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?


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!


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.


A Quick Guide to Vitamin D and Lupus

Carie ShermanBy Carie Sherman

Have you had your vitamin D levels checked recently? If not–you should.

Last summer, I learned I was severely D-deficient. And recent blood-work confirmed that because of supplementation, I’m deficient no more. (I count it as one of the reasons I say “better” when someone asks how I feel.)

Why is this vitamin so important for lupus patients? To start, there are studies that indicate a link.

Low vitamin D levels might have some bearing on the development and severity of lupus.
Our D levels are low because those of us with photosensitivity avoid the sun (vitamin D is “sunshine vitamin”).
The drugs we take (steroids and hydrochloroquine) might interfere with vitamin D levels.
SLE patients who receive supplementation may experience less disease activity.

Lupus or not, researchers estimate that 1 billion people worldwide lack proper D-levels.

What’s the Big Deal about D?

This is so cool: The Mayo Clinic outlines what the science says about vitamin D, breaking down each piece of evidence and grading the science behind it. Not surprisingly, nearly every autoimmune condition listed is given a “C,” indicating more research is necessary (support lupus research and Lupus Colorado!).

The “A” list includes:

  • Bone disease: softening, weakening
  • Kidney disease Psoriasis
  • Thyroid conditions
  • Lung disorders
  • Diabetes
  • Stomach and intestine problems
  • Heart disease

The evidence isn’t fully in on these items, but there are also some indications that improved vitamin D levels could lessen joint pain, lower risks of certain kinds of cancer, improve brain function and improve blood pressure.

Could You Be Vitamin D Deficient?

You might be at risk if…

You don’t have much sun exposure (true of most lupus patients!).
You have dark skin.
You have kidney dysfunction.
You are obese.
You don’t eat meat or dairy.
Your digestive system isn’t functioning well, as in celiac disease or Crohn’s.

There’s only one way to know for sure: Ask your doc for a blood test (she’s taking so much already, what’s another test, right?). If your levels are low, treatment is as simple as taking a pill.

I saw my energy go up and my pain levels go down soon after treatment. You’re already seeing your doc, so I think it’s worth asking about.