My Challenge to You in 2015: Learn to Trust Yourself

Fellow friends in chronic illness, I think we should agree that in 2015, we are the experts.Carie Sherman

Because, really: the only person who can be an expert on you, is you! With a disease as multifaceted as lupus, I think it’s the only way.

When you have a chronic illness, it’s easy to give everyone else power. You feel sick, so you see a doctor and start new meds. You see more doctors. You submit to test after test. You get conflicting advice. You read endless books and blogs. Well-meaning friends and family explore hundreds of options. Yet many people with lupus still wake up each day feeling like they drank a fifth of vodka and fell down two flights of stairs the night before.

It’s easy to lose trust. But I think trust can make dealing with this lupus nonsense more manageable.

I’ll give you a health-related example. Over the last year, I began resenting my sleep apnea machine. My mask had permanently dented my forehead, and I’m vain. I was strongly considering having an invasive, hard-to-recover from surgery to remove my sublingual tonsils with the hope of curing my sleep apnea (and not having to spend the rest of my life wearing an ugly, face deforming sleep mask).

I spent the last few months trying to make a decision. But I just couldn’t decide. I berated myself for being such a procrastinator.

Turns out, I had a reason to procrastinate. I just didn’t know it yet.

Back in 2011, two independent sleep studies confirmed that I stopped breathing 30 times an hour, which constitutes moderate sleep apnea. At a recent appointment, I talked to my doctor about needing a different, non-forehead denting mask. He recommended another sleep study to make sure my treatment was as effective as possible. And, they’d find me a mask that works better. So I had another sleep study in October. And guess what?

No evidence of sleep apnea.

NONE!

My flabbergasted doc said there’s zero evidence of disordered sleeping or breathing. Apparently, spontaneous sleep apnea recovery doesn’t happen every day. In fact, he’s never seen anything like it. It defies explanation. We went over every possible reason, including the unlikely event that the study was wrong. The best we came up with was 1) I’m a medical miracle (which he chuckled about); 2) Taking allergy medicine cured my disordered breathing; and/or 3) (my brother-in-law is going to LOVE this crazypants statement) I quit eating gluten and cured my sleep apnea.

We concluded that we don’t know why my sleep apnea disappeared. But I’ve been sleeping without the mask for two months now, and I feel good.

Think of all the time I wasted, angsting over whether I needed to have surgery to cure my sleep apnea. Or worse, think of how terrible it would have been had I forced myself to make a decision when I wasn’t ready

Let’s learn something from this ugly dent in my forehead. The next time you find yourself doubting…or unsure whether a test is necessary or a new pill is the answer, give yourself a little credit. Trust yourself. This doesn’t mean you have cate blanchett (yes, that’s a 22 Jump Street reference) to pick and choose what you believe about your health. To fully trust yourself, you’re required to go full in—to really listen to your body, to really listen to your doctors, to really consider all the facets of your life and what might be causing your symptoms.

And for gosh-sakes, if you believe something is wrong, then don’t stop until someone really listens. If you don’t believe anything is wrong—that’s possible, too!

You are the expert on you. Not your doctor. Or your mother. Or a blogger who may or may not have lupus and claims going gluten free cured her sleep apnea. YOU.

Will you accept my challenge to cultivate a trust in yourself in 2015?

Stay tuned for future installments on trust. Happy New Year!


How You Know You Might Have Lupus

Sometimes, All You Can Do is Laugh…Carie Sherman

I’m feeling the stress of the holidays. Which means I’m also feeling many of my muscles and joints.

Am I alone? Yeah, that’s a silly question to ask a lupus crowd.

But since we’re on the topic of silly, I recently came across this video titled Does Laughing Make You Healthier?

Well, doctors say yes. And while having lupus is no joke, you gotta admit: Sometimes, all you can do is laugh.

So here is a list of my favorite chronic illness jokes, compiled in the spirit of Jeff Foxworthy.

(FULL DISCLOSURE: I didn’t write these jokes. I stole them from Internet memes that didn’t credit a writer.)

  • If you feel like Norm on Cheers when you walk into the pharmacy … you might have lupus.
  • If you drink coffee at 5 p.m. because it’s 7 a.m. somewhere … you might have lupus.
  • If you’re not wearing yoga pants and people ask why you’re so dressed up … you might have lupus.
  • If you fantasize about a medication label that says, “side effects include extreme sexiness” … you might have lupus.
  • If you’ve been held hostage by your blankets … you might have lupus.
  • If the sun is too loud … you might have lupus.
  • If you’ve ever laughed maniacally at a medical form with only 3 lines under “list your medications” … you might have lupus.
  • If you can’t tell if it’s killing you or making you stronger … you might have lupus.
  • If you automatically answer “yep” to any sentence beginning with “have you tried” … you might have lupus.
  • If it’s Monday, and you can’t make plans for tomorrow because you have plans on Friday … you might have lupus.
  • If you don’t know if you feel better or you’re just used to feeling sick … you might have lupus.
  • If you’ve considered your tombstone, and it says “I told you I was sick” … you might have lupus.
  • If you know the only thing tough enough to kick your a$$ is yourself you might have lupus.

Don’t worry – a fake laugh works just as well as a real one!

 


Thanks, Lupus! 12 Things I’m Thankful For…

In honor of Thanksgiving, here is a list of reasons I’m thankful I got sick.Carie Sherman

No, seriously!

I’m thankful for…

The copays I pay … because it means I have health insurance.

The clothes that fit a little too snug … because it means I have access to prednisone, which stops my flares.

A lawn that needs raking and carpet that needs vacuuming … because it means I have a home to take a nap.

The spot I find at the far end of the parking lot … because that means I was well enough to leave home today.

The huge piles of laundry and ironing … because it means I had the sense to rest rather than killing myself over chores.

My stiff body … because it gets me out of doing dishes after big family events.

The alarm waking me up in the early morning hours … because it means I actually slept.

My fatigue … because it’s helped me figure out what really matters in life.

My pain … because it’s helped me have more compassion for myself and others. (Everyone has pain. Pain doesn’t mean you must suffer.)

My fevers … because they remind me to rest, and everyone needs rest.

All of my symptoms … because they made me take a hard look at my life and make changes that benefit, rather than damage, my health.

My struggles … because they remind me I’m strong and remind me that I’m loved.

Please add your own reasons in the comments below. Happy Thanksgiving!


Depression: Reflections on Robin Williams and Recognizing Pain in Others

Robin Williams’ death rocked the worlds of many. I share the sentiment that so many people have expressed, that it’s hard toCarie Sherman believe someone who made so many people laugh could have suffered so greatly.

Yet I have a feeling, if you’ve suffered from clinical depression (and it’s close cousin, addiction), the news isn’t that surprising.

I’m one of the 350 million people worldwide who suffers from clinical depression. It’s been a constant companion.

More than 10 years ago, when I was 26, I woke up and realized there wasn’t a goddamn thing on earth that could motivate me to get out from under my blanket.

I’d been in a “mood” for a while. I blamed work. I missed my family. Life had just felt tough. But that morning, I was on vacation. My parents were visiting. I had a wonderful relationship with my now husband and a multitude of friends I could count on for support.

The mood persisted. Soon enough, I had to get help.

I’ve spent years trying to understand my depression. Anti-anxiety and anti-depressants motivated me get out of bed in the morning. I learned how to recognize Depression’s Voice over my Own Voice through cognitive behavior therapy. I found refuge in exercise: Running, hiking, yoga. Rinse, repeat.

And I got better. I praised the meds, the therapy, the exercise…

If there’s one thing feeling good does, it breeds complacency. I felt invincible, and for a time, I was. But soon I “knew” I could do it without the meds. I upped the exercise and sought different methods through therapy.

I did everything I could to avoid pain and increase pleasure. For me, pleasure equaled busy. I buried myself at work, went to school at night, ran races, volunteers for charities, threw parties, binge-watched the Sopranos, read every bestseller. Each unit of time I was given was scheduled.

Little did I know, that which I ran from would always, always be with me.

It took getting sick to find this out. My lupus-like illness brought my treadmill life to a screeching halt. And without all my distractions, life felt, once again, impossible.

But I had to get out of bed. I had a family. And as worthless as I felt and as loud as Depression’s Voice was, I could still recognize my own. It told me to hang on, if only because my daughter didn’t deserve to navigate this life all by herself.

So I began a new march–recycling what I’d learned years before in an effort to get better.

This time, it didn’t work. Therapy took far more energy than I had in my reserves. I could hardly shower, much less drive across town. I started new medications. The side effects were terrible.

I tried to run. My body put me out of commission for a week.

I couldn’t control this new illness. I couldn’t control my old illness.

I was lost.

Depression is one of the most common complications of chronic illness. It isn’t just being sad. Depression is not just about being hopeless. Like lupus, somedays you feel fine. Other days, you wish for permanent reprieve. You seek pleasure–from socializing, from booze, from drugs, from food–because pleasure remission keeps you going. Depressed people are chameleons–we cloak ourselves in clever disguises so even those closest to us never see our true colors.

I’m still lost. But I credit this loss of control with opening my eyes to a new way of living. Change is constant. Pain is inevitable. Control is an illusion.

So what helped? For the first time ever, I was quiet. I started to trust my intuition and practice gratitude. I realized the only thing I could control was my thoughts. I went inward, through meditation and the seeking of universal principles. I listened for Depression’s Voice, telling me untruths with unmatched persuasion. And I listened for my own voice–that little piece of love that remains strong and steady regardless of my circumstance.

And guess what? I feel better. But the suicide of Robin Williams has forced me to remember:

1) Clinical depression can’t be cured. I’ll always need to do what’s necessary to stay a few steps ahead of it, be that meds, meditation, calling in a higher power, or writing about my experiences with the sincere hope my words could help someone else.

2) Everyone experiences pain. Even those who never show it. And pain–be it physical or emerging from deep within–can take over your life so quickly. Pain can take a single moment to a defining moment in a heartbeat.

I hope by remaining aware of my own depression–my own pain–I remain aware of the pain of others. I have gotten through many days because of the love, kindness, and patience of others.

Today, I promise to be more to the people around me, even if my mind says it’s none of my business or that the person is undeserving. Because you just never know.

RIP, Robin Williams.

Learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression in yourself and others.