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I am thrilled to hear that Wild  just hit #1 on the New York Times Bestseller listAuthor Cheryl Strayed had accepted my request for a blog interview back in MarchSo in her honor today and in my happiness for her I felt it appropos to repost her interview.

And if you haven’t already done so, read this book.  It’s a page-turning adventure story detailing one woman’s journey towards reclaiming her life while out in the wilderness.  It’s a unique story of courage,vulnerability, ‘kookiness’  and inspiration written in captivating prose that brings you up close to each and every event.

 

I am so excited to present this month’s interviewee, Cheryl Strayed.  I am exceptionally happy for Ms. Strayed because her memoir, Wild, which just came out March 20th  has been getting rave reviews and is currently  #7 on the New York Times bestseller list.  And Reese Witherspoon has optioned the movie rights to Wild, in which she will star as Cheryl. 

I am extremely appreciative that in this exciting ‘hoopla’ time for Ms. Strayed, she warmly and graciously agreed to this interview.    Her story is quite unique, to say the least, in how she has rebuilt her life after going through the tragic loss of her mother.  Ms. Strayed found her way back {to life} by embarking on an 1,100 mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). 

“It seemed like years ago now – as I stood barefoot on that mountain in California – in a different lifetime, really, when I’d make the arguably unreasonable decision to take a long walk alone on the PCT in order to save myself.”

1.       What personal qualities have helped you carry on and move in a positive direction?

One of the last things my mother said to me before she died was that I was a seeker. I didn’t understand at the time how right she was, but now I do. My impulse to reach and dig and get to another emotional or psychological place, to understand a new thing, served me well when I had to rage against my mother’s death at the age of 45 and later, when I had to heal my sorrow and learn how to live without her.

2.       Did you go through a period of self-pity?  If so, what helped lift you out?

One time about two years after my mother died I was with a group of women on Mother’s Day. We’d rented a cabin for the weekend and since none of us were with our mothers we went around in a circle taking turns saying something about our moms by way of honoring them. I was the only one with a dead mother. These women were kind to me, but I remember feeling an unreasonable amount of unexpressed resentment toward them. It felt so unfair that they got to have moms and I didn’t. (And then of course I felt guilty for feeling that way.)

I let go of my self-pity over time, as I grew up and accepted the fact that I would never get my mother back. I also met many people who’d also lost their parents young and they were a great consolation to me. I don’t experience self-pity anymore, but that doesn’t mean I don’t notice what I’ve lost. I’m never with a friend and his or her mother that I am not aware of it. A little    voice in my head always says, lucky you. But it’s a loving voice, and one that understands complexity. There are many orphans whose parents are alive and well.

3.       Was there a specific moment, thought or epiphany that helped bring you to a better place mentally/psychologically, or did it evolve?

I had many epiphanies that together formed an evolution. The hardest part about losing one’s primary parent in one’s teens or twenties is that you’re still trying to form your identity, to figure out who you’re going to be in the world, and smack dab in the midst of that, you’ve lost the person who’d defined you and against which you’d defined yourself. You’re grieving so hard, but you’re also trying to grow up.

Those things are utterly tangled together for me. I don’t know what was youthful angst and confusion and what was my grief, and I never will. I can’t imagine what my life would have been like if my mother hadn’t died. I’ve learned as much from her in her death as I did in her life. I had to stitch my own stories with the threads of her absence. At a certain point I became willing to do that. I accepted her death as my rebirth, whether I liked it or not. I was on a big journey when this really became clear to me—on an 1100-mile solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, which I wrote about in my memoir, Wild. The summer I hiked the trail was a time of many epiphanies. My experience on the PCT changed me forever. It was my evolution.

4.       What are/were your day-to-day coping skills that keep you afloat?

I miss my mother every day, but my grief has lessened over time. It doesn’t feel like the great weight that will sink me anymore. When it did feel that way in the four or five years after her death, I found comfort in my friendships, in silence and solitude, in the wilderness, and in my writing. Acceptance was probably the most important coping skill. I found solace in simply sitting with my sorrow. There’s a lot of strength in crying the tears that need to be cried and letting go of what cannot any longer be held.

5.       In general, how have you managed to rebuild your life after your losses?

By moving forward. By searching out love and goodness. By keeping faith with the things that brought me the most inner peace. By mothering my children with the same big love my mother mothered me. By becoming the woman my mother raised me to be, even though she didn’t get to be here to see her.

6.     What advice do you have for someone going through loss in the hope of coming out of the darkness intact?

There are dark days and painfully bright nights in this life. We have the capacity to survive them. We know this because so many others have and are and will. It’s an ancient tale. Trust it.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/01/books/review/wild-a-hiking-memoir-by-cheryl-strayed.html

Photo credit goes to Joni Kabana for picture of Cheryl Strayed.

Thank you for reading.  Sharing and Comments are always appreciated. 

I’m staring up at the bird on the ceiling.  I’m on his wings flying off  to Somewhere.  Blue sky and puffy clouds surround him. 

This is all a great visual while I sit in the chair, my jaw hurting as I hold my mouth open as wide as I can during a painless root canal procedure.  Yes, you read it right – it is painless because my endodontist has the gift of golden dental hands.  Having said that, it’s still not the most comfortable half-hour, breathing through a rubber dam while two people are working in my mouth with all kinds of instruments and foul-tasting sprays and medicines being used. 

And so I try hard to defocus on what’s going on in my mouth and concentrate on the beautiful ceiling, clearly designed as a calming factor in a typically anxiety-provoking situation.  Let’s face it, going to the dentist is not a pleasure-producing experience.   

In yoga, we’re told to pick a spot to focus on while doing balancing poses.  It helps keep us grounded and connected.  So while I’m not exactly balancing in my chair, ‘my’ bird is my focal point as I try to maintain a calm flow of breath and stay connected to that rather than to the tightness in my body.  If I’m lucky, I can even lose myself in flight along with Mr. Bird. 

Next week when I begin my visits to my general dentist for the crown work to be done, I will be staring at a plain white ceiling and imagining the beautiful sky and bird as my mind will have to work a bit harder at visualizing my flight to somewhere.   

I manage this specific anxiety through breathing, visualization and a form of meditation.  This generally works for me.

I do the same before I give a presentation.  Deep breathing, then quiet breathing as I close my eyes for a few minutes,  and then an affirmative pep-talk gets me calm, focused and psyched.  I talk to myself en route to the presentation and then allow for 15 minutes in my parked car to do my quiet calming exercises.   

Generalzied anxiety, as my recent interviewee, Priscilla Warner suffers from, is much harder to handle.  She’s worked on it for years and only recently has found more natural ways of managing it, in conjunction with medication.  When anxiety interferes with one’s overall functioning, it can be debilitating.  Where it’s more localized to specific situations, it can be coped with in {even} some fairly creative ways. 

On vacation recently, I met a woman who has tremendous anxiety over flying.  Since she’s  a lover of travel and won’t give that up, besides the knock- out pill-popping solution before getting on a plane,  she has started taking a ship across the Atlantic.  For someone who has the extra time and enjoys cruising, what a great solution.    

Antidotes to Anxiety:

Think out of the boxSeek creative solutions so you can attain your desired goal. 

Conscious breathing.  It really does slow down your whole system. 

Visualize positive outcomes or something you love.

Make friends with your anxiety.  Recognize the signs and then begin the calming strategies.

Talk to yourself.  Positive self-talk goes a long way in flipping the channels of the mind.

For pervasive and generalized anxiety that compromises one’s quality of life, it’s important to understand the underlying root and possible causes.  Working  through the issues with a good therapist can go a long way in bringing someone to the point of then managing it with {the above-mentioned} behavioral steps.   

No one is alone with anxiety.  It is part of the human condition.   The differences lie in degree and ability to manage.

How do you cope with your anxiety?  How big is it in your life?  Share your techniques and ways of dealing with it.  It may help others. 

Thanks for stopping by and reading this.   Hope you’re building in fun this summer season.   Oh and by the way, fun is a great anti-anxiety defense.  In the midst of fun, there’s little room for anxiety to enter. 

I haven’t had a full-blown panic attack in a couple of years.  Granted, my body is not always an ocean of tranquility.  I still feel lonliness, fear, and what I call the black-and-blues – the sadness I finally allow myself to feel, the sadness that panic covered up for so many years.”

As many of you may know from my {June} interview with Meredith Vieria, I met her at an event in New York City where she interviewed her childhood friend, Priscilla Warner, on her recent book, Learning to Breathe.   That night was a win-win for me as I met two wonderfully warm and engaging women, and they each agreed to do a blog interview. 

So this month, it’s Ms. Warner’s turn.  She is a noted writer, having coauthored a New York Times bestseller, The Faith Club, and now her new memoir.   She takes us on a fascinating journey as she seeks to find ways to heal from her years of suffering from high anxiety and panic attacks. 

Most, if not all of us can relate to anxiety but her condition was oftentimes very debilitating.   Ms. Warner shows us it’s never too late to learn, grow and change or as she says, “An old tiger can learn new tricks.”      

I am so pleased to present Priscilla Warner.

  1. What personal qualities have helped you carry on and move in a positive direction?

My mother, a prolific artist, used to tell me, “People will disappoint you, but your work never will.”  The love I feel for my family and friends is the most powerful positive factor in my life.  But often what sustains me most during tough times, propelling me forward, is my ability to create something from nothing, whether I’m writing or making art and jewelry.

  1. Did you go through a period of self-pity?  If so, what helped lift you out?

I didn’t go through a period of self-pity, but I did feel shame when I suffered from panic attacks.  I felt like I had a defective nervous system, that erupted at will, prohibiting me from functioning like a ‘normal’ person.  What lifted me out of that shame was writing Learning to Breathe, because it sent me on a mission to heal that proved to be astonishingly effective.

  1. Was there a specific moment, thought or epiphany that helped bring you to a better place mentally/psychologically, or did it evolve?

There was not one specific ‘eureka’ moment that turned me from an anxious person into a happy woman.  I take life moment by moment now.  My meditation practice helps me to note the happy, sad, anxious, boring, challenging instructive moments I experience and be grateful as they string themselves together into one long life.  The Thomas Wolfe quote I used for my high school yearbook is still surprisingly relevant!  “Knowledge is finding out something for oneself with pain, with joy, with exultancy, with labor, and with all the little ticking, breathing moments of our lives.”

  1. What are your day-to-day coping skills that keep you afloat?

Meditation is a daily practice that helps me sustain a feeling of being grounded, at peace and in touch with my essence.  I love knowing that all I need to do is observe my breath coming and going in order to feel empowered, healthy and happy.   I also start my day with a short prayer of gratitude, which gets me off to the perfect start, wherever else the day might take me. 

  1. What thoughts propel you forward?

The thought that propels me forward is, “This too shall pass.”  (So try and enjoy this somehow!)

  1. What advice do you have for someone going through internal difficulties that greatly impact the quality of their life?

I’ve discovered that people can heal in ways they never thought possible.  There are many resources out there to help make that possible.  We can all turn pain into understanding and growth.  We can choose the path we take through our suffering.  That path will twist and turn in ways we can never expect.  But if we put one foot in front of the other, and approach life one step at a time, we can move from a painful place to a productive one.  We can accept sadness and feel grace.  We can find teachers, therapists, techniques, experiences and resources that don’t have to cost a fortune, but that can make a huge difference in our lives. 

Hear Ms. Warner speak :

http://www.youtube.com/user/PriscillaWarnerBooks?feature=mhee#p/u

Her articles in Psychology Today:  http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/learning-breathe/201204/how-i-learned-not-take-my-panic-attacks-personally
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/learning-breathe/201201/is-it-selfish-seek-happiness

Hiking – a mindful, focused, present-oriented, small step activity.  I must be and do all of these as I put one foot in front of the other along the unpredictable terrain.  Especially on a steep ascent or steeply declining descent where I step with intention so my feet grip the earth, the mental concentration is intense.   I must remind myself to stop and look up at the surrounding beauty or I miss half the reason for hiking in this most breathtaking nature that has been presented to us.

When my mind is able to relax a bit and wander away from the immediacy of each step, I think about all the metaphors there is here for life itself.

  • Small steps gets us where we’re going.  The persistent steps are what make the big difference.  They take us to great places.
  • The fragility and unpredictability of life is out there with each step.  There could be a loose rock underfoot, a falling rock seemingly out of nowhere, a snow bridge that appears thick and sturdy and upon stepping cracks under our feet.  We all know life’s challenges oftentimes appear out of left field and they can hit hard. 
  • Stop to look up and see all that’s around us.  A wonderful excerpt from one of my favorite children’s book, The Phantom Tollbooth, portrays this beautifully:

                “… as you know, the most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what’s in between, and they took great pleasure in doing just that.   Then one day someone discovered that if you walked as fast as possible and looked at nothing but your shoes you would arrive at your destination much more quickly.  Soon everyone was doing it.  They all rushed down the avenues and hurried along the boulevards seeing nothing of the wonders and beauties of their city as they went.”             

                “…No one paid any attention to how things looked, and as they moved faster and faster everything grew uglier and dirtier, and as everything grew uglier and dirtier they moved faster and faster, and at last a very strange thing began to happen.  Because nobody cared, the city began to disappear.  Day by day the buildings grew fainter and fainter, and the streets faded away, until at last it was entirely invisible.  There was nothing to see at all.”

  • It’s often better not knowing the future, not knowing ahead of time what we’re going to be up against.  On one of our hikes, we ended up climbing 3500 feet.  If our guide had told us that before we started, we would’ve said, “no way, we can’t do that.”  If I would’ve known ahead of time that my daughter would be on a ventilator for three months and in the hospital for nine more months, I would’ve said, “I won’t be able to handle that; I won’t be able to be by her side and function for that long under such stress and anguish.” 

                And yet we do it.  We put one foot in front of the other and climb on, and carry on.  Our mind doesn’t have the chance (ahead of time) to warn us off by telling us, “no, no you won’t be able to do that.” And so we plow onward.  And we do it, huffing and puffing, with rest breaks as needed.  

  • We have so little control {in the externals of life}.   The forces of nature are strongWe can control how we function and manage with what we have and are given.  We can make decisions to the best of our ability at the time.  The rest is left to the wind and to the forces that be. 
  • We’re not there till we’re there.  Just when I think I’m in the clear after a long and steep descent and am finally on level ground in the village, my slippery hiking shoe souls take me for a quick little slide on the flat and study pavement. 
  • There’s something way bigger than us out there.  Being surrounded by grandiose mountains is an amazing reminder that we inhabit a grand earth.   There’s a majesty of nature, higher power, God or whatever you choose to call it to be, that embraces us.  Let’s embrace it and each other with the beauty that is out there.

Thanks for stopping by.  If you feel moved, please share in the Comments.  If you don’t, you can comment anyway, and subscribe if you haven’t already. 

A fall on a snow bridge as it cracked over a waterfall.

Today’s posting is my guest post for the Tiny Buddha inspirational blog.  I am very happy to share this piece with you.  It is a theme that has been with me for years.  We often write about what we struggle with.  Here is my angst with the Why question and how I’ve come to terms with it.

“We all have problems.  The way we solve them is what makes us different.”  Unknown

I used to be a “why” person.  Why you ask?  Because after receiving my {middle} daughter’s diagnosis of a neurological condition, I got really hooked into the “why me” mode, and it just ate away at every fiber of my core.

I obsessed over “why”.  Why did it happen?  I needed to make sense out of a senseless fluke of nature.

Click here to continue reading this post over at Tiny Buddha.

 

It’s great to go away on vacation and it’s nice to return home with wonderful experiences soon to become memories.  So I’m back  after a two week hiatus rejuvenated from some gorgeous hiking in the Swiss Alps.  Nature is a wonderful get-a-way; it clears away the staleness inside and out.   

Thanks for stopping by and do go over to the wonderful Tiny Buddha site.  Lori Deschene continues to impact a tremendous number of people with her inspirational daily writing.

My interview with Meredith Vieira on living with chronic illness {in the family} made me think back to my family’s time when we lived through my daughter, Nava’s, chronic condition of ulcerative colitis.  Until it get managed well with the proper medicines, it was obviously difficult and emotionally painful to watch a loved one (in this case an 11 year old child) writhe in pain, wake up in the middle of the night crying out on blood-streaked sheets and lose a lot of weight. 

During the acute stage of her illness, there was no escaping the fact that life revolved around sickness.  It was only when it began to finally get under control with steroids and then maintained with colitis medication that I could strive towards regaining some semblance of normalcy in our home.  I did not want illness to define Nava nor our family’s life.  Yes, it was a component of her and our life but it wasn’t the entirety.  I wanted to make life bigger and broader than the colitis. 

It became relatively easy to do once the acuteness of the disease went into quiet mode with a fairly small regimen of daily pills, for which Navi became completely responsible.   For six years the illness kept a low profile; Nava was fine and healthy.  And then all hell broke loose when a major flare-up that couldn’t be controlled set off a medical crisis (which I’ve written much about). 

Fast forward – Nava is ‘cured’ of ulcerative colitis as she had her colon removed and has a permanent ostomy.   She has her life back, her health back and lives well.  She handles her ostomy herself without a peep of complaint. 

So how do you live with a chronic condition? 

  • As Ms. Vieira stated, with openness and honesty.    I used to talk to my girls all the time about how scary it was for Navi and for all of us; about how unfair it seemed that she had disabilities and then had to have a medical condition on top of that.  And when Navi would cry out, there was a lot of acknowledging of, “I know how horrible this is and how scary it is.”  There were no secrets.  Pain shows itself.

       Emotional pain has to be expressed.  Tears need to flow.  That’s what frees us up to carry on with a wee bit of a lighter load.

       I certainly had my share of venting, ‘why Navi’; however my own pity parties were held under my covers at night. 

  • When those calm periods of health are there, run with it.  Celebrate, play, have fun, take advantage and go with it.  We’d grow our memories of good times by making sure to play and have fun.  We’d go out and do, and engage.  Every Sunday was fun day.  We’d go places and do great stuff.   From apple-picking to row boating to Renaissance Fairs to ice-skating, we were out engaging in life.

       And when Navi didn’t feel up to it, I’d make sure her sisters were doing their fun things. 

  • Maintain as normal a routine as possible.  Illness brings forth the feeling that life is out of our control; it’s running us over.  And it is and it does.  Therefore some sense of predictability is crucial.  Kids function much better when they have structure and routine.  I say, we all function better with that.  We need to feel we have some ‘say’ in our world.  It’s securing to know some things stay the same, especially when the big stuff goes out of whack- in this case the health of someone.    

These are a few things that helped us through our travails of chronic illness.  If you’ve gone through any sort of ongoing condition with a loved one (or yourself), I’d love to hear what helped get you through.

I will not be posting for the next two weeks as I will be away on vacation.

I am so excited to put out this month’s interview with Meredith Vieira.   As most of you know Ms. Vieira is a journalist and TV personality.   She was the original talk show host of The View and co-hosted the Today show, the NBC early morning news program.   She currently hosts the TV game show, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, as well as being a frequent contributor to other news shows.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Vieira at a book event at the JCC in Manhattan where she interviewed  her friend/author of a new book.   At the reception afterwards, she graciously accepted my request for a blog interview.   Speaking to her on the phone was like talking to a good old friend.

The issue I focused on with Ms. Vieira is one that is unfortunately all too prevalent – that of chronic illness;  and more specifically its impact upon the family.  Richard Cohen, Ms. Vieira’s husband, has been living with multiple sclerosis for more than 30 years.  Mr. Cohen is a TV producer and writer.  He writes a most reflective and insightful column on chronic illness for AARP MagazineHe has also written two books. (referred to later on)   

It becomes a ‘family affair’ to live and cope with the daily struggles and difficulties of a chronic and debilitating condition.  The challenge here is to live as best as one can, with it and despite it; and Ms. Vieira and Mr. Cohen do it well together. 

I hope you get lots of take-aways from this most down-to-earth interview.   I am appreciative of Ms. Vieira’s openness and authenticity as she brings us into her family’s life, providing insight and inspiration on coping and living with chronic illness.  

  1. What personal qualities have helped you carry on and move in a positive direction?

For me what has helped is for Richard to be open about his illness. For a very long time he was closed.  Partly that was out of concern about how people would react to him, professionally and personally.  He kept his disease from people. That made it harder to deal with as a couple.  You knew you were part of this masking and I don’t think that’s healthy for the other person involved- the partner.  I understood it and I didn’t force the issue but I was glad when Richard decided to be honest with people.  That was the result of our older son as a very little boy,at 6 or 7, asking me late one night when the lights were off in his room, ‘what’s the matter with Dad?’  Kids are so smart.  I don’t remember what I said exactly in the moment to comfort him-something like that Dad was fine and in the morning we’d all talk about it.  The next day we did; we explained it in terms a child could understand. It was after that that Richard realized, “I want to be open about this now.”  So I think the openness has helped me.  I’m all for not burying feelings.  I think it’s much better to get it out.

A sense of humor:  We both have a pretty good sense of humor.  We can laugh at the absurd.  And when you have this kind of illness, there are moments that are really absurd.  You can either get very depressed which is understandable or you can try to shake it off as best you can, put it in perspective and move on.  I think humor helps us put things in perspective.  That has been a great coping mechanism for me as well as for Richard.  He often will lead the way.  He’ll have an episode where maybe he drops something and he gets very angry at himself.  And then he’ll make a joke; and that allows me, that gives me permission to make a joke back.  Nine times out of ten we reach that point and I think that has been tremendously helpful.

Friends:   This comes with openness. I am totally comfortable leaning on friends. We have wonderful friends who not only ask Richard how he is doing, but will ask me how I’m doing.  This speaks to the whole notion of family illness.  This is  an important message, if I was to get out anything, it is –  for those who know someone with chronic illness, ‘don’t be afraid to ask’.  We appreciate it.  A lot of people are scared to bring it up because they may feel they’re walking on egg shells around people who are chronically ill. My experience has been that most people in that situation like when it’s acknowledged and they have that opportunity to speak about it.

      2.   Did you go through a period of self-pity?  If so, what helped lift you out?

 Sure I have days when Richard will say ‘why me’ and I’ll say to myself, ‘why me’?  I knew about Richard’s illness before I married him; it wasn’t sprung on me.  He was diagnosed with MS when he was 25.  And I married him when I was 33.  He’s five years older than me.

 We used to run all the time together.  We can’t do that anymore.  I love things like skiing, things that he can’t do.  There are moments when we’re talking about a vacation and we’re limited and then I’ll feel , ‘oh I really want to do that’. It’s one of those passing things.  But I also think that’s O.K.  It’s O.K to have a pity party every once- in- a-while, just let it out.  Because there is loss–  there’s physical loss and emotional loss. There’s that kind of day-to-day loss and it’s alright to feel bad about that as long as you can put it in perspective; in the scheme of things that ‘ain’t’ the biggest issue. 

      3.   Please speak here to the issue of caretaking 

Caregiver is the word I use.  Richard is not in the position where he needs that kind of attention.  Because he has secondary MS, he has less ability to use his hands and eye-sight than he used to. So there are times when I am his hands or his sight – for reading a menu, tying a shoe or doing that top button on a shirt.  But I’m certainly not a full-time caregiver.  We sort of take care of each other.

I think a lot of people who are caregivers feel tremendous guilt when they allow their personal feelings to rise above those of their spouse.  It’s sort of like ‘how dare you.  That’s the person who’s ill, not you; so what right do you have?’  And I think you have every right, whatever your emotions are.

      4.   Was there a specific moment or epiphany that helped guide you to a better place mentally and psychologically, or did it evolve?

 I understood enough about MS going into the marriage in part because my dad was a doctor.  I went to appointments with Richard and I saw people younger than him who were already  wheelchair-bound.  I knew the potential progression of the illness.  It’s so unpredictable.  Will Richard end up in a wheelchair or worse – bedridden?  Is it possible; sure it is, but we have no way of knowing that’s going to be the outcome.  Every individual is different.  I knew a possible trajectory of the illness heading into it.  It sounds so trite but that expression about being hit by a bus tomorrow.  You just don’t know in life.   He could dive off a diving board and break his neck and be a guadrapalegic.  I could get ill.  You can’t live your life on the ‘what ifs’.   Because you’d never do anything.  So to me it was worth it. 

This is just a part of what we deal with.  Everybody has their stuff.  This is our stuff. 

There’s that wonderful story of everyone putting their troubles in a bag and throwing them all in a pile, and all you want is your own bag back.  Because it’s familiar.

Richard especially has had a bumb deal because he also has had two bouts of colon cancer.  It hasn’t only been MS for him.  I did have a little conversation with God after the second bout of cancer.  I said, “really, really, this guy doesn’t deserve all this.” I thought that was a cheap shot, just really unnecessary; we got it.(the lesson) 

Take away that part of our life and there are unbelievable pluses.  It’s led Richard to a point in terms of his own reflection where he was able to write two beautiful books about chronic illness.  Write what you know.  And help people.  His books have really helped people.  To be able to have that gift where you can actually change somebody’s life, that’s a pretty amazing gift.  It came at a cost, but it’s still an amazing gift. 

When he wrote about it, he was able to release and let go.  I think it was very empowering for him and I think it gave him a strength he didn’t have before.  MS does a real number on you where you feel like less of a man.  This gave him some of his self-worth back.  It allowed him to articulate it.  He had buried it.  When he started to write about it, it helped him deal better with his illness and face it. He talks a lot about denial and he thinks denial is a very good thing.  For the longest time he denied the illness and said, “I don’t care; they say I can’t be a producer, I’ll be a producer.”  It worked for him up to a certain point; but by burying it he wasn’t allowing himself to feel everything he needed to feel and to face everything he needed to face.

 Writing his first book, his memoir, Blindsided, allowed him to do it in a safe way because he is a writer.  It was like therapy.  His second book is Strong at the Broken Places is a profile of five people with chronic illness.   His third book is coming out in October and it has nothing to do with illness.  It’s called, I Want to Kill the Dog.  It’s hysterical.  It’s about our history with our pets in our family.  It’s freedom again.  He said, “I don’t want to be known just as the disability author.  There’s more to me.”  He’s almost come full circle.  “MS doesn’t totally define me; it’s part of my life, it’s not all of my life.”  He’s a very funny guy and so he wrote this very funny book.

      5.   Any specific day-to-day coping skills?

 I just kind of live day-to-day.  Today was a good day or maybe today wasn’t the best day, but tomorrow might be better.  That seems to work best for me.  We’re still in that stage where that’s doable.  When you are living with any kind of illness, you really learn to appreciate the here and now.  It takes on an added value because you’re lucky to have it.  If there’s any coping mechanism  that’s what it is: try to be as much in the moment as you can be and enjoy it; or understand  if it’s not great, then this too shall pass. 

      6.   What advice would you offer people going through their own difficult situation?

In our family it has been sense of humor and honesty.

It’s important to be able to communicateIllness is a family affair.  You need to keep the communication going and open on all sides.  And certainly if you have kids as well.  As I said, keeping this from our kids was a little off because kids in general are so attuned to things.

Build that group of friends, that support system around you.  Go for it.  Don’t be afraid.  Don’t feel that you’re a burden to other people.  And don’t be ashamed of illness.  What you’ll discover is everybody else has their own thing.  People don’t like to talk about stuff.  They hide it but if you’re open and you say you need help, people will be there for you.  It’s important to know they’re there.  It’s like it takes a village; when there’s illness it takes a village too. Most people have been phenomenal.

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