Living Well Despite Illness

Living with a sense of purpose has a tremendous impact on our health and quality of life. Pair purpose with a positive attitude about growing older and you can add years to your life. Sound rosy, and pretty easy, doesn’t it? We know it isn’t.

Amidst the aches and pains, big life changes and grief that often come with growing older, how can we adopt a positive mindset and cultivate a sense of purpose? We asked Vancouver-based Registered Clinical Counselor Deborah Braun for advice.

Q&A with Deborah Braun

Deborah-BraunBraun has 16 years of international experience working and volunteering in health services. She has counselled and coached a wide range of clients including executives, college students, immigrants, hospital administrators, parliamentarians and more.

She collaborates with her clients to “chart a path towards a more desirable future,” she says, integrating “pragmatic and traditional therapies with leading edge neuro-psychology exercises to build clarity, compassion, confidence and courage”.

Through her Vibrant Despite Illness workshop, she teaches older adults how to forge ahead with positivity, hope and conviction despite living with a chronic illness, something she knows about firsthand — Braun developed Type-1 diabetes mid-life.

Q: Despite the many challenges that come with growing older, how do we maintain our optimism — or become more optimistic — as we age?

A: You have to be honest with yourself. For a lot of us, it’s about letting go of certain obligations and roles that we may have played in our younger years, intentionally becoming more free and connecting inward. Of course, that can sound a little selfish, but growing older, for many, is a time to say, “it’s my turn to live the life I want; to do activities that I might have put on hold to raise a family or advance my career.”

I encourage my older clients to ask themselves a few simple questions:

  • Is there an activity or hobby you once enjoyed that you want to do again?
  • Is there something you’ve always wanted to learn about or to try?
  • Do you want to volunteer?

As we age, sometimes we start to feel less relevant in the world, less valued. Doing something that makes us feel good gives us a sense of meaning and fulfillment. It’s energizing.

Q: In your practice, you use a technique called “invigorating the mind”. Tell us more about it.

A: When I use the word invigorating, it means to breathe new life into yourself or to give your strength or energy to something specific — to take on new things, do things differently and look at things differently. Using this technique, clients begin to connect their body and nervous system to the present moment. It helps them notice habitual thoughts and reactions. Once they’re able to identify their patterns — good and bad — they can begin to evolve and grow. It’s so gratifying to see someone who came in depleted, walk out with a stronger sense of self-worth and go in a direction they hadn’t considered before.

Q: What would you say to someone who might be struggling since they’ve retired?

A: David Whyte, a wonderful poet, said, “the antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness.” So I regularly ask my clients to take pause and look inward.

  • Where is your heart is pulling you?
  • What brings excitement or lightness to your body?
  • What makes your spirit and your soul sing?

If you don’t know what you want or what excites you, pay closer attention to how you feel in certain situations. For instance, if you’re in a conversation with someone at dinner and you notice your energy is up and you’re fully engaged in the discussion, ask yourself why. It may be an indication of what fulfills you.

Q: Tell us about your Vibrant Despite Illness workshop. How can older adults continue to live a vibrant life even though they’ve been diagnosed with a chronic or critical illness?

A: I developed gestational diabetes and then full blown Type-1 diabetes mid-life. I really misinterpreted it. I thought it meant that I was no longer a healthy person, and that the condition was going to compromise my life. I felt emotionally depleted from it — very overwhelmed and anxious. When we get ill we tend to isolate ourselves. The self-critic looms large and we can start to lose our sense of belonging. We feel different from friends and family, less capable, even a burden. We blame ourselves or feel foolish that we didn’t take better care of our health.

Negative thoughts like this can hurt our self-worth, and more importantly, they’re not true. While we may be dealing with difficult circumstances, we can manage.

I developed the Vibrant Despite Illness series once I discovered that there’s lots of ways to live a vibrant, fulfilling life even when you have an illness. The intention of the series is to help participants shift from the avoiding mindset to an approaching one.

Vibrant Despite Illness invites people to take a realistic look at their illness and become kinder to themselves. Rather than becoming isolated, we look at the things you have in common with others. We then identify ways for you to stay connected so that you feel encouraged, challenged and reminded of all the healthy components of who you are.

Editor’s note: If you’re curious about how Deborah might help you reshape your life, contact her at Coastal Mind Counselling and Education. She works with clients via Skype and in person at her Vancouver, B.C. office.

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