Bring Back the Fanny Pack and Other Lessons from Getting Lost in the Woods

Carie ShermanBy Carie Sherman

The BFF and I recently took a hike. We got lost. Well, not really lost, per se. Let’s just call it misinformed about the direction we had taken. We didn’t have a trail map. We “kinda” remembered the name of the trail we planned to take. And we “kinda” turned a 3-mile hike into 8.

Relax. We were in Castlewood Canyon State Park. We were able to see a physical human establishment for at least half of the hike and never spent more than 30 minutes between other groups of hikers–most of whom were refreshed and beginning their hikes from the various parking lots our trail took us past. And we had plenty of water.

The park does have decent elevation gains. My guess is at least 40,000 feet.

Here’s the best part: I wore a fanny pack. It was awesome. The BFF protested but knew if she took a real stand against my fanny pack I might start reconsidering the helmet I threatened to wear because of an article I’d just read about head injuries. She’s a confident girl and can handle when I’m strange, but she does try to stop me from humiliating myself.

Anyway, chronic pain folks, take note: I always carried a backpack but it kills my back and shoulders, likely due to the terrible hiking posture that one gains when one constantly stares at one’s feet. Turns out, my hips are good for hauling. I wholeheartedly encourage you to come to the darkside. Let’s Bring Back the Fannypack!

Who am I kidding. Fanny packs probably are back, for all I know about fashion and the like.

Anyway. 8 miles. Me. If I had known it would be 8 miles, I never would have started. I haven’t gone that far since 2010. And I didn’t realize it at the time, probably because the sheer elation of not needing to call in a backcountry search party for a day hike just minutes from urban areas, but it was a big deal. I hiked 8 miles. In this body. This body that two weeks ago wouldn’t allow me to lift my arms. As you know, I have an entire blog dedicated to my body failing me.

And here’s a kicker: I could walk the next day. And the day after that. And even the days after that, which were leading up to my period, when typically all hell breaks lose and I move only when forced. My body was…good.

Now, I’m not saying that I’ve cured my mind, body, and soul here. But I learned a valuable life lesson on this hike, and it’s a lesson you can apply to just about any circumstance under the sun.

Sometimes you have to get lost. Sometimes you just have to work way harder than your brain believes you can–even if the only reason is because you were forced. If you have the desire–and someone awesome by your side–you can really surprise yourself.

I have a lot of goals right now. One in particular scares the crap out of me. I have no idea what I’m doing. But I know I have to work and work hard and rely on the crazy cool people in my life.

I might not bring back the fanny pack (assuming, of course, it’s not already back). I might whine and complain. But I’ll stay on the dang trail til the end. Because I can.


6 Tips for Pacing Yourself

Carie ShermanBy Carie Sherman

With the long holiday weekend approaching, I needed to take some time to consider my plans and how they might affect my health. So here are a few tips I’ve considered. And please, share yours in the comments below.

1) Join the right pack. Whether you’re with family, friends, or a combo of both, find someone whose energy level rivals yours. For me, this means attaching myself to my toddler (who still needs a nap) and my grandmother (who also needs a nap). Express your need to take it slow–you may be surprised by the people among you who would revel in the opportunity to sleep during the day.

2) Do what excites you and skip the rest. Take a look at the planned course (aka, your weekend events). What are the “must do’s?” What’s planned that you won’t be sad about skipping? Perhaps the family barbecue is a must, but you couldn’t care less about seeing fireworks. If you’re hosting, make a plan. For example, I don’t mind cooking, but shopping wears me out. (Of course so does cleaning up…which I also make known…seriously not such a bad thing!)

3) Fuel up and hydrate. When your energy levels are limited, skimping on food and water can be a disaster. I’m learning to eat more frequently and drink far more water than I think I need. It’s helped me to find some “go to” snacks that stay fresh and don’t melt (I like KIND bars). Also, find an easy-to-carry a water bottle. I like a cup with a lid and straw; my BFF swears by her Camelbak bottle while my hubby is a Nalgene fan. Bonus: Check out the Pillid bottle from Nalgene–Pill-Lid (get it?). It’s kinda perfect.

4) Practice safe sun. Even if you’re not sun-sensitive, the sun can drain. Scope out shaded areas and pack an umbrella. And don’t forget your hat. Of course, you already know sunscreen is a must. I forget to apply it, so I start each day with a body lotion with SPF 50. I also just found a lip gloss with SPF.

5) Rest before you’re beat. Check in with your body as the day progresses. Is it signalling that it’s time for a break? My hands tend to burn and tingle when I get close to my edge. I also notice that my body stops regulating temperature well (If I’m asking my husband “is it hot in here?” or “are you cold?”, it’s time for a rest). Short breaks can keep you in the fun for the long haul.

6) Prepare mentally and stop comparing. If I go in to an activity with a positive mindset, I’m less likely to feel bad if I can’t keep up. But if I begin said activity feeling sorry for myself, it’s a downward spiral to Pity City. So I say to myself, “Today I will do what I can do” and leave it at that. It’s a conscious decision to stay mindful of myself, my body, and what I CAN do.

How do you pace yourself? Share your tips in the comments–we’d all love to hear them.

On behalf of everyone here at Lupus Colorado, cheers to a fun–and healthy–July 4th weekend!


July Newsletter

Doctor selected as 2nd recipient of Insight Prize

CHICAGO, IL – Bruce Richardson, M.D., Ph.D., of The University of Michigan, has been selected as the second recipient of the Lupus Insight Prize. The award provides $200,000 for use in innovative research on lupus, an unpredictable and sometimes fatal autoimmune disease that affects an estimated 1.5 million Americans.

The prize is a collaborative initiative among the Alliance for Lupus Research (ALR), the Lupus Foundation of America (LFA), and the Lupus Research Institute (LRI) to recognize and honor the achievements of an outstanding investigator in the field, and whose research efforts have a high likelihood of generating further advances in understanding of the causes, biology, treatments, or cure of lupus.

Dr. Richardson received the honor in June at FOCIS 2014, the Annual Meeting of the Federation of Clinical Immunology Societies in Chicago, where scientists will present their findings on lupus and other diseases affecting the immune system.

Many researchers believe that lupus flares are triggered by environmental agents such as ultraviolet light, infections, silica exposure and cigarette smoking as well as certain drugs. How these agents cause lupus flares though, has been unclear. Dr. Richardson discovered that some lupus-causing drugs alter gene expression in normal “helper” lymphocytes, converting them into autoreactive “killer” lymphocytes that attack other cells and cause lupus in mice. He also found the same changes in gene expression in lymphocytes from patients with active lupus, and that many of the environmental agents implicated in lupus, as well as diet, contribute to the changes by altering gene expression. With the award funds, Dr. Richardson will identify the genes affected by these environmental agents, and determine how environmental agents and diet cause these changes in lymphocytes.

“I have dedicated my entire career to solving the problem of lupus. This award will enable me to take one of the most creative and innovative steps in my journey to have an impact on understanding and treating this difficult disease,” said Dr. Richardson in response to the award announcement. “I am tremendously honored to receive this award that has been initiated cooperatively by these three outstanding lupus advocacy and research organizations.”

Dr. Richardson was chosen to receive the Lupus Insight Prize by an independent review committee composed of leading lupus scientific leaders from across the country and representatives of the three lupus organizations. The selection committee based the award on a variety of criteria, including academic achievements, creativity, insight, and potential for future advances that will improve the lives of people with lupus.

Lupus Research Institute’s Scientific Advisory Board member Peter Lipsky, M.D. commented, “The Lupus Insight Prize recognizes the novel insight of Dr. Richardson, who made the unexpected discovery that lupus-causing drugs change gene expression in immune cells. This insight provides a unique opportunity to develop new approaches for potential novel therapies for human lupus.”

Additional information about the Lupus Insight Prize and Dr. Richardson’s work in lupus are available online at www.lupusinsightprize.org.

 

CSU walk for lupus raises awareness and dollars

Lupus Colorado's Michael Sauter helps spread awareness about lupus by speaking to students at Colorado State University.

Lupus Colorado’s Michael Sauter helps spread awareness about lupus by speaking to students at Colorado State University.

Lupus Colorado was proud to be represented at the Colorado State University’s RAMBITION lupus awareness walk by our own Michael Sauter, who manages the Lupus Colorado Facebook page for Teens and was featured in a Living with Lupus profile.

“I truly was honored to be able to speak at the event and I was touched by the amount of support, it was inspiring,” Sauter said.

The event raised about $1,400 in honor of Erica Johnson, the younger sister of CSU track & field student-athlete Ashley Reid. Johnson lost a battle to the disease last October.

Johnson was diagnosed with lupus last summer. After a grueling three-month battle, she passed on Oct. 25, 2013. Reid admired her sister’s courage and strength through it all and said Johnson never lost her sense of humor.

The walk was free of charge, but donations were accepted for Lupus Colorado.

“Though this event stemmed from tragedy, it is comforting to know that Erica’s memory lives on and that more people were made aware of the disease of lupus because of the efforts of her sister, Ashley, Michael Sauter and RAMBITION.”

Watch an inspiring video of the event!

Martha Beck’s Formula for Reversing Bad Fortune (As Applied to Chronic Illness)

By Carie Sherman

Carie ShermanIt’s been a rough couple of months as it relates to my health. Nothing serious–thank goodness–but annoying nonetheless.

I’ve been sick with acute illnesses (shingles and strep throat) as well as the “same old same old” (big-time fatigue and fibro-pain top my complaints). On top of that, it’s summer, and I’m one of those “live for summer” types who hates being stuck inside. I’m so anxious to feel well.

But since I don’t, I’m thankful to have read an article by Martha Beck in the most recent issue of Oprah magazine. She’s a life-coach who uses humor, self-deprecation, and a fine writing style to discuss various topics of enlightenment. This article, Reversal of Bad Fortune, describes how we can use our experiences in one of two ways: As a catalyst for hopelessness or a catalyst for growth.

I can’t recall the last time I felt well physically. And despite my best efforts, it’s wearing on me mentally. Clearly I need help weathering my “accident.” So I decided to use her formula. And though publishing this will make me feel more exposed than Janet Jackson at the Superbowl, I’m sharing it with the hopes it makes someone else feel better, too.

What follows is the example Martha used of her friend who experienced a serious, life-changing car accident as well as my own assessment.

Martha Beck’s Accident Formula

First, write down the pertinent info about your “accident.”

Annette wrote: “I was crossing an intersection when a driver, high on meth, ran a red light and hit me at 70 miles per hour. My car rolled three times and stopped with me hanging upside down. I was able to call my husband, and help came right away.”

I wrote: Just after the birth of my first child and the beginning of a new career as a freelance writer, I was diagnosed with an incurable chronic illness.

Next, isolate the key components of the above statement.

Annette wrote: 1) Intersection. 2) Meth addict. 3) Red light. 4) 70 miles per hour.

I wrote: 1) Birth. 2) Child. 3) Writing career. 4) Diagnosed. 5) Incurable chronic illness.

Third, pretend you are each component of your accident. Use free-association and talk about yourself as if you were the individual component.

Annette’s first word was “intersection.” She said: “I’m a crossroads, a place where Annette can make an important choice.” For the word “driver,” she said “I’m a speeding driver, high on meth. I’m the insanity of humans and of the world. I’m here to teach Annette not to be afraid because fear is useless.” So on and so forth.

I’ll admit it–this part was hard. And I’m not sure if I did it correctly. But here’s what I wrote:

1) Birth. I’m the beginning of a new life. In life there are highs and lows.

2) Child. I am a child. I am a new life. I’m learning to navigate a new world with the help of many wonderful people.

3). Writing career. I’m a writing career. I’m flexible. I’m creative. I’m challenging and fun. I’m an opportunity to learn. I am filled with rejection, yet joyful with acceptance.

4). Diagnosed. I am a diagnosis. I am a suggestion of what is. I am not a definition.

5). Incurable chronic illness. I’m a chronic illness. For Carie, I am not a death sentence. Yet I am difficult and challenging and require change. I am here for the long haul. Carie can learn to live with me or fight me. I require a focus that Carie has never before had. I require Carie to focus on what’s most important.

Finally, read your original description again and incorporate the meaning you’ve created through the free association exercise.

Annette discovered this: “The story of her accident turned out to be a pivotal moment when she could choose to release her fear of death and go on with greater serenity.” Martha says, “Actively choosing to look for meaning in her accident left her happier and more vibrant; seeing it as meaningless would have caused her to contract in terror.”

And here’s what I learned: Even though I’ve spent the better part of this week moping around because I can’t raise my arms above my shoulders, this process helped me remember what’s positive about my illness. (Which is some feat, given I’ve complained to my husband at least once an hour about how miserable I feel.)

My “accident” (aka, my health issues) requires new beginnings. I can choose to fight my new reality, or I can learn to accept it with the help of my support network. It reminds me that life is challenging and constantly changing, and if I hadn’t gotten sick, I might still be focused stuff that’s not important (like an unfulfilling career that would have required far too much time away from my little girl). My life has changed. And during weeks of pain and uncertainty, it’s bound to be frustrating and depressing. But it’s not hopeless.

Thanks, Martha Beck, for the much-needed perspective.

I hope you found some, too.

What helps you? Leave a comment below.

Lupus Research Institute Launches Industry Council to Accelerate New Treatments for Lupus

NEW YORK, NY. – The Lupus Research Institute (LRI) launched the LRI Industry Council, a collaborative initiative founded with 13 leading pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies involved in lupus drug development. The LRI formed the new group to facilitate active collaboration among companies, research leaders, and patient advocates to overcome common obstacles in developing new treatments for lupus.

The need for safer and more effective treatments is critical. Treatment options for lupus are few, and most have serious side effects. Research funded by the LRI and others has identified many promising areas for new drug development currently being pursued by industry. But the complexity and unpredictability of the disease poses many challenges to testing new drugs.  Common difficulties in designing effective clinical trials include measuring responses to treatment and recruiting volunteers as well as identifying those compounds that may work best for specific sub-sets of patients.

“In the past, companies have wrestled with these issues independently which can impede progress,” noted Council Co-Chair and LRI Scientific Advisor Dr. Peter Lipsky.  “The LRI is affording companies the opportunity to work together to find solutions to their common challenges so each can move forward with drug development more quickly and efficiently.”

Founding Members:

  • AbbVie
  • Biogen Idec
  • EMD Serono, Inc.
  • Genentech, A Member of the Roche Group
  • GlaxoSmithKline plc
  • Janssen Research & Development, LLC
  • Eli Lilly and Company
  • MedImmune
  • Nodality
  • Pfizer
  • Sanofi U.S.
  • Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.
  • UCB

Read more about these efforts.

Lupus Research Institute Launches Industry Council to Accelerate New Treatments for Lupus

NEW YORK, NY. June 10 – The Lupus Research Institute (LRI) launched the LRI Industry Council, a collaborative initiative founded with 13 leading pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies involved in lupus drug development. The LRI formed the new group to facilitate active collaboration among companies, research leaders, and patient advocates to overcome common obstacles in developing new treatments for lupus.

The need for safer and more effective treatments is critical. Treatment options for lupus are few, and most have serious side effects. Research funded by the LRI and others has identified many promising areas for new drug development currently being pursued by industry. But the complexity and unpredictability of the disease poses many challenges to testing new drugs.  Common difficulties in designing effective clinical trials include measuring responses to treatment and recruiting volunteers as well as identifying those compounds that may work best for specific sub-sets of patients.

“In the past, companies have wrestled with these issues independently which can impede progress,” noted Council Co-Chair and LRI Scientific Advisor Dr. Peter Lipsky.  “The LRI is affording companies the opportunity to work together to find solutions to their common challenges so each can move forward with drug development more quickly and efficiently.”

Co-chair Dr. Daniel Wallace of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center commented, “The new Council is already working on several ways to streamline and accelerate clinical trials aiming to bring lupus patients the safer and more effective treatments they need and deserve.”

Founding Members:
AbbVie
Biogen Idec
EMD Serono, Inc.
Genentech, A Member of the Roche Group
GlaxoSmithKline plc
Janssen Research & Development, LLC
Eli Lilly and Company
MedImmune
Nodality
Pfizer
Sanofi U.S.
Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.
UCB

- See more at: http://www.lupusresearchinstitute.org/lupus-news/2014/06/10/lupus-research-institute-launches-industry-council-accelerate-new-treatments#sthash.ZYG4Fk1O.dpuf

Lupus Lessons from the Robins

sandy-kanowitz-731x1024By Sandy Kanowitz

Art and I have had an uplifting experience for the past month watching Mother Nature in action on our own back patio.

Atop a tall column, protected on two sides with a roof overhead, two mated robins worked endlessly to build a rather crude looking, but sturdy nest, far above harm’s way. It took about five days, after carefully selecting the perfect, safe spot.

It was built twig upon twig, plastered with mud and lined with feathers and other soft debris to cradle the fragile baby blue eggs. Mama seemed to wait patiently for two days, checking the nest, hovering over it, sitting in it, then leaving with a sense of knowing all was ready. Then she sat, practically statue-like for two weeks, never leaving longer than about five minutes, to find food and water and stretch her cramped legs. Papa Robin came to visit, brought her worms, and watched like a sentinel soldier from a nearby tree, occasionally dive bombing or chasing a threat that strayed into nest territory.

He stood guard, fiercely protecting his mate and eggs. Before the hatchlings were even visible to us, we knew they had arrived by the flurry of activity at the nest. Mama and Papa swooped up and down constantly, feeding their babies every five minutes or less. They worked hard from sunup to sundown, then Mama crawled in for the night, like a big fluffy blanket over her featherless brood, while Papa took his post nearby.

This process went on for days before we finally saw little beaks peeking up, waiting for food and chirping with excitement when it came. There were three babies, and the parents worked diligently to keep them safe, warm and fed. When the birds got big and the nest overcrowded, the fledglings fluttered their wings, practicing for their first flight.

We so hoped we would see at least one take off, but they apparently didn’t want an audience for what might have been an awkward moment, stumbling over the edge of the nest and clumsily recovering their balance mid-air. It was amazing to see their instincts at work, guiding every move they made, and their sense of timing, awareness of surroundings, and ability to protect and care for one another.

sandy kanowitz robinI wondered how this experience could help us care for ourselves and our families. There were surely lessons to be learned, and I thought of a few to share with you:

  • Trust your instincts.
  • Listen to your body.
  • Prepare for what’s coming next.
  • Put up your antennae to sense incoming threats.
  • Brace yourself against the wind.
  • Stay in protected areas out of harm’s way.
  • Take cover  from the sun’s rays and the cold rain.
  • Be patient when waiting for something to develop.
  • Take care of yourself while taking care of your mate and children.
  • Know when to work and when to rest.
  • Take time to sleep.
  • Cuddle up with others against the cold.
  • Eat well and at regular intervals.
  • Know when to get out of an uncomfortable situation.
  • Wait for the right time to jump into a new skill, new job, new adventure.
  • Step lightly into new situations to maintain your composure and balance.
  • Have faith that things will proceed as they should if you follow the laws of nature.

Mama and Papa Robin earned my respect and admiration. They did everything right, and had success because of it. We truly can learn from other species when we watch, wait, observe their behavior and apply the principles to our own lives. Once the fledglings took flight, I felt a familiar twang of emptiness. I told my husband  I was reliving my “empty nest syndrome.” He just laughed, but I knew he felt it too.

Upcoming events!

Pineda Walk, Aug. 3

Join us on Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014 for the Fourth Annual 5K Walk to celebrate the life of Lisa Marie Pineda. All proceeds benefit Lupus Colorado, a non-profit dedicated to helping those individuals with lupus and their caregivers through education, advocacy and support.

Understanding Lupus, Sept. 6
This live presentation will cover the diagnosis, treatment and management of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus. This interactive activity will attempt to provide a better understanding lupus for patients, caregivers and the community.

Click on event name for more details.

Lupus Research Institute Launches Industry Council to Accelerate New Treatments for Lupus

NEW YORK, NY. June 10 – The Lupus Research Institute (LRI) launched the LRI Industry Council, a collaborative initiative founded with 13 leading pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies involved in lupus drug development. The LRI formed the new group to facilitate active collaboration among companies, research leaders, and patient advocates to overcome common obstacles in developing new treatments for lupus.

The need for safer and more effective treatments is critical. Treatment options for lupus are few, and most have serious side effects. Research funded by the LRI and others has identified many promising areas for new drug development currently being pursued by industry. But the complexity and unpredictability of the disease poses many challenges to testing new drugs.  Common difficulties in designing effective clinical trials include measuring responses to treatment and recruiting volunteers as well as identifying those compounds that may work best for specific sub-sets of patients.

“In the past, companies have wrestled with these issues independently which can impede progress,” noted Council Co-Chair and LRI Scientific Advisor Dr. Peter Lipsky.  “The LRI is affording companies the opportunity to work together to find solutions to their common challenges so each can move forward with drug development more quickly and efficiently.”

Co-chair Dr. Daniel Wallace of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center commented, “The new Council is already working on several ways to streamline and accelerate clinical trials aiming to bring lupus patients the safer and more effective treatments they need and deserve.”

Founding Members:
AbbVie
Biogen Idec
EMD Serono, Inc.
Genentech, A Member of the Roche Group
GlaxoSmithKline plc
Janssen Research & Development, LLC
Eli Lilly and Company
MedImmune
Nodality
Pfizer
Sanofi U.S.
Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.
UCB

- See more at: http://www.lupusresearchinstitute.org/lupus-news/2014/06/10/lupus-research-institute-launches-industry-council-accelerate-new-treatments#sthash.ZYG4Fk1O.dpuf

Lupus Research Institute Launches Industry Council to Accelerate New Treatments for Lupus

NEW YORK, NY. June 10 – The Lupus Research Institute (LRI) launched the LRI Industry Council, a collaborative initiative founded with 13 leading pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies involved in lupus drug development. The LRI formed the new group to facilitate active collaboration among companies, research leaders, and patient advocates to overcome common obstacles in developing new treatments for lupus.

The need for safer and more effective treatments is critical. Treatment options for lupus are few, and most have serious side effects. Research funded by the LRI and others has identified many promising areas for new drug development currently being pursued by industry. But the complexity and unpredictability of the disease poses many challenges to testing new drugs.  Common difficulties in designing effective clinical trials include measuring responses to treatment and recruiting volunteers as well as identifying those compounds that may work best for specific sub-sets of patients.

“In the past, companies have wrestled with these issues independently which can impede progress,” noted Council Co-Chair and LRI Scientific Advisor Dr. Peter Lipsky.  “The LRI is affording companies the opportunity to work together to find solutions to their common challenges so each can move forward with drug development more quickly and efficiently.”

Co-chair Dr. Daniel Wallace of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center commented, “The new Council is already working on several ways to streamline and accelerate clinical trials aiming to bring lupus patients the safer and more effective treatments they need and deserve.”

Founding Members:
AbbVie
Biogen Idec
EMD Serono, Inc.
Genentech, A Member of the Roche Group
GlaxoSmithKline plc
Janssen Research & Development, LLC
Eli Lilly and Company
MedImmune
Nodality
Pfizer
Sanofi U.S.
Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.
UCB

- See more at: http://www.lupusresearchinstitute.org/lupus-news/2014/06/10/lupus-research-institute-launches-industry-council-accelerate-new-treatments#sthash.ZYG4Fk1O.dpuf


Martha Beck’s Formula for Reversing Bad Fortune (As Applied to Chronic Illness)

Carie ShermanBy Carie Sherman

It’s been a rough couple of months as it relates to my health. Nothing serious–thank goodness–but annoying nonetheless.

I’ve been sick with acute illnesses (shingles and strep throat) as well as the “same old same old” (big-time fatigue and fibro-pain top my complaints). On top of that, it’s summer, and I’m one of those “live for summer” types who hates being stuck inside. I’m so anxious to feel well.

But since I don’t, I’m thankful to have read an article by Martha Beck in the most recent issue of Oprah magazine. She’s a life-coach who uses humor, self-deprecation, and a fine writing style to discuss various topics of enlightenment. This article, Reversal of Bad Fortune, describes how we can use our experiences in one of two ways: As a catalyst for hopelessness or a catalyst for growth.

I can’t recall the last time I felt well physically. And despite my best efforts, it’s wearing on me mentally. Clearly I need help weathering my “accident.” So I decided to use her formula. And though publishing this will make me feel more exposed than Janet Jackson at the Superbowl, I’m sharing it with the hopes it makes someone else feel better, too.

What follows is the example Martha used of her friend who experienced a serious, life-changing car accident as well as my own assessment.

Martha Beck’s Accident Formula

First, write down the pertinent info about your “accident.”

Annette wrote: “I was crossing an intersection when a driver, high on meth, ran a red light and hit me at 70 miles per hour. My car rolled three times and stopped with me hanging upside down. I was able to call my husband, and help came right away.”

I wrote: Just after the birth of my first child and the beginning of a new career as a freelance writer, I was diagnosed with an incurable chronic illness.

Next, isolate the key components of the above statement.

Annette wrote: 1) Intersection. 2) Meth addict. 3) Red light. 4) 70 miles per hour.

I wrote: 1) Birth. 2) Child. 3) Writing career. 4) Diagnosed. 5) Incurable chronic illness.

Third, pretend you are each component of your accident. Use free-association and talk about yourself as if you were the individual component.

Annette’s first word was “intersection.” She said: “I’m a crossroads, a place where Annette can make an important choice.” For the word “driver,” she said “I’m a speeding driver, high on meth. I’m the insanity of humans and of the world. I’m here to teach Annette not to be afraid because fear is useless.” So on and so forth.

I’ll admit it–this part was hard. And I’m not sure if I did it correctly. But here’s what I wrote:

1) Birth. I’m the beginning of a new life. In life there are highs and lows.

2) Child. I am a child. I am a new life. I’m learning to navigate a new world with the help of many wonderful people.

3). Writing career. I’m a writing career. I’m flexible. I’m creative. I’m challenging and fun. I’m an opportunity to learn. I am filled with rejection, yet joyful with acceptance.

4). Diagnosed. I am a diagnosis. I am a suggestion of what is. I am not a definition.

5). Incurable chronic illness. I’m a chronic illness. For Carie, I am not a death sentence. Yet I am difficult and challenging and require change. I am here for the long haul. Carie can learn to live with me or fight me. I require a focus that Carie has never before had. I require Carie to focus on what’s most important.

Finally, read your original description again and incorporate the meaning you’ve created through the free association exercise.

Annette discovered this: “The story of her accident turned out to be a pivotal moment when she could choose to release her fear of death and go on with greater serenity.” Martha says, “Actively choosing to look for meaning in her accident left her happier and more vibrant; seeing it as meaningless would have caused her to contract in terror.”

And here’s what I learned: Even though I’ve spent the better part of this week moping around because I can’t raise my arms above my shoulders, this process helped me remember what’s positive about my illness. (Which is some feat, given I’ve complained to my husband at least once an hour about how miserable I feel.)

My “accident” (aka, my health issues) requires new beginnings. I can choose to fight my new reality, or I can learn to accept it with the help of my support network. It reminds me that life is challenging and constantly changing, and if I hadn’t gotten sick, I might still be focused stuff that’s not important (like an unfulfilling career that would have required far too much time away from my little girl). My life has changed. And during weeks of pain and uncertainty, it’s bound to be frustrating and depressing. But it’s not hopeless.

Thanks, Martha Beck, for the much-needed perspective.

I hope you found some, too.

What helps you? Leave a comment below.