Control is a Mirage that Makes You Throw Your Cell Phone

I don’t get out of the house much. So I’m not quick to forget when someone cuts me off inCarie Sherman traffic. And getting cut off twice in the same day, by two different Chrysler 300 sedans, was unforgettable. It was no coincidence. It was a reminder of something I (sort of) learned 10 years ago, while planning my wedding.

Wedding planning made me, shall we say, a bit hyper-focused. Okay, that’s not true. I was obsessed. Totally and completely obsessed.

I don’t know how it happened. I’d set out with a mantra of Simple, Simple, Simple. But as the months passed by, I felt driven to control everything. I wanted perfection.

Which is why I flipped out a few weeks before the big day, after realizing that I couldn’t arrive at my outdoor wedding in a faded old Jeep Cherokee.

I directed what remained of my modest budget to renting a limo. And not just any limo. A brand new, white, Chrysler 300. So new, that we’d be the first people to rent it. It was elegant. It was classy. It was exactly the touch my Simple and Elegant affair needed.

All was well. Until the a few hours before the rehearsal dinner, when the limo company called to let me know that the delivery of the limo—my limo!—had been delayed.

Delayed, meaning, no classy, new white limo to drop my dad and I off at the wedding site. No elegant, charming, shiny white limo to whisk my new husband and our wedding party off to the reception.

“We’re so sorry,” the person I now hated most in the world said. “We’re upgrading you for free. We’re sending our most requested model. It’s a Hummer.”

A Hummer. My uncle drove a Hummer. It was bright yellow. It was not Elegant. It was not Classy. It was … a Hummer.

“It’s orange,” the person I hated most in the world added, as I was choking on tears. She listed other features. But all I heard was orange.

I would show up to my wedding in an orange Hummer.

I managed to thank her. Then I threw my phone.

After that call, things got worse. Much worse. Tornadoes. Torrential rains. Street flooding. Snow.

Yes, snow. The morning of June 4, my perfect wedding day, it snowed. Followed by rain, more rain.

Cue major meltdown.

It rained all morning, which meant, no outdoor wedding. Even if the rain stopped, the ground was soaked. My perfect wedding was sunk.

But here’s what’s funny: No amount of my own planning could have delivered the perfection that emerged from what I’d perceived to be a disaster.

The sun came out, just in time to for pictures. We were married indoors and it was beautiful. People still comment on it, nearly 10 years later. My husband and I have nothing but fond memories to look back on.

The Hummer was, well, orange. Bright orange. But what it lacked in elegance, it made up for in fun. Neon lights + well-stocked bar + awesome sound system = a total and complete blast with my new husband and our closest friends/family. The Hummer was a hit. And far more “us” than any boring old white limo could have been.

Our wedding day was perfectly “us.”

* * *

I’d like to say it was then that I kicked my inner control freak to the curb. But I needed a chronic illness to teach me that control is an illusion. I’m not done learning; this is a lesson for which I need constant reminding.

During that drive last week, I’d been ruminating. Running through my standard Woe is Me routine about something I couldn’t have anticipated, and I certainly had no control over.

Cue getting cut off—twice—by two versions of the car that was “supposed” to be was just the reminder I needed to chill out and accept what comes.

* * *

No one plans on getting a chronic illness. It comes into our lives like a storm, and we’re constantly dealing with its aftermath. But there are lessons to be learned in chaos.

Many lupies learn that control is a mirage: It looks like one thing. Then poof! It’s blown to smithereens. Sometimes it leaves behind something terrible. Yet sometimes, it leaves behind a bright orange hummer. Is it ideal? Not really. Is it still pretty great? Yep, it sure is.

What life lessons has lupus taught you? Share your experience in the comments below.


8 Choices I Make to Feel Good Despite a Chronic Illness

I’ve been having a hard time writing for this blog. Last night I realized why: It’s because I feel good. Who Carie Shermanam I to write on behalf of those struggling with this crap disease?

I confided in my husband. Always the voice of reason, he reminded me of everything that I have learned over the years, and everything that I must do to feel this good.

I didn’t see it before because it’s my routine. My new normal. I’d forgotten all that it entailed. So today I share with you, with the hope you might find a tip or two, the daily choices I make to help me feel good.

1) I rest. A lot. I took daily naps for a few years. On weekends, I still do. But most work days I can do without. That doesn’t mean I don’t rest. I take as many time-outs as an ornery toddler. On no-nap days, I go to bed. Early. 8:30. I’m asleep by 9:15 or so.

2) I take my meds. About 15 pills a day. Not all prescription–some are supplements such as iron or vitamin D. But it’s still a mouthful.

3) I stay home. There are a few days a week that I don’t leave at all. I’m fortunate to work from home. I’ve learned to take most meetings by phone.

4) I depend on others. My babysitter’s husband picks my daughter up for school. My husband runs most of our errands. My friends come over and they cook dinner. My family stocks my freezer and vacuums under the couch.

5) I plan ahead. If I have a fun event or people coming from out of town, I start preparing way ahead of time. I make sure the days leading up to said event and the days after are cleared for downtime.

6) I manage my stress. Every single day, I move my body. Most days I go for a morning walk and practice yoga. I meditate once or twice a day. I remind myself throughout the day to be mindful–as I’m chopping veggies or washing my hair. I read. I see a therapist. I stopped watching the news and exceedingly violent programs (esp. if children or animals are involved). I stretch and meditate and pray before bed.

7) I say no and I cancel plans. Five years ago, I would say yes to anything. Even if the thought of doing the request made my tummy hurt. I also used to slog through anything I had committed myself to. The fact is I need to listen to my body. And feeling bad still sneaks up on me. I stopped faking it and can now admit when my body defeats me.

8) I find meaning in everything. I choose to face each event–even silly things like getting a good table in a packed restaurant–knowing that I’ll receive the best possible outcome in every situation. I believe the obstacles I face are for my own good. A rejected client estimate means there must be a better project out there for me. In the face of something tragic, I work hard to accept it and learn.

These eight things help me feel pretty darn good. I still have bad days. I screw these eight things up. But my illness reminds me very quickly when I deviate from this routine. So I come back to it.

I could be doing more. Since I’m feeling better, it’s time for me to start adding things back into my life. I’d like to see friends and family more. I’d like to do more meaningful activities. I still need to make better eating choices. And I definitely need to have more fun.

For now, I’ll be content with where I’m at. I’ve come a long way on this journey to better health. And it feels good.

What changes have you made that help you feel good? Leave a comment. You never know who might need your good advice.


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?