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15: Lessons on Clarity and Creativity While Living With Chronic Disease (with Sarah Dobson)

The upbeat and community-minded Sarah Dobson is making a difference in the world and enjoying clarity and creativity in life, even though she has had 5 brain surgeries due to having Camurati-Engelmann Disease, which affects her skull. In this episode Sarah shares how her disease has motivated her to prioritize what's really important and to learn to be vulnerable and ask for help rather than always putting on her “happy face.”

Sarah is an editor and grant writer based in Vancouver, British Columbia. She helps people write clearly and strategically to get grant funding and to get published. She's also the co-founder of the nonprofit: Basics for Health Society, which connects people living in poverty with the social resources they need to be healthy. She's an avid reader, a cook, and a lover of the outdoors.


Nuggets of Wisdom from Sarah:

  • “Create before you consume.” (Take that time to be creative before being a consumer).
  • “What is the easy way to do this?”
  • “My morning routine involves doing 10-15 minutes of free writing. So just waking up and taking pen to paper and kind of clearing out the junk. It's based on Julia Cameron's Morning Pages from The Artist's Way.”
  • “I remember sitting on my kitchen floor just sobbing, just so sad, and so alone. And it occurred to me that I had sort of brought this on myself because I hadn't been honest with people about what I needed. I had been putting on this happy face for months when, quite plainly, things were not going very well. But I thought that if I was honest with people about how I was doing, that nobody would want to spend any time with me – that I would be such a downer that I would have nobody. But it turned out that faking it meant I had nobody either. So that was a really big wake-up call for me. The thought of being honest with people about how scared I was and how depressed I was really terrified me. But I knew that I had to. I knew that if I didn't start doing that, then I really was going to be alone and dealing with this illness by myself. So that was a real turning point for me. And I started reaching out to people and I started being more honest with them about what was going on in my life. And it transformed EVERYTHING for me.”
  • “They had really just been there all along and were kind of waiting for me to open up to them. What I learned through that experience was the more vulnerable I was with them, the more likely they were to share their struggles with me, which of course deepens a friendship and deepens a connection with someone.”
  • “It's something that will be a part of my life my whole life long and I try to learn from it, to embrace it to the extent that I can.”
  • “It's really helped me to get clear on what matters to me, in terms of how I want to spend my time, how I want to live my life when I've got this disease kind of hanging over my head in that way. It really makes you think twice about what matters and knowing in a very real way that life is short. And as morbid as that can be sometimes, I actually think it's kind of a blessing to have such clarity around that.”
  • “Time and nature and quality time in community, for me that tends to be one-on-one time with people – time with people who are important to me.”


Some of Sarah's Favorite Things:

  • Personal habit: Julia Cameron's Morning Pages from The Writer's Way. (Based on the principle of free writing/stream of consciousness. “I normally sit down in front of my blank page and the first thought that comes up, I just start there. You write without stopping, without revising, without judging for 3 pages.”
  • Easy meal: Omelette with sauteed kale & garlic on the side. 
  • Possession: A custom-made shelf, made my a local carpenter, that's a custom-made room divider. “Nobody else has anything like it.”
  • Book: The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron and Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg (both based on the idea of writing as meditation). 
  • Bucket List Item: Anything outdoors (camping, hiking, skiing, kayaking)
  • Best Advice received: “Do what seems right at the time. Nothing is very permanent.”
  • Happiest memory: Hosting 20 people for Canadian Thanksgiving a few years ago. “It was community, and hosting, and food – all of my favorite things – wrapped up in a single evening.”


Sarah's Happiness Formula:

Sleep, exercise and good food, plus time in nature and quality time in community with friends. 



A Challenge from Sarah:

“Listen to your instinct without judging it. And whether you call it your instinct, your gut, your heart -whatever it is- just listen to that without piling on ‘Oh, that's ridiculous, I shouldn't feel that way,' or ‘How could I possibly want that?' It has really helped me get clear on what I want if I can just listen to my gut without piling on any of that judgment.” 




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About jen

Jen Riday is a mom of 6 and life coach who loves to help women experience massive happiness as they let go of stress, sadness or other chronic emotions of negativity.

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