to keep going and the will to believe you will make it.

(Note: Later, I did receive another ring, to symbolize all I had been through and shared with another. A ring different than the first, but whose beauty of purpose also moves me to this day. And which I put back on today, since it is spring and that is a time of starting anew. Even if I only wear it for a little while, I am reminded to be moved.)

Friday, April 3, 2015


Battling trauma and crisis will keep you on your toes and put you on edge.

There is so much to think about, to do, to juggle, to contemplate, and to prepare for. From doctor's visits and treatment options, to emotional assessments and life adjustments, to evaluating your energy level and time management for accomplishing routine tasks when you are at your most energetic, to friends and family commitments and time for yourself.

Dealing with the details of trauma can be exhausting and un-fulfilling to your personal reserves. So, you have to make sure to allot time for the little details that can help anchor and inspire you to remember who you are amid the chaos.

Like a ballerina, who has to remember all the dance steps, hit all the marks, know the routine, trust her partner, stretch her muscles, practice all the moves, find the grace to feel the music, inhale the strength to exit the wings onto the stage, be brave enough to leap, and be inspired in the truth to dance, you can not forget the simple act of putting on your toe shoes.

Make time for the small things which are part of the bigger picture of you. Remind yourself to make the effort for the little details which are important to the cohesiveness of you feeling like yourself and not a random patient or a victim.

They do not have to be grand gestures, just subtle reminders. These "minor" details play a huge part in your survival.

You might not be able to get out of bed, but you can put on clean, comfy pajamas. You might not have the strength to conduct a symphony, but you can listen to a song which makes your heart sing.

You might not have the energy to cook a gourmet meal, but you can order take-out. You might be too weak to plant a garden, but you can still stop to smell a flower.

You might not have the time to write an epic poem, but you can read one that inspires you. You might not have the fortitude to watch a whole movie, but you can fall asleep in front of the t.v. watching one.

You might not have the energy to rock out, but you can still tap your feet to a catchy tune. You might not have the ability to dress up, but you can paint your toenails.

Like a ballerina, who is not dancing today, you can still metaphorically put on your toe shoes and lace them up to feel like part of the dance within you. Just closing your eyes and imagining the pale silk ribbons wrapping around your legs can be inspiring.

Fill up your reserves and restock your inner strength with whatever small detail reminds you that you are still you. These subtleties are vital to your survival. Breathe brave and find your dance within.

Today my toes danced.