Susan Ortolano, M.A., CMRC, PCC
Intuitive Life & Relationship Coach

Ebb and Flow…

 bigstockphoto_Stream_160947                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      As a Coach, I work with people living with chronic and life-changing illness and help them to learn to love life again. I used to believe that it meant I had to put on a bright shiny happy face every day and I was no longer allowed to be angry. And, if I got angry, I had to work it through as quickly as possible so I could then present shiny happy Susan again.

 I also thought I really wasn’t supposed to have issues anymore or think any negative thoughts because a Life and Relationship Coach is supposed to be happy and positive all the time. I even thought, as a spiritual person, I had to be “blissed out”, and always calm and cool, completely fine with however the world was, is, or might be.

 So here’s the thing. I do have a life I love, however that doesn’t mean I don’t want to shift a few things, that I never get angry about anything, or that I don’t have old issues to heal.

 I can still love my life and be mad that my phone lines weren’t working today, that Whole Foods didn’t have the dark organic chocolate bar that I wanted, and that I have something on my face that wasn’t there last year or that my leg was really hurting yesterday.

 In order to really let go of something and allow it to release, sometimes I just have to let it be there first, for as long as I choose. Sometimes I do want to swear at the guy who cut me off on the freeway, or don’t like how my meat was cooked at the restaurant or even get frustrated if I didn’t get a good night’s sleep and feel that lack of sleep icky feeling.

 What is important is that I allow it all to be, give it its moment and then use the wonderful tools I have to release the energy. I also have learned to look at how I respond to whatever is going ok; what thoughts and feelings are triggered up in that moment; and know that those issues are really coming up for healing.

 I have learned that all is unfolding for me, for my highest good and the first step is to allow myself to embrace it. I’m grateful that although I still have my “stuff”, I’ve noticed I clear it out and release it all much more quickly than before and am present to peace, gratitude, and joy much more than ever – and that is a true blessing.

Even as a Coach, I’m allowed to have my ebb and flow and still know that I love my life.

For those who crossed my path on those darker days, my sincerest apologies. I also know that whatever came up on your end was divinely perfect for you, too!

Bon Voyage

bigstockphoto_Sandals_And_Flowers_On_A_Hawai_5086794 Ain’t travelling grand! People get so excited about going places, taking trips, having adventures. Europe, cruises, bungee jumping off some cliff in Mexico, visiting some Shaman in the rainforest, enjoying skiing in the Swiss Alps, lying on a beautiful beach in Hawaii, even enjoying the crazy inner child fun of Disneyworld are all exciting vacation ideas… The world has so much beauty to see!

With chronic illness, it can be quite a different scenario.

 Once I was able to get around locally, the next step was to see if I could travel beyond Los Angeles County. It had been about 3 years since I had gone anywhere and my Mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She lives about 7 hours away, and it was important for me to be there for her. There wasn’t much that would keep me away from her given her circumstance and I somehow gathered the strength to go. It actually was a great triumph for me because I made it through the trip. It was difficult getting there, but once I settled in, my pain lightened up a bit and I was able to focus on helping my Mom. As I search through the memory of my experience, I remember my time with her, helping her wash her hair as she couldn’t lift her arms, spending time with her, my Step-Father, and other family members who had gathered, and not as much about my level of pain.

 In 2007 I was on an upswing and we went on 6 trips! Wow! I could not have imagined 6 trips in one year! I have to say it still wasn’t so graceful but I was determined to make it work each time as we prepared to leave. There was so much to pack as I need to take a lot of things with me for medical support and by the time I finished packing, I was exhausted, never mind that we then had a 6-hour car ride or a flight to catch. Fibromyalgia affects my legs so walking and sitting up for me has been very painful. I remember my Dad wanting us to come to see him and my Step-Mom and saying to me “but it’s only a 5-hour drive.”  “That’s the problem” was my response as he didn’t realize how painful it was for me to sit up in a car without my legs elevated.

 Most of our travels have been to Sedona Method and Release Technique retreats in Monterey, family visits/events, and a Palliative Care conference for my husband. I was so excited that I seemed well enough to go and although it was very difficult for me, again, it was a triumph. Once more no matter what kind of pain I was in or how difficult the travelling was, when I search my memory, what comes forward is the experience I had beyond the pain. In Sedona, I was mesmerized by the beauty of the red rocks, the feeling of the spiritual energy that permeates the vortexes, and the insights and clearing I had at the retreat. In Monterey, I was taken by the sounds of the waves and the stillness of spirit in the air and the connections we made, the oneness we felt with all of the people there. In New Mexico…ok, so it was all about the jewelry, but so much damn fun to shop! There was always fine dining, laughter, and gratitude. Visits with family meant time with my nieces, lots of food, and more laughter.

 These are the memories I take away with me.

 In 2008, I had the appearance of a relapse and became bedridden for a while again, and this meant no travelling for me. It was very hard to then say no to my family, cancel another retreat we had planned, and say no to even some local events. Earlier this yearI began to improve and just recently, went away to see a friend get married. It was challenging physically for me, quite painful in fact, but the memories I have are of my friend and his beloved taking their vows on a lovely beach as we were all moved to tears, dining with lovely people during the reception, and watching folks act crazy on the dance floor.

 I have a strong vision that I will improve again and be able to make longer treks, but in the meantime, family, friends and the beauty that life has to offer are all always right here, right now just where I am, at home and in my heart.

Moving Forward

bigstockphoto_Tranquil_Garden__833329When one is living with chronic illness, it often seems like life is just about managing the illness, getting through the day, doc appointments, medications, rest. There were times when I wondered what I was getting out of bed for as managing my illness was essential, but not necessarily fun, nor did it feel like I was progressing.

 After having been bed-bound for about a year, I remember the first time I was able to go to the grocery store by myself. (I know, I sound like a 10-year-old, but it was a big deal!) I walked in and marveled at the fact that I was there. I strolled down the bread and bakery aisle taking in the magnificent scent of the baked goods. I just stood there in appreciation that I was able to do something that just a few weeks earlier seemed impossible. The new found freedom of being able to do my own grocery shopping filled me with such joy. I imagined what might come next….Target?  The Mall???

 Appreciating my small movements forward was the first step to being able to take larger leaps.  One of the things that made a difference for me was having a vision of what I wanted my life to look like and exploring what my “new purpose” was all about. In my coaching practice, that step is essential. It is like having a strong compass to help navigate a clear intentional direction. It also has helped me stay inspired, motivated, and empowered, even during my darkest days.

My vision and new sense of purpose helped me build a thriving coaching practice, have more money, do some travelling, and feel like I actually have a life worth getting out of bed for.

What Can I Love Today?


There are many days where it has been extremely tempting to focus on what hurts. I have always been an early riser (I know…crazy, right?) even when I don’t have any appointments. I love waking up in the morning when it is still and silent as the sun is barely coming into view and embracing a new day. Soon after, the reality of my physical circumstances sets in and depending on what that reality is on any given day, my accompanying thoughts and feelings about it tend to follow.

Most days I have successfully embraced with joy even in spite of what hurts. On the other hand, there certainly have been days where I felt truly challenged by what physical condition I’m in and have found it even more challenging to not focus on the amount of pain I’m feeling. Pain can be really loud and suck the joy out of the air. There have been days where, quite frankly, I absolutely let it get to me and went over to the “dark side”.

As I look back on those days I realize that there was some stuck energy trying to bubble up to the surface, emotionally and mentally, that were trying to clear. I can now look back with gratitude at the opportunity that came forward and the releasing and healing that occurred. I certainly always felt better afterwards and could get through the physical aspects of the day and I even noticed that the physical pain would at times subside as well.

One of the questions that I have learned to ask myself on days where I have felt down, frustrated, sad or fed up, (after doing the clearing ) is what can I love about my life today?

Some days the answer to that has been “well, it appears I’m still breathing” or “Hmmm, I can love that American Idol is on tonight”. I‘m grateful that I have been able to say I have an amazing husband, a job I love, awesome friends and money in the bank. These are not small ticket items!! I certainly have a longer list such as “there is a sugar free vegan chocolate bar in my drawer”, “my nails look good”, “I have health insurance” and “I have a lot of cable channels to choose from”. When I look at what I can love about my life, I really do have a long list. Spending time focusing on that list after clearing the gloom and doom list always reminds me that, regardless of my physical circumstances, I can create a really awesome day!

You Are Cordially Invited


It is certainly a great feeling to now have some amazing friends. Living with chronic illness means I need to pick and choose who I see, when I see them, where I go. If I’m invited to climb mountains and bungee jump, I’m sorry, but I’m “so” not going.

One of the issues that has come forward for me over the years is the painful task of respectfully declining well-intentioned invitations. I really appreciate the fact that I’m still actually invited to things, given that I have had to care for myself more gently and say no to a lot of things. I’ve missed many family events, weddings, funerals, parties, gatherings, lunches, dinners, spiritual rites of passage, holiday food feasts, and countless workshops that I wish I could have attended. It has been a great lesson for me to understand that “no” doesn’t mean “I don’t care about you” nor does it mean “you are not important to me”. No generally means “I can’t get my ass out of the bed”, “I can’t stand up today”, or “I can’t sit on my ass in the car long enough to even get there.”

Although there have been several occasions where the real truth was “I wouldn’t go regardless” or “who are you again?”, but won’t get into that right now…

There have been several times where I have had to choose between accepting an invitation or going to an event when my body really wasn’t up for it, and staying home, honoring my physical circumstances and being “disowned” (so far, my friends and family have kept me around) or missing something really important to me.

So, how do I decide?

I like to categorize my relationships, which often helps me make decisions when it comes to invitations. I have Level 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 people. Level 5 people would be my postal worker, the check-out people at Whole Foods market, etc. and I don’t think they will invite me anywhere, but it helps illustrate my point.

Level 1 people are my nearest and dearest. They are my inner circle, my go-to people, the ones who really want me to accept the invitation, but truly understand if I don’t.

Level 2 people are dear friends, some use to be Level 1 friends, often have moved on a bit, but still stay connected. Some just never got to Level 1, but it’s mutual. These are people I care deeply about, would love to be able to see them more often, but just don’t always feel moved to do so.

Level 3 people are friends, but generally the ones who are associated with a workplace or organization I belong to. We only really see each other while involved in a common circumstance and are fond of one another, but don’t make much of an effort beyond that.

Level 4 people are people who were just acquaintances in those circumstances and while it is nice to say hello and all, there isn’t much effort made beyond that.

I take this into account when an invitation comes in. Most of my invitations come from Level 1 and 2 people, or Level 1 and 2 family members (family has its own Level 1-5, which I will discuss at a later date). Unfortunately, even in the best of health, I’m not going to say yes to everything and I have to prioritize. Living with chronic illness has me put my well-being at the top of the priority list most of the time and I’ve learned to release the fear that if I say no, people will not like me anymore. I have to be true to myself in any given moment and that means sometimes saying no and allowing people to deal with their response to that. I’m not in charge of how people respond; I can’t control any of it. I am just in charge of being as authentic and loving as I can be, and I have learned some amazing tools to help me release the need to please everyone, so I can be in better balance in my life.

I love my friends, I love my family, and would love to celebrate, share, and be at every milestone event, holiday and gathering, but that’s just sadly not going to work for me, and generally doesn’t work for the healthiest people either.

One thing I can say is thank God for e-mail, texting, and Facebook!

Good Riddance!


Friends have always been an important part of my  life. I’m so blessed at this time to have amazing friends. Throughout my journey with chronic illness, several people have decided to drop out of my life for various reasons. A few people just couldn’t “handle” what was going on with me. They weren’t in a place to be able to offer support; they didn’t want to hear about my illness; or they were more outdoor adventure types who weren’t interested in a friend who suddenly needed to be more home bound. Some just happened to be friends who were only friends based on a common experience, such as work, or an organization I belonged to.

Initially I was truly sad to see people go and took the exits personally. I finally realized that there was only so much of “me” to go around and that my new level of self-care and health circumstances required adjustments in every area of my life. In the area of friends and community, I was able to see that these adjustments were happening “for me” rather than to me. This experience also offered me an opportunity to choose who I wanted in my life. I was able to take a closer look at my requirements, needs, and wants for friendship and really became aware that I was “complete” with those who were exiting my life. Whatever purpose our connection had served for the time we were friends had been accomplished and it was an appropriate time for us to part ways. I could then choose who I really wanted to spend time with, chat with by phone or even email. Through this experience, I felt a new sense of empowerment as one who could be selective rather then one who was obligated to spend time with people I really didn’t fully enjoy thinking I had no good reason to decline.

It’s been interesting to see who has stayed and who has gone. I learned that I could look at it from the point of view of the “poor abandoned me” perspective or I could view it as a necessary “cleansing” of sorts and trust that the ones who left were ultimately no longer a healthy fit for me.

So, if you are living with chronic illness and are watching people walk away from you, trust that it is for your highest good that they leave; bless them and say “good riddance.” You will be happy to know that new friends who are in alignment with your energy and can love you as you are will enter your life. I’m so grateful for the time I had and all I learned from those who have crossed my path. My time and energy are valuable and I ultimately want to spend them with friends who can be with me unconditionally and love me as I am.

I Have Chronic Illness. What Choice Do I Have?

tn_bigstockphoto_park_pathway_905581 For me, living with chronic illness for me has often brought up feelings of powerlessness. Michael J. Fox, who I absolutely respect and admire, said something that really moved and inspired me as he was promoting his last book.

As he moves into his life each day, he basically says that he doesn’t have a choice about whether or not he has Parkinson’s disease, but he has thousands of other choices he can make about his life for that day.

That reminded me to look at the choices I do have each day, rather than focus on the things I can’t choose. For me, each day can bring forward a different level of mobility, functionality, and physical status and on that particular day, I may not have a choice about that, but there are thousands of other choices I do have. If I look at today as I write this, on a 1-10 scale, 10 being perfect health, I would say I’m at about a 3.5 today. The 3 key questions I ask myself are:

1) What do I have to do today?

These are things that will have steep consequences that I don’t particularly want to deal with such as not showing up for my scheduled clients (which would not demonstrate good business practice or integrity). My clients would be upset and may decide to not work with me if I just didn’t bother to show up. I’m definitely up for my work with clients, so that is a “have to” along with items on my schedule that I can choose to do.

2) What can I delay or postpone?

As I look through my “have to” list or the things I have scheduled, I check to see what I can delay or postpone depending on how I’m feeling. For example, I need to take some items to the dry cleaners. Does that have to be done today? No. The world will not fall off of its axis if I wait another day or two, so I can choose to wait until tomorrow, the next day or even choose to ask my husband to do it.

3) What can I do today?

Now I can look at where I am and decide what I am really up for today. I can also choose to add some things that I actually want to do or enjoy doing. I’m a big “chat with my friends on the phone” person, so that is something I can do. I love movies, so watching one is something I can do today. I have many other things on that list.

These are all choices I can make and although my body “is how it is today”, I have a lot of freedom around me to make many other choices about the day and that reminds me of the tremendous power I do have in my life.

So, what choices can you make today?

Chronic Illness Can Really Suck!

bigstockphoto_sticking_out_tongue_4762341Yes, it can and there have been many days that I have woken up in the morning and thought “Oh crap…I still feel like this and it sucks!” And…that might be the best I can do in that moment.

So many spiritual books and teachers talk about affirmations and positive thoughts, and if we just say some affirmations and think those positive thoughts, through the law of Attraction, then we can actually heal. Well, I believe we can heal and healing can take place mentally, emotionally, spiritually, energetically, as well as physically. Sometimes there is more to clear underneath at the subconscious level and a positive affirmation or two or even six is like throwing sugar on top of garbage. The sugar may be sweet, but the garbage is still there and if you imagine what happens to garbage when it is left to sit, it will not go unnoticed!

A great place to start if you wake up feeling like chronic illness sucks is to just let out the frustration about it and when you have moved some of that energy, then ask yourself if you can allow it to be as it is just for that moment. Being with “what is” the most powerful way to start creating an opening for change. If the “what is” is that the illness sucks, then just allow it to suck for that moment. When you allow it to be that way, just for the moment (not forever), you’ll be surprised at what opens up.