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.


Before You Complain About Your Doctor(s), Again…Please Read

Carie ShermanBy Carie Sherman

I spend a lot of time with doctors.

For more than a decade, I have written for physicians and count many as clients. In fact, earning the respect of my physician clients has been one of my greatest achievements as a writer.

And like any good lupus patient, I spend my free time in waiting rooms—a primo place for people watching that delights the writer in me.

It’s easy to recognize the regulars. They smile. They look relaxed. They knit, read, play video games, stare unapologetically and take notes (okay, maybe that’s just me). But newbies are far more fun to watch.

While I’m usually entertained by a freaking out newbie, a lady yesterday infuriated me. What began as some serious huffing and puffing ended with a fist pounding on the reception desk and followed by a…

If I treated my clients this way, I’d blah, blah <explicative> blah…!”

She went on…

Overpaid < explicative >, lazy, they’re the reason health care in America sucks…”

Her tirade ended with a resounding…

F&*% doctors!”

And to my relief, and that of my waiting room peeps, she exited the building.

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Intervention – An Update and an Intro to a Fellow Friend in Lupus

Carie ShermanBy Carie Sherman

A few weeks ago, I humiliated myself by sharing my food intake. My confession was accompanied by a vow to eat five fruits/veggies daily. I’ve stuck with it and—surprise, surprise!—I feel better. My stomach again growls, and I’m hungry for something besides high-fructose corn syrup.

Thanks to everyone who responded on Facebook, and my friends who sent me texts ranging from “REALLY?!?!” to “No wonder you sleep so much” to “You’re gonna get fat and I’m going to laugh.”

And special thanks to two people who made this dietary change much easier to swallow. First, thanks to my meat-and-potatoes-husband who has prepared and eaten more salads in one month than he did during 2006. Second, thanks to my friend Michelle, who sent me a 2,500 word email filled with crazy-good info about finding better health.

Lupus Colorado introduced me to Michelle because we had a few things in common: We were “similar” in age (bless you Debbie for thinking so), both new moms, and both had lupus (Michelle’s diagnosis definitive; mine as of last week still in limbo).

Meet Michelle. AKA, My Daily Inspiration

You know those people you meet and within 30 seconds, you’d do anything to be his or her friend? That’s Michelle. She’s bright, funny, warm, empathetic, energetic, bubbly, motivated, fun, adventurous, thoughtful, and holy crow—I honestly could go on!

Michelle lives on the western slope and drives to Denver once a month to see her doctors at University Hospital. Our first meeting was at a playground, where we shared our stories and our little girls ran around as if their watered-down Juicy Juice was swapped with Red Bull.

I felt like crap that day and did my best to hide it. Michelle was in great shape, and I learned she was a fitness instructor and a total nerd about nutrition. It was shocking to hear that less than a year before she had been fighting for her life, spending months in intensive care due to lupus complications.

lupus colorado healthy eatingShe had been so sick. And she was now so healthy.

My excuses for not taking better care of myself were weak, and I knew it. Not that she made me feel bad. Instead, she encouraged me to make small and sustainable changes. Like eating real food.

It took me a while, but my Milk Dud box mittens have come off and I’ve rediscovered proper kitchen utensils and the foods that come with them. And I owe so much of this to Michelle.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll share Michelle’s encouragement and the hard-fought wisdom she earned on her journey from ICU and chemo to teaching multiple fitness classes a day. And of course, I’ll share my own experiences of trying to adopt a healthier lifestyle.

Doctors can’t “cure” us, but we can improve our health. It might be hard, but like Michelle told me: The changes that heal you are easy to adopt for good.

What lifestyle changes have you made that help?

Until next time,

Carie

P.S. I sprained my wrist while carrying a grocery bag. I tried to avoid the doctor but it bruised, swelled and made typing miserable, which simply cannot happen in my world. My PCP is sending me to see an orthopedist today. This injury and a few others may or may not be related to my connective tissue disease—does anyone else experience such injuries? Or am I just a klutz?

 

 

 


Diagnosed. by Carie Sherman

Carie ShermanIt was August of 2011. I had just returned from a weekend at the beach with my best girlfriends. We spent three days lounging like lizards with drinks in hand, carrying on as if we were 21 again.

I returned a hot mess. After a week of what I believed was worst hangover ever, I turned to my primary care doctor. After my exam, she suggested I see a rheumatologist. I can’t remember asking her why. I trusted her, so I went.

Man, rheumatologists take a LOT of blood.

By the time I went in for my follow-up, I’d convinced myself my diagnosis would be extreme laziness.

After all, I’d just changed careers. Moving from a relatively stressful corporate job to a lot less stressful “freelancer” status totally fit Diagnosis Lazy. My daughter had just turned one. Aren’t all new 35-year old moms tired?
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