Holiday season is underway – that often means a change of focus for people, such as turning attention toward festivities as well as deeply connecting with family and long-time friends. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? For some though, the holiday season can be stressful for reasons I have not explicitly named in previous blog posts. I’ll get to the point. The reality of managing chronic illness during the ‘season of giving’ isn’t so easy. I know some of my readers here are already nodding their heads. For starters, the pressure to simultaneously consume and avoid, whether that be through making unnecessary purchases while dodging celebratory sugar-laden foods and beverages, or otherwise, is not helpful or easy. In addition, expectations to attend gatherings or donate volunteer time in the service of others has both pros and cons. If you are experiencing good health, and I do hope that’s the case, then this article may not be for you…unless you are a primary caregiver to someone with a chronic illness. If that’s your reality, read on. Managing chronic illnesses are time consuming, energy-draining, expensive, and can leave one feeling like an outsider in the home. Now don’t go feeling all down in the dumps – There are ways to manage these things and brighten our days!
I have found that being open about my own experience of managing chronic illness has been much more of a blessing than a curse. Yes, this is risky and does take courage to some degree, I admit. By sharing my experience, I have found that many people are experiencing something similar if not the very same thing (now or in the past). I have been stunned to learn this! This means resources are shared, lived experiences are validated, and acceptance of what I can and cannot give is understood. If I can’t show up, there are no guilt trips, and accommodations are made on my behalf when possible. I have learned what ‘ask and you shall receive’ actually means. I have also learned the value of setting boundaries. And I have also learned that most people carry within themselves secrets. Those being grief, trauma memories, regrets…but most of all, a particular state of mind, and that is HOPE. From all of this, might we realize that we are not so alone after all, and that the risk taken by reaching out to a stranger or by stepping into a new group may offer the connections we need most.
Whether you are feeling isolated or are just desiring a shift from the how things have been going this year, take advantage of online groups. Some are free or low-cost. I like to tell people about meetup.com, which I have used on more than one occasion because the results were positive in my experience. Recently, I typed ‘cancer’ and ‘chronic illness’ (separately) in the search box to discover supportive online offerings for both. Additionally, I now offer free online guided meditations every Wednesday evening – they last for 40-45 minutes. Others offer dream groups, creativity classes, or unique support groups. Here is another option: Jane Carleton is an experienced dreamworker and facilitates small-sized dream groups online. She has used her dreams to facilitate her own personal healing journey as well. If you are inspired to contact her, go to yourdreamingself.com.
Because of my particular interest in meditation, yoga, creativity and dreams, I’d like to share with you some of the beneficial outcomes of this type of group participation. For example, I’ll now share a bit about a past project that has inspired me. The Healing Power of Dreams project led by Tallulah Lyons and Wendy Pannier and supported by the International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD) brought dreamwork into cancer facilities across the U.S. From surveys and assessments, they found numerous benefits for those managing a chronic illness – in this case, cancer. I’d like to share some of the benefits with you here: Dreams, even nightmares, were reported to offer insight and energy for healing and personal growth, in addition to guidance with decision-making and lifestyle change, especially when there is imbalance. Dreams reflected enduring strengths as well. Furthermore, while research suggests numerous benefits from the use of guided imagery and mediation, the finding from this project showed that using personal healing dream symbols in guided imagery sessions made positive impacts. Last but not least, participants in the cancer project experienced increased feelings of hope, confidence, control and connection, while feelings of anxiety and stress decreased.
There is good reason to expand social supports when facing chronic illness, especially with those that place a focus on unconventional and creative avenues in support of healing. While family and close friends have a lot to offer us, we may need to look outside of our close(d) circle to discover something fresh and new. Whatever you choose, hold tightly to hope. Miracles do happen. The few resources listed above can get you on your way.