#SpooniesUnite! After All, We’re Here to Save the World

I lurk around Twitter hashtags like #lupuschat and #spooniechat and learn. Recently I participated.Carie Sherman

I’d been avoiding Twitter because my own self care requires distancing from drama. In fact, I only participated because of a stomach bug: Feeling Oh-So-Sick allowed me to ditch the positive attitude and “this chronic illness happened to me for a reason” mentality and embrace the support of a community who gets it.

I shared stuff that felt icky. Yet everything I said was met with love and support. Total strangers, reaching out, sometimes across oceans, to say, I get it. I’m sorry. Been there. Done that. Try this. Here’s a (soft) hug.

We’re a diverse cast, us spoonies. (If you’re not familiar with The Spoon Theory, learn about it here.)  We come from all backgrounds and all ethnicities and all career paths. We’re nurses and activists and advocates and artists and lawyers and bank tellers and mountain-men. We’re single, taken, complicated, moms, dads, brothers, sisters, teenagers, grandmas, straight, queer, non-gender conforming. We’re rich and we’re poor and shades of in-between. And we are, as individuals, so much more than what’s written on our medical charts.  

The support I received led me to a single hypothesis: Spoonies are here to save the world.

When Your Body Fails You

When you live with a chronic illness, you get cracked wide open. A fundamental piece of you—the body you inhabit—has taken over your life. You may not physically bleed, but the wound is there and the wound is deep. Deeper than I ever thought I’d admit.

Spoonies have every reason to be miserable ass people. Physical pain, dependence on medications that make us puffy and damage our kidneys, lifestyles that come to screeching halts, issues that poke holes in our self-esteem. Fear abounds, with the ever present thought of, what’s-my-body-gonna-throw-at-me-next?

And yet, we’re not miserable. We’re kind. We’re creative. We’re supportive. We’re open. Each and every one of us is in the varied stages of learning hard life lessons.   

Chronic illness teaches us things everyone can benefit from. We understand our medications will only take us so close to health. We embrace self-care, nutrition, meaningful work, spiritual guidance, and living a creative life. As a group, spoonies are (as the kids say), mindful AF.

Even our doctors are taking a cue from us. I’ve written about mindfulness programs for physicians twice this month. Mindful physicians find more joy in life and with their patients. They are far less likely to experience burnout in their careers, and this mindfulness helps them provide better care. 

Chronic illness teaches spoonies how to be compassionate human beings. We strive each day to who compassion for our neighbors, and we struggle each day to be compassionate with ourselves.

It seems to me that this world could use a whole lot more compassion.

Together We Can

As individuals, spoonies only have so much to give. I often feel defeated when I think of all the ways I would be part of X or Y or Z … if I were healthy.

But together we’re a powerful force. The love we provide to each other, the compassion we teach to those who love us—that’s the kind of stuff that changes things. That’s the kind of stuff that this world seems to lack. Maybe that’s, in part, the reason we’ve found ourselves in the spoonie role.

Thank you, spoonie community, for being the love that this world needs. Thank you for your unending support and for sharing experiences that make us feel less alone. Thank you for teaching doctors what patient-centered care really looks like, and for teaching us as individuals that we’re so much more than our diagnosis. 

#spooniesunite


I Had the Stomach Flu. Woohoo!*

My family and I just shared a fun-filled week with a highly contagious stomach virus. And when a friend I hadn’t Carie Shermanspoken to in a while called and asked how I was, I found myself giddy at the prospect of sharing how I spent an entire day with my head in toilet.

Which is just so, so messed up.

And yet, it felt so good to be so confident in just how sick I really was.

See, there’s at least 24 hours of total stomach virus bliss where No One, NO ONE, wants you around. Client meeting? Canceled without guilt. Dinner? Unmade with no expectation. Deadlines are missed, pets go unwalked, houses stay cluttered.

Entire cruise ships understand the ferociousness with which a gastrointestinal virus can hit. In fact, I’m fairly certain that nearly everyone on the planet gets how life comes to a full stop when you’re in the throes of viral gastroenteritis.

This is so not the case in the land of Invisible Illness. Every person with an invisible illness has varying levels of symptoms, pain, and seriousness. But many of us living with chronic illnesses like lupus live with certain truths:

  1. We don’t look sick. To the people who love us. Even to our doctors.
  2. Words like hypochondriac and “highly-suggestible” are thrown around. By people who love us. Even by our doctors.
  3. Some days we’re unable to tell where our “physical” illness starts and the mental mindf*&# of a life-changing, incurable illness begins.
  4. We know it’s not our fault. But the voices interrupt like breaking news with #alternativefacts like, “It’s in my head” and “It’s all my fault” and “I’m not worthy of (love, respect, meaningful work, good health, good days, this list could go on for days.
  5. We’re hard on ourselves. We judge ourselves. We attach our worst fears to illness.

(Of course this isn’t all of us. But I share, just in case anyone else feels like me.)

Let’s go back to that stomach virus most of us are intimately acquainted with. Do me a favor: Think back to how you felt about 24 hours after the last incidence of vomiting those three sips of water you thought you were ready for, alas you were not. Right around the time you’re able to hold down your 7-Up sips and nibbles of saltines. Yes, you’re miles from where you were 24 miserable hours before. But maybe you’re still a bit feverish. You feel weak—exhausted if you’re being honest. If you HAD to, you might be able to half-ass it through your normal day. (But really, only if you HAD to.)

I can’t speak for everyone with a chronic illness. And I’m fortunate that my baseline symptoms aren’t so serious that I feel like someone in the violent first hours of Norovirus. But I do regularly feel like the day after vomiting stops.

And while I am infinitely better at self-care than I was a few years ago, there are many days that I put on a smile and plow through my regular routines feeling like stomach flu Day 2.

Invisible illnesses like lupus, fibromyalgia, Sjogren’s Syndrome, Celiac disease, arthritis, bipolar disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome, ankylosing spondylitis, rheumatoid arthritis, colitis, Lyme disease, migraines, MS, diabetes, erythromelalgia, Raynaud’s—Holy Crow this list is way too long and I’ve left out hundreds!— are misunderstood.

My brain knows that I should feel no shame for my illness. Yet the thrill I felt about sharing that I had a Real, Tangible, Everybody Gets It Puke Parade shows I have a lot of work to do.

Clearly.

*I know that we only use the term “flu” for influenza, the respiratory virus. But you try finding a rhyme for “gastroenteritis.”


A Sick Girl’s Tribute to Her First Love

Current status: Clothed in four layers, a scarf, thick wool socks, lying in front of a space heater on a heating pad set onCarie Sherman high and topped with not one but two down blankets. I still feel cold. (Thanks low grade fever that won’t go away.)

I consider sharing this fact on social media, where my friends are busy sharing pics of skiing, marching, babies, working out, laughing, loving, traveling. Living.

I choose not to post.

I’d hate for them all to feel jealous of my perfect life.

Wait. What?

Anyone who has ever struggled to find meaning and purpose in their life has likely read the advice to return to the things you loved when you were a child, way back before the world decided who you were and what you stood for and how you moved about your day.

Flashback to my 9-year-old self: Surrounded by my worn copy of On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder, six old copies of Reader’s Digest, the current issue of Country Kids magazine, a blanket draped over my head, a flashlight. Sitting behind Dad’s chair on the metal furnace register, burning my butt because I jacked up the heat far above the mandated 68 degrees.

This was my happy space. (Until I was busted for turning up the heat.)

I called my mom this morning to ask her when I stopped being this girl, this girl who put reading above all else. She said sometime around high school, I swapped novels for textbooks and farm kid articles for Teen Beat. “You were go-go-go,” she said. “You still read. Just short stuff.”

“And what about movies?” I asked. She laughed.

“You didn’t have the attention span to watch a sitcom.”

Fair enough.

So from high school through my early thirties I continued to go-go-go, playing and socializing and experiencing and traveling and booze-hounding. This stopped six years ago when I got sick. And now I’m often stuck at home while everyone else goes out to play.

But then, a miracle. My partner and second true love bought me a Kindle. Every book that had ever been written was a single click away. (We did have to change Amazon’s “one click settings” when my habit exceeded my budget.)

When I was healthy, I rarely gave myself the luxury of a reading day. If you saw me in public with a paperback, I was using it as a cover for my coffee addiction while pretending I could go five minutes without checking my phone.

Nowadays I collect books like sweet old ladies hoard cats. And I still feel sorry for myself for missing out. But then I think about 9-year-old Carie, back there in Iowa freezing on the farm in the middle of January.

Little Carie would see my life today for what it really is:

Perfect.

I’d rather not be sick. But I’m ever-so-thankful for the reminder of my first true love.


How to Stop the Grinch of Perfectionism from Stealing Your Holidays

I spent yesterday moping around my house, green with anger at the fact that my house isn’t perfect. That I’m not perfect.Carie Sherman

I know. Ridiculous, right? Everyone knows there’s no such thing as perfection. Everyone knows that striving to be perfect leads to nothing more than a first class ticket to the nuthouse.

And yet. There I was. Unable to concentrate on the stuff that mattered, because my eyes only saw all the ways I fail in life: A tree, undecorated and lying on the floor. The floor, covered in fur and crumbs and renegade Christmas glitter. Dishes in the sink that interrupted cookie baking. Tubs filled with castaway decorations awaiting transport back to the garage.

The perfect image in my head of a wonderful holiday season did NOT match what I was seeing.

How to Let Go of Perfection

One of my favorite writers, Martha Beck, encourages those of us intent on recovering to go through a series of exercises- imperfectly, of course.

Exercise 1: Personify Your Inner Perfectionist. Beck believes perfectionism is something we have — like, lupus — rather than something we are. She says to create a visual of your inner perfectionist, name it, scribble it down on paper, then destroy it. “By just externalizing and rejecting your inner critic, you can decrease your anxiety considerably.” I named mine the Grinch.

Exercise 2: Embrace Creative Hopelessness. “Perfectionism never delivers on its promise of perfection.” Beck encourages you to write down your reason for maintaining perfectionism. I wrote down, “I will be able to relax and enjoy those around me once everything falls into place.” Beck then quotes Dr. Phil, asking “How’s that working for you?”

Looking around, I saw that my family was upset with my bad attitude. And even though chaos surrounded us, they were tired and decided it was time to relax.

Beck encourages us to laugh at our misguided follies, which will then allow us to open up to the joy that’s real in our lives. Once I simmered down and laughed at myself, the Grinch’s grip on my heart diminished – ever so slightly.

Exercise 3: Do something badly. Recently a client of mine gave my daughter a book about drawing. In simple steps, it teaches you how to drag dogs and boats and flowers and Santa Claus. I’m a terrible artist, so this was a perfect opportunity to give myself permission to fail. And fail I did. But it gave me and my daughter a really good laugh, and we both had fun trying and failing and being okay with the attempt.

Exercise 4: Just keep showing up. Beck says that the people who win at life are those who keep showing up despite subpar performance. And part of this is learning to let your perfectionism “fuss without succumbing to the anxiety she encourages.”

I guess this means I better keep showing up in my living room, sweeping up pine needles as I can, and laughing when my little girl decides my decorations belong someplace else. And each time I respond with a giggle, it’s less likely that The Grinch will steal my Christmas.

Cheers to a perfectly imperfect holiday season!