How the Girl with the Pearl Earring Learned to Let It Go

A few years ago, my husband gave me a set of pearls. It was a big deal. First, most of my jewelry up until this point had beenCarie Sherman purchased on the 3 for $10 rack at Claire’s Boutique. Second, years prior, he’d splurged on a set of diamond stud earrings. Which I lost, only months after receiving the gift.

Now, my husband is a generous, kind man. But he doesn’t mess around with me being irresponsible. He once made me carry a suitcase across the airport that practically weighed as much as I did, simply because he told me not to pack so much. (He was totally right. You definitely don’t need two pairs of boots and three sweaters when you travel to the southern-most part of Florida.)

So, the pearl earrings were a big deal. I’ve been excessively careful each time I’ve worn them.

That is, until I wasn’t.

It was January of 2012. I was still reeling from the loss of my former healthy, non-lupus-like-illness life. I was still in the business of “fighting” my disease. I’d been throwing punches like a champ. But no matter how hard I fought, no matter how much I didn’t give up, no matter how many doctors I saw, I kept getting sicker.

My fight was taking a toll on me–physically, emotionally, even socially.

Around that time, my dear aunt visited. Now, this is my “woo-woo” aunt–the one who loves crystals and massage and natural whole foods and the Divine. I was a recovering Catholic. Recovering, because through my lens as a child, I only saw the angry God. I totally missed the whole “loving and forgiving” part of the Bible and my parent’s teaching. (I sometimes wonder if this was the same kind of distorted thinking that led me to my depression and yes, maybe even lupus.)

She brought with her this book: Outrageous Openness by Tosha Silver. Now, talk about “woo-woo.” This lady was OUT there. I could tell the instant I saw her picture on the back cover.

I remember telling my aunt earlier that day about how in catechism class as a child, my teacher taught us to pray in terms of “thy will be done.” I found it to be complete and utter BS. The God I felt compelled to believe in would surely value my will.

So there I was, sick as a dog. It was snowing–one of those highway-shutting-down storms that forces Chinese food delivery drivers across the city into overtime. I was stuck in my recliner. And bored. So I picked up the book.

Much to my surprise, Tosha was kind of funny. And engaging. And soon a few hours passed and I’d finished her book, a compilation of stories about her love affair with the Divine.

She spoke of a message of surrender. Of letting the universe do its work. Of offering your struggles to something higher than your rational mind can comprehend.

Something in my head clicked. I’d spent the last six months of my life in the fight of my life. And all that I’d achieved was becoming sicker.

It was the kick in the pants I needed. A few years before Elsa and little girls everywhere dreamed of singing, I began to Let It Go.

I spent more time doing yoga. And meditating. And repeating to myself time and again that the universe wanted me to be happy. And ever-so-slightly, things began to shift. I was suddenly finding myself connected to the right doctors, the right medications. I started feeling better. Physically, emotionally, and socially.

Until months later, AKA the day I lost my pearl earring.

It had been a rough day. I’d put myself out trying to snag a new client, and I failed. I had a hard night of parenting. I burned dinner. It had all the makings of a terrible night.

But now I knew what to do. After all, the universe wants me to be happy! So I spent the hours after my child went to bed ignoring my husband and immersing myself into a yoga and meditation marathon.

I patted myself on the back for taking control of my day. I was an active participant in the Game of Life. I was WINNING.

I hopped into bed in a blissful state that was quickly interrupted by the back of my earring stabbing me. I removed said earring, and grabbed at my other ear.

The other earring was gone.

I hopped out of bed with a speed unseen in most lupies. I began tearing through my room, dumping laundry hampers, bulldozing through my closet, rifling through trashcans. My inner peace had left the building. I went from Zenned-out hippie girl to enraged, over-caffeinated, gun-toting, road-raging crazy person in a span of 30 seconds.

I’m not sure how long I searched. But it was all in vain. My pearl was nowhere to be found.

Suddenly, Tosha’s voice whispered in my ear. “If something is yours by divine right, it can never be lost. Surrender.”

My body didn’t have enough left to keep up my fight. I laughed at myself, and how I’d fought so desperately for my Zen moment, only to let myself get worked into a tizzy nearly instantaneously post-adversity.

Had I learned anything?

I sat down. I gave up. I spoke directly to a higher power, saying, “If this earring is mine, it can’t be lost. I have faith in its return. If it doesn’t return, it wasn’t meant to be mine.”

My heart rate returned to normal. I unclenched my teeth. I went to sleep.

The next morning, I woke up to my daughter singing to herself. With a smile, I entered her room. But my smile turned upside down. Just two steps in, I stepped on something sharp. I began to cuss what was sure to be a Lego piece that had somehow been missed during nightly clean up. If you haven’t experienced the pain of stepping on a Lego, you simply haven’t experienced pain.

There was my pearl earring, stabbed into the skin between my foot and big toe.

Cue Twilight Zone music.

Back to the present. I’m once again going through a hard time. And by hard, I mean devastating. It’s nothing I can or will speak of in specific terms, but suffice to say that I’m currently being carried along by friends, family, and way more caffeine than one person should drink. To you all (I’m looking at you, too, Starbucks barista), I again say thank you.

This situation feels impossible. I’m doing my best to stay positive, to give it up to God or the Goddess or whatever higher power I feel most connected to, and to trust and have faith that all parties involved will emerge stronger and happier than ever before. Including myself.

But it’s hard. It’s so dang hard.

Cue reminder from the universe.

I’d just gone to lunch with my parents. I wore my pearl earrings. I came home and decided to take a nap. I went to remove my earrings. One was missing.

I felt like panicking. I felt like tearing the room apart. I felt like throwing something very heavy and breaking something just to watch something shatter. Instead, I remembered the lesson I’d already learned. I gave up my fight. I announced that if the earring was truly mine, it would be returned. I took my much needed nap. I awoke, with a strong urge to fall into child’s pose on the yoga mat that has parked itself next to my bed. I reached my hand under the bolster I use for yoga.

I pulled out my pearl earring.

I sat for a long while. I cried. I again gave up my devastating problem to the universe. I recognized that a problem of this magnitude could never be resolved as quickly as a lost earring. But I still needed to have faith.

If the universe has my back on small matters, it has my back on the big stuff, too. I just need to wait.

Here’s to surrender, my friends in lupus. May surrendering to your circumstance bring you the comfort and healing you need and deserve.

Thank you, Aunt Soy.

Asking for Help: Thoughts on Vulnerability…and Cheese Pizza

Carie ShermanI’m terrible about asking for help.

Seriously—I’ll spend an hour researching the Internet before calling customer service. I’ll throw out my back before asking a store clerk to lift a dog food bag into my cart.

But something happened recently that left me with no choice. I had to ask for help. And it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Why We Have Trouble Asking for Help

Assuming I couldn’t be the only one who struggles, I consulted the interwebs and found at least a bagillion others who struggle as well. The most interesting info I found comes from a research professor who has spent a significant portion of her career studying human emotion. And what I learned is that our inability to ask for help has everything to do with not wanting to be vulnerable—something she asserts can cause depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis. Yikes.

Dr. Brene Brown’s research shows thatpeople don’t ask for help because of the powerful emotion of shame.  She explains that shame is universal—and often gender-based.

“For women, shame is a web of unattainable expectations that say, ‘Do it all, do it perfectly, and never let them see you struggle.’ For men, the primary shame mandate is, ‘Do not be perceived as weak,’” says Brown.

Just might explain why I have such a hard time asking for help. I certainly don’t want anyone to see me suffer.

Yet Brown said struggle is part of the human condition: we’re imperfect, and struggle is in our DNA. Andshe asserts that despite our struggles, we’re worthy of love. And while it’s a concept that’s apparently hard for me to swallow (who knew!?), I can take a step back and see truth in Brown’s statement: “Worthiness doesn’t have prerequisites.”

I got doused in love when I was most vulnerable. And I believe everyone else is worthy of love. Somaybe I am, too.

How to Cope with Shame

So if shame is what stops us from asking for help, how do we combat it? According to Brown, shame can’t survive when we share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding.

She says, “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

Vulnerability and Pain

Brown says, “To love someone fiercely, to believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn’t come with guarantees – these are risks that involve vulnerability and often pain. But, I’m learning that recognizing and leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability teaches us how to live with joy, gratitude and grace.”

It remains to be seen whether the vulnerability I experienced will lead to positive change. But at the very least, I’m realizing:

  • Through my own vulnerability—forced as it may have been—I was reminded of how very deeply I am loved. And though I’d do anything to reverse the circumstance that led to my need to be vulnerable, I am forever changed by being shown just how loved I am.
  • You shouldn’t be like me. Don’t wait to be vulnerable. The people in your life want to be needed, and they want the chance to demonstrate their love. Stop hiding behind the self-image you’ve carefully cultivated—it’s BS. It’s not real.
  • If you’re vulnerable, the people who love you will come running. They’ll clean the blob of goo from your freezer. They’ll cry with you, be honest with you, take control, take risks—heck, they’ll even force-feed you cheese pizza if it’s what you need.
  • It’s important to ask for help. Small things, big things, it doesn’t matter. Just ask.

Like Brene Brown says, “The world is not divided up into people that need help and people that give help. We are all people that need help and we are people that have the capacity to give help. No one gets there by themselves. And those who do are not very happy. So the sooner we can let go of the idea that we shouldn’t need help, and support, that is the mind shift that needs to happen.”

Second Opinions: Do I Need One? The answer is, for most lupus patients, yes.

Carie ShermanBy Carrie Sherman

This might be the easiest blog I’ve ever written. Because it really is that simple. But, if you’re like me (and roughly 70 percent of Americans), you hesitate to get a second opinion. Yet as “frequent fliers” in the medical world, lupus patients need to make sure they’re getting the most out of their doctor/patient relationship. And sometimes the best way to determine this is to get a second opinion.

One of the biggest reasons people don’t seek a second opinion is out of guilt: Feeling like your doctor will be mad at you or offended or that you don’t trust him or her. Your doc is a professional and knows the value of getting a second opinion. And if he or she did get mad or was offended? Well, that’s a good sign that it’s time to switch docs, anyway.

I personally avoided the second opinion because I was afraid that by seeking a second opinion, it would be confirmed: My health issues are all in my head. I’d finally found a doc who believed in my symptoms, and here I was, exposing myself to another doctor who might not feel the same. Well, my blood work was the same. She reviewed my endless chart in detail, and said there wasn’t much more to say about it. I was already doing what needed to be done. She did suggest a different antidepressant–one that’s known for “helping” to take away the pain associated with fibro/lupus/etc. She would gladly have taken me as a patient but understood my desire to stay with the doctor I’d been working with.

When Getting a Second Opinion is a MUST

I recently spoke with my colleague and friend Dennis Boyle, MD. He fully supports patients getting second opinions, but strongly suggests patients see another physician in these circumstances:

1. When you disagree with what your doctor is suggesting. Sometimes this is because the complaints outweigh what is being seen clinically. Sometimes it’s about being unhappy with treatment options. Either way, it’s best for both of you if you get another doc’s opinion.

2. When you have a serious illness. This comes down to finding a doctor you feel comfortable with who also has expertise in your disease.

3. When you are having surgery. When Dr. Boyle’s wife needed surgery, she interviewed three surgeons before committing. It’s about finding someone you trust and someone you like.

Don’t underestimate the importance of a healthy doctor/patient relationship. With diseases like lupus where ongoing relationships are a must, make sure you find a doc you can be with for the long-term. “No doc is the right provider for every patient, so making sure you are happy with your doc is important,” says Dr. Boyle.

Four Ways to Do More with Less: Applying Business World Lessons to Life with Chronic Illness

 Carie ShermanBy Carie Sherman

The last time I thought about the statement “do more with less,” was back in my corporate life. The sentiment had been thrown around by management for a few weeks when suddenly, our cushy styrofoam disposable coffee cups were replaced with a non-insulated version that burned my hand. I decided then that I hated the prospect of doing more with less.

But today I had a realization: THIS is what lupus asks of a person. THIS is the challenge. Not to sit down and admit defeat and bury ourselves in the memory of our once healthy lives, but to learn how to live with less. I’m greedy. I want to do more, despite having less.

So I consulted the business world and found an article titled “Four Ways to Do More With Less (Really!).” And I stole each idea and applied it to chronic illness. I hope these ideas help you, too.

The Business World Says In Order to Do More With Less, One Needs To…
“1. Specify ‘must win’ battles.”

In business, this means declaring priorities in order to focus on essential, value added tasks. Here’s how I applied this concept:

My priorities: 1) My family; 2) My friends; 3) My business; 4) My writing. All of my essential “to-dos” usually get covered.

Did you notice any missing priorities? I did. “Health” was a no-show on my first attempt at a list. Yet you and I both know that it must be a priority or nothing else will happen. So I added a few items that contribute to my overall physical and mental health: 1) Seeing my docs and taking my meds; 2) Eating right; 3) Exercise; 4) Stress relief.

The term value-added makes me crazy, but in this case it almost makes sense: I can add “value” to each task by thinking strategically. For example, I could take my little girl to the Farmer’s Market for fresh veggies and family fun. I could skip happy hour and hike with my BFF. I could use my calendar better so my deadlines, appointments, and refill reminders are all in one place. And in that same calendar, I could schedule meditation breaks and writing time.

How can you add value to your day-to-day tasks?

“2. Avoid the trap of routines…evaluate work processes regularly to ensure that they’re aligned with changing work demands.”

Back when I had to leave my house to go to work, I had a morning routine. I’d wake up at the last minute to rush out the door and to rush to my desk. I’d eat what hadn’t spilled of my made-for-car-breakfast (using our regular plates, which infuriated my husband) and wash it down with a paper cup of coffee while responding to each and every email in my inbox, checking the news, and clarifying my day’s priorities.

Now that I work from home, I no longer eat breakfast in my car. But I held on to this routine, and it has to go. I’m most creative, energetic, productive in the hours before 9 a.m. Tasks that would take me three hours at 3 p.m. take me 30 minutes at 7:30 a.m. Yet more often than not, I fall back into this routine. It wasn’t effective then…it sure as heck isn’t effective now.

What do you do out of habit that keeps you from being effective?

“3. Treat training as a process, not an event.”

At first I thought this wasn’t applicable. The line for “training” in my freelance business might as well say “there’s always next year.” But then I realize how much I missed this aspect of my corporate life. It was filled with education and training. I took classes on computers, on productivity, on design, HTML. Heck, I got a graduate degree.

But my illness has given me a whole lot of life lessons in a short period of time. And one thing I’ve noticed (and I’m sure you have, too) is that I take steps forward. Then back. It’s not Diagnosed and Done. It’s lifelong learning when there is no cure.

“4. Provide ‘specific freedom to act’…clarify the scope of employees’ authority, so that fear of overstepping boundaries doesn’t become a disincentive to taking risks or making even-simple decisions.”

Chronic illness is a boundary. And, it’s a scary boundary. I don’t have a boss giving me “specific freedom to act.” But today, I’m giving myself permission to better understand the boundaries my illness has given me so I can stop living in fear of my body. I still have the authority to act and take risks, and so do you.

I never thought I’d look to the business world for advice, but these tips made me think about ways I can be smarter with the energy I have. Now tell me, how have you learned to do more with less?