Interested in Better Health? Stop Deciding

I took my daughter to the dentist yesterday. No cavities! It was a big mom win, as lately I can’t seem to open the internet or turn on theCarie Sherman television or talk to well-meaning adults without feeling shame for something I’m doing wrong that will hinder her for life.

I too get a clean bill of health at the dentist. This stems from wearing braces through middle school, high school, and a few months of college. Yes, college. (I also had a perm. And amazingly, zero dates.) In case you’re wondering, the first thing orthodontists do to kids getting braces is show terrifying pictures of what your teeth will look like if you don’t brush well. I still have nightmares.

Why do I still do a good job? I’d like to say it’s because I’m conscientious about all aspects of my health. But the truth is that my brushing/flossing/dentist-appointment-every-six-months routine is because of one thing:

It’s a habit. I don’t think about it. I just do it.

Forming Habits

According to Gretchen Rubin, best-selling author of Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, the secret to forming good habits is finding specific strategies that will work for you. She believes we all have certain tendencies that impact our abilities to form and break habits.

I had the pleasure of meeting Gretchen at a reading she had at the Denver Woman’s Press Club (see photo evidence here!). Her first step? Deciding to not decide. When something remains a decision, you can say yes or no. I want to make daily yoga a habit. Yet most mornings, I still make a decision. I don’t decide whether I’ll brush my teeth. That happens. That’s habit.

When you live with chronic illness, changing your habits—good, bad, and indifferent—is almost always a requirement. And it’s almost always (in my opinion) super hard to do.

Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies

Gretchen believes the next step is knowing yourself and your tendencies. It’s not about changing who you are. It’s about knowing how you respond to expectations.

“When we try to form a new habit, we set an expectation for ourselves,” she says. I do this all the time. I set an expectation that I will not eat the entire pan of brownies. Then someone leaves me home alone and suddenly the pan is licked clean.

We all have outer and inner expectations. Outer expectations are things like deadlines, laws, rules, threats of your husband leaving you if he trips over your shoes one more time…. Inner expectations are things like doing laundry every Tuesday or eating a healthy breakfast or stop licking pans of food like a dog.

She observed that most people fall into one of these four groups:

1)      Upholders respond to outer and inner expectations. They keep schedules and to do lists. And they do them!

2)      Questioners resist outer expectations. Like how my daughter believes I need to justify her bedtime. She’s stopped taking because you’re 5 and I’m the mom for an answer. They meet inner expectations so long as they can justify them.

3)      Obligers (this is me) respond to outer expectations. Inner expectations…not so much.

4)      Rebels say Expectations Be Damned! and go about their merry way.

As an obliger, I begin each day setting my own intentions. And every day, I anxiously await emails and phone calls that will allow me to respond to someone else’s needs first.

What I didn’t know (and which explains so much) is that I also have a bit of a rebel in me. Which, also explains why some days I ignore all expectations and spend the day adding dresses I don’t need into online shopping carts I never intend to buy.

Not sure which category you belong to? Never fear. A quiz is here!

So What?

Too much of my life still comes down to a decision. Some nights when I’m lying in bed, I decide whether it’s worth it to get up and take my Plaquenil. I walk or do yoga most days, until someone needs something from me and I drop everything to meet their expectations. I meditate every day, but it’s not a routine. I decide to do it. And deciding takes energy. As we all know, lupus and lupus-like illnesses like mine mean energy is already in short supply.

Are you interested in exploring how your habits impact your life? I am. So I’m reading this book again. I’ll fill you in on my progress in my next post.

 

 


Chronically Creative: Improve Your Way of Operating

I have a magnet on my refrigerator that says:Carie Sherman

“Creativity is not a talent. It’s a way of operating.” – John Cleese

It’s my reminder that, with the right attitude, each and every struggle I face is manageable. But I forget. I fall into old patterns of Woe is Me and Nothing Ever Changes and My Butt Looks Ginormous in These Jeans. So I’m expanding on this thought by sharing with you this awesome list of 21 Ways to Unlock Creative Genius (courtesy of Entrepreneur). I’ve stolen six (though all apply) and added some thoughts on improving daily operations when you live with a chronic illness like lupus.

  1. “Be a Copycat – Build on the Classics.” Whether you’re newly diagnosed or you’ve been living with chronic illness for years, find a mentor who you think is living life well. Here are a few people I follow, to name a few: Sara, Amanda, Tiffany, and Marla.
  2. “Pick the Worst Idea – Not All Risks are Bad. I recently took a big risk. I joined OrangeTheory Fitness (because the best way to go from couch potato to fit is to over-do it, right?). Well, I learned the hard way how not to do it. But then I spoke with my BFF, my doctor, his nurse, and trainers at OTF. And now that I know the best way for me to approach this one-hour intense workout, I’m six workouts in and feeling awesome (it’s pretty cool to feel sore because you exercised, not just because you exist!).
  3. “Ask Three People – New Perspectives Bring New Approaches.” Finish this sentence: OMG I HATE MY CHRONIC ILLNESS BECAUSE _____. Shout the first thing that pops out of your head. Now, find three people you trust. And ask them what they’d do to minimize the impact of the problem you identified.
  4. Look Outside Your Industry – Learn What Others Can Teach. Do you normally follow patient-centered blogs? Read up on physician perspectives. Die hard yogi? Read up on running. Agnostic? Check the news to see what the Pope has been up to. You never know what you can glean from seeking out new perspectives.
  5. Reset Goals – What Do You Really Want? The goals I set in my 20s look far different from those I am working toward in this my 39th year. Chronic illness is a big reason why. And in many ways, it’s such a blessing. Back in the day, my need to achieve was so great that I never enjoyed anything. If I was making breakfast, I was thinking about dinner. If I achieved something, my thoughts would be taken over by 1) fears of my accomplishment getting taken away, and 2) wondering incessantly about what was next. My slow down may have been forced, but I’m far better about living in the moment. It makes me a better friend, wife, mother, and writer. I’d love it if my old body could meet this new mind of mine … but I’d probably just go back to overdoing and overachieving. (My last big dose of prednisone and it’s crazy-energy surge are evidence of that!)
  6. Start Over – Scrap Everything. What’s not working for you? Start small. Just last night I tripped for the hundredth time over a laundry basket that frequently lives at the foot of our bed. The path between said laundry basket and my dog’s giant bed is not big enough to maneuver in the dark. It only took me three years to figure it out that I could just move it (further evidence that I’m not exactly the brightest bulb…).

Chronic illnesses like lupus shine a light on your life in ways you can’t expect. But if you keep your head about you, if you look at your life like a business or project, if you decide your creativity is endless, you’ll find ways to live better, live smarter, and live healthier – despite the diagnosis on your medical chart.


Autoimmune Disease and A Big Hairy Audacious Goal

Carie ShermanI’m just one person. But my ego is big enough to speak on behalf of the 50 MILLION Americans suffering from autoimmune disease. So here goes: We’re sick of seeing doctors. We’re sick of writing our blogs. We’re sick of being advocates. We’re sick of being sick. And so are the people who love us.

We Need a Goal

A wise man once taught me about the Big Hairy Audacious Goal. I think our community needs a BHAG: Get us healthy and kick us the heck out of our overtaxed health care system.

If we cured autoimmune disease tomorrow, that’s $100 BILLION of direct health care costs wiped away. And that’s likely a conservative estimate. The $100 BILLION figure is based on the National Institute of Health (NIH)’s study on the 24 autoimmune diseases for which good epidemiology studies were available. As one who is stuck in lupus limbo, my investments don’t count toward those costs. And neither do my friend Racquel’s, who is now disabled due to a rare autoimmune condition that doctors are just now beginning to recognize and study. She’s in her 30s raising four kids and running a small nonprofit organization. And every month her meds cost more than most people earn in a month.

We’re Making Headway

  • Last month, advocates from around the country descended on Washington for a special Congressional briefing on Capitol Hill. There they presented a new lupus research plan to guide the nation’s scientific community toward a cure! Lupus Colorado’s Executive Director Inez Robinson attended, along with our partners in the Alliance for Lupus Research and the Lupus Research Institute. The new National Institutes of Health (NIH) Action Plan for Lupus Research presents a comprehensive roadmap that builds on decades of NIH research efforts, yielding a wealth of new information toward improving understanding of lupus.
  • Just this week, a possible trigger for lupus was identified, thanks to research funded by Lupus Colorado’s partner Lupus Research Institute (LRI).
  • Other research from 2016 is indicating that only 20% of lupus is due to genetics. And there’s evidence that lupus patients have a unique microbiome, or bacterial makeup in their gut.
  • There’s lupus research funding available.
  • Personalized treatment of autoimmune disease is on the horizon.

Kick Us Out with a Cure

We’re ready. And you can help. Supporting lupus research is a win for us all. Since lupus is a systemic disease (meaning it messes with pretty much every system of the body you learned about in middle school), the more we know about it, the better off we’ll be to treat a plethora of diseases. In the autoimmune disease realm alone, there are 80 defined diseases. And an increased understanding of immune system activity can benefit us beyond lupus — people who receive transplants, AIDS patients, cancer patients, and patients of infectious disease are also likely to benefit from increased knowledge.

You can help by supporting organizations like Lupus Colorado and the Lupus Research Institute. Join this BHAG and kick us out!


5 Things Every Sick Person Needs

1. A “sick” friend. If you’re blessed with a diagnosis, then by garsh, you need to find a friend with something similar. Only yourCarie Sherman sick friend will understand the uncomfortable feeling of everyone on staff at your pharmacy reaching for your prescriptions without needing to ask your name. When your sick friend says, dang, that sucks, you know she gets it. Being in a constant state of sickness steals your rationality. It takes a sick friend to call BS, say, when you’re constantly looking on the bright side. Your sick friend is the one who says, it’s BS that you feel like this, and it’s okay for you to say so. (Note this sick friend will also call you on any over-the-top pity parties or irrational dropping off the face of the earth.)

2. A creative outlet. Find what makes your heart sing. Maybe it’s knitting. Maybe it’s coloring in your adult coloring book. Maybe it’s using your imagination to find ways to make the crap that frustrates you most, better. And now please—do not give me the song and dance about “not being creative.” Just because your high school art teacher didn’t marvel at your genius doesn’t mean you can’t live a creative life. My favorite definition of creativity is from Bill Moyers (as quoted by Brainpickings): “Creativity is piercing the mundane to find the marvelous.” So what if your creative outlet is organizing your sock drawer. If it feels marvelous to you, then it surely is.

3. A health advocate. My primary care provider has gone to bat with insurance. She’s held my hand while I cried. She’s comforted other patients by telling my story of things we’ve found together that have made me feel better. Recently attended a gastrointestinal conference and was told about a probiotic strain that was good for IBS-C (one of my many diagnoses). She stood in Whole Foods for 30 minutes looking at every brand of yogurt strain to find one that contained this particular strain—then told me about it straight away! (Thanks, McKenzie!)

4. A basic trust in the universe. Or, a healthy existentialist attitude. Whether you believe the world is in constant motion to bring you to your highest and best—or if you believe the world is indifferent to you so it’s on your shoulders to try to make the most of any situation—the comfort gained from leaning inward toward your essence is immeasurable.

5. Child’s pose. When everything else fails, and you’re not sure about anything, get down on your knees and put your head to the ground. If this is too painful, and sometimes it is for me, try a supported version. This is medicine I use daily. And it works. No matter how angry or sad or frustrated or overwhelmed I feel before, I feel immensely better after spending time in this yoga pose of surrender. I suspect you might, too.

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.