Life Lessons from a Broken Kitchen Sink

The faucet in my kitchen broke this weekend. Each time you turn it on, it sprays water–everywhere. And though I instantly thoughtCarie Sherman this type of problem was an emergency, it seems plumbers prioritize things like “major pipe bursts” and “sewer back-ups” over my inability to function properly in my kitchen.

So I’m without a water source in my kitchen.

After more than a few “dammits!,” I realized going to the sink for water was far too much of a reflex for me to remember on my own. I finally resorted to forming an “X” over the sink with painter’s tape–a visual reminder of what’s broken and a pattern I need to change.

Now, being without a kitchen sink–in the grand scheme of life–isn’t such a big deal. It can certainly be filed in the nuisance category. But let’s not underestimate the nuisance either: How many times do you use your kitchen sink every day? I reckon it’s a heckuva a lot more than you realize.

It’s been a few days now (plumber is coming tomorrow–they could have been here sooner but they operate like the cable companies and give you windows of time–and though I work from home I do have other obligations–so tomorrow, it is).

And guess what? This morning, I filled my coffee pot in the bathroom. Without thinking about it. I washed my hands, filled the refrigerator water jug, and the pet dish–all without turning first to my kitchen sink. Of course, I had to give extra thought to walking with full water containers the 10 feet from my bathroom back to the kitchen, but it wasn’t that big of deal. It’s just … different.

Kind of like the changes we’re forced to make when the bigger things in life go wrong. Like lupus. It’s not ideal. It’s not what we hoped for in life. But over time, we adapt. We learn to do things differently.

My sink broke, and I needed Plan B. With lupus, you always have to have a plan. Am I rested enough? Is there a place I can sit? What am I doing the day before? Did I pack Advil and water and comfy shoes?

Using the kitchen sink was a habit. So I had to put a big “X” over it. With lupus, sometimes you have to X over a few things to remind yourself that life has changed. I’ve put Xs over many things, and I’m sure you have, too. From where I sit right now, I can see my pill bottles–my visual reminder that life changed, and I need to take my meds.

But time passes. And today, using the bathroom sink emerged as a habit. Just like many of the changes I was forced to make because of my chronic illness. It’s still not ideal. But it’s certainly not the end of the world.

Life is filled with problems. Your sink will break. Your body will fade or your mind will betray you. Relationships will end.

Sometimes, the best you can do is put an X over it, and move on.

5 Ways to Feel Better Right Now

Carie ShermanBy Carie Sherman

I hope this post finds you well. But if it’s not, here are 5 simple–and proven!–ways you can feel better right now. So forget that fever or rash or the fact you sliced your daughter’s finger with a nail clipper, and start feeling better now.

  1. Accomplish something. Just one small task. Don’t pour over your big to-do list, just see something that needs done and do it. I just opened the stack of mail that had piled up. And while it resulted in nothing good, I do feel better now that I know what’s in there (and when I go to tackle the pile of bills, at least there will be one less step).
  2. Use your imagination. Go ahead–take a few minutes and daydream. Think back to when you were a kid, and play pretend. Imagine your next vacation, pretend you’re on the beach, picture yourself running around in perfect health…it can work.
  3. Send a thank you note. Surely, someone has recently done something nice for you. So why not let them know how much you appreciated it? Doesn’t need to be fancy–an email will suffice. It’ll be good for them–and science says, it’s also good for you.
  4. Go outside. Just 20 minutes out of doors in good weather can make you feel more positive. One small study indicated a “behavioral change is associated with mood change and vitamin D status.” And since vitamin D is important for those of us with autoimmune issues, it may be even more beneficial.
  5. Don’t feel like smiling? Do it anyway. Studies have suggested that even a fake smile can boost your mood. Some researchers think that emotions aren’t only in our brains–other body parts contribute to what we’re experiencing. Bonus! The fake smile may also reduce your perceived level of pain.

These 5 things are easy to do, so what do you have to lose besides a sour mood?

What’s your favorite way to feel better?


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.