Finding Strength with Kaizen-Muse Coaching Tools

by Vivian Liebenson

“Where have you been?” you might ask.

“You started off so strong, ready to build a creativity business. You were so excited, and then — Poof! You disappeared.”
I’d like to be able to tell you I ran off and joined the circus. Or I was so busy making art I forgot to do anything else. Or anything that sounds vaguely interesting or adventurous.
But the truth was I was busy having an extremely difficult year.
In August 2013 when I signed up for Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coaching training, I thought maybe I’d end up with the skills for a sideline business. Hopefully, I’d learn how to jumpstart my own creativity. I didn’t realize I was going to be learning tools that would help me survive a year filled with life stressors.
At the same time I was studying to be a creativity coach, our son was developing an obscure chronic illness, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS). He would end up missing 4 months of the 4th grade followed by spotty attendance, chronic pain, and the deterioration of his emotional well-being.
As we rang in 2014, I was working from home, isolated, stressed, and frustrated that nothing we were doing seemed to be helping our son.
But having just finished the KMCC training and studying for the certification, all of the coaching tools we learned were front and center in my mind. So I used them. Not just for coaching clients, not just for getting past my own coaching blocks, but for everything.
  • Every day, several times a day I asked myself, “How can I make this easier?” (The answer almost always involved ignoring some form of housework. Don’t ask how long it was before the bathroom got cleaned.)
  • When our son was crying from pain and frustration, I eventually stopped trying to suggest things to make him feel better and started asking, “What do you think might help?” He’d calm down and often he’d have a suggestion.
  • When my heart was breaking because there was nothing I could do to make him feel better, and feeling guilty for accidentally enjoying myself, I reframed my harsh self-talk and started telling myself that still finding joy in life even though my son was sick didn’t make me a bad mother.
  • I hunkered down with “Muse Song” – muse of nurturing and self-care and “Lull,” muse of taking a break (From Jill Badonsky’s book “The Nine Modern Day Muses (and a Bodyguard)”) and cut my work schedule to 3 days a week for the month of March. I spent Mondays and Fridays having artist’s dates and drinking green smoothies, and generally getting out of my house so I didn’t lose my mind.
  • lowered my expectations. So low they were practically non-existent. I didn’t expect to accomplish much and gave myself credit for the smallest things – getting dressed, taking a shower, getting through the day.
  • Small steps were the only way I could get anything done, especially since I couldn’t concentrate for more than 15 – 20 minutes at a time.
All through this, I studied for my certification exam, and in early April became a Certified Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coach! This exciting development gave me little boost and I made some small inroads in building my coaching practice.
But the Universe had other plans.
My 92 year-old father, living independently in Florida, started to deteriorate and it became clear he would finally need to move to an assisted living facility. Before we could make that happen he ended up in the hospital and the plan changed to moving him to a nursing home. After years of trying to get him to move closer, he finally agreed to move near us to be in a home we knew and trusted. While I wasn’t happy that he was unwell, I was overjoyed that he would be nearby, and our son, who couldn’t possibly fly to see him, would finally be able to visit him on a regular basis.
Sadly, before any of that could happen, he passed away.
Needless to say, I was gutted.
My siblings and I had all gotten to see him in the 2 weeks he was in the hospital, but I hadn’t taken my son with me, even though he begged to go. And none of us were with my Dad when he died. The guilt was unbearable.
But I still needed to function, so back to my Kaizen-Muse toolbox I went.
  • I tried to believe for a few minutes each day that I had done enough. That even though my son couldn’t be there, his Grandpa knew how much he loved him and vice versa. That even though I couldn’t be there at the very end, I had told my Dad how much I loved him, and he was able to tell me he loved me while he could still talk.
  • I embraced the Shadow Muse and drew dark and grief-filled images in my journal.
  • I reminded myself this was all normal. Just like the creative process, there is no map or guidebook to get us through the grieving process. There would be good and bad days and no prescribed end-date.
  • I asked myself what worked in the past? Having lost my mother 12 years ago, I knew that following the Jewish rituals of mourning had been a great comfort and would be again.
  • I tried to reframe some of my grief and guilt as gratitude – for my father living to be 92, for getting the opportunity to know him better in the years after my mother died, for having him in my son’s life, and for having the chance to say goodbye to him.
Thankfully, things eventually started to improve.
In July we went to Florida and cleaned out my father’s apartment. Though I was dreading this, it was surprisingly healing. He had boxes and boxes of family photos that we got to look through. I took home many of them along with his portfolio and art supplies.
Then in August, almost exactly a year after he became sick, our son got better! He still needs medication, but his symptoms have all but disappeared and he is back to his old cheerful self. The gratitude never gets old.
This year, as we celebrated the beginning of 2015, there was joy and laughter in our house. We visited with friends and cleared away the last painful reminders of 2014’s troubles.
In the past, when things have been even half as difficult as this past year, I’ve ended up depressed and on medication. However, I truly believe the coaching tools I was able to call on helped me stay off anti-depressants and though I wouldn’t want to repeat any of it, I feel stronger for having been able to make it through this year.
Here’s to a new year filled with good health, joy, and lightness!

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