6 Things Mother Nature Told Me One Sunday in My Backyard

I grew up on a farm in Iowa, a fact I’m sure I have mentioned a time or twelve. And despite my roots Carie Shermanthat grow from the deep, rich soil of the heartland, I’m not the best farmer. My Colorado backyard is Exhibit A. Thankfully, nature forgives—and often prevails—over the actions of the black-thumbed.

I recently spent a quiet afternoon in my backyard, where Mother Nature herself decided to speak to me. She reminded me of some things that helped me feel good, so today I’m sharing them with you.

Lesson 1: Wounds don’t impede growth.
We planted Aspen trees because of their relative non-fussiness and extreme fast-growingness (more than three feet a year!). But after they leafed out last spring, they were very top-heavy. Afraid they might break from the weight, we had the brilliant idea to tie them to the fence with twine. Now, remember how fast they grow? My parents discovered our error last fall. Removing the twine took hours, and with each revealed deep, one inch scars. We feared our beautiful Aspens wouldn’t come back this spring. But spring is here and the trees are thriving. They’re forever scarred. But they are still standing, still growing.

Our scars don’t prevent us from thriving, either.

Lessons 2 and 3: You can’t force something to grow, and life is always changing.
While shopping last October, my daughter grabbed a bag of daffodil bulbs and insisted they replace the row of tulips our dog dug up and ate earlier that summer (apparently we’re bad gardeners and bad pet parents). Being four, she wanted those flowers to grow overnight. But she soon learned that no matter how much she watered and watched over them, they would bloom in their own time.

The planting of the daffodils happened during a difficult time for our family. And the bulbs represented something we needed to cope: When the daffodils bloomed in the spring, life would be different. We couldn’t be sure those bulbs would grow, and we couldn’t be sure that life would be better. But it would certainly be different. Faith in the potential of those flowers got us through some difficult hours. Now that it’s spring, the bright and sunny blooms reminded me of how much we’ve changed and grown as a family since that fall day.

Change and growth happen in their own time.

Lesson 4: Everything leans to the sun.
When my brother-in-law’s granddad moved from upstate New York to Colorado 50+ years ago, he brought with him saplings from his lilac trees. As a housewarming gift, we received saplings from those same trees to plant in our own yard. But rather than Googling “best place to plant lilacs,” we chose to plant them in the coldest, darkest spot in our entire yard. Though they’ve grown half a dozen feet, they struggle to bloom each spring (a bummer, as aside from my family and friends, lilacs blossoms are my reason for living). Instead of growing tall, they’ve started to grow horizontally, to carve out their own space in the sun. They may be leaning—stretching way beyond the ideal—but they find the sun they need to bloom.

Growth can happen even when our circumstances are less than ideal.

Lesson 5: Without hard work, nature takes over.
When we moved in, our backyard was nothing but sod and rocks. We painstakingly moved the rocks (by hand) and added beds around the perimeter—work that thankfully we completed before I got sick. While we would never consider this project a gardening fail, it has taught us how much work a garden can be. Like the bald man with a hairy back, the lawn itself has bare spots but grass still grows strongly within those beds. Monitoring, weeding, and pruning are weekly jobs, despite the fabric weed blocker we installed.

To be what we want to be takes consistent, sometimes back-breaking, work.

Lesson 6: Nature is perfect as is.
When a petal falls off a daffodil, is it less beautiful? Are the Aspens we planted for shade less useful because of their scars? Do the lilac blooms smell any less wonderful because they are growing horizontally?

Nature is content to be what it is. I’ve never seen a tree cry or whine because it is not a blackberry bush. Kentucky bluegrass doesn’t try to make pretty purple flowers. And nothing that blooms feels the need to stand perfectly forever. Things change and things grow and it all happens in the right space and in the right time.

There’s beauty to be found wherever we are.

* * *

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” He may not have had my backyard in mind when he said this, but even an hour of quiet in my urban connection to nature has given me some much-needed clarity. You can bet I’ll be spending a lot of time in my yard this summer, sitting in the shade of my Aspen trees and admiring my ever-resilient lilac bushes, imaging the next project we’ll surely mess up.


7 Tips and Tricks to Remember at Your Next Doctor’s Appointment

1. Think of your doctor as a less hilarious version of your best friend. And at your appointment, it’s time to Carie Shermantell all. Sure, symptoms can be embarrassing. But your doctor knowing that you forgot your ATM pin (again) or you have a rash in a place you’d prefer not to mention could be critical to you getting the best care.

2. Speaking of your BFF, bring her with you. Or your husband or mom or your aggressive assertive next door neighbor. Having someone else listen and ask questions can mean less pressure on you.

3. Write it down. Did your doc give you new info or instructions in your appointment? Write it down. Did a new symptom pop up? Write it down. You can’t remember your ATM pin. Believe me when I say, you’re not going to remember this either.

4. Own your behavior and choices. If there are three pills left in the bottle, you did not finish that course of prednisone. Starting an exercise program tomorrow does not count as a “yes” to your doctor’s “are you getting exercise” question. Lupus requires that you take a hard look at all aspects of your life. If you feel rotten, are you getting enough rest? If you feel good, what have you been doing right?

5. Your doctor gets to decide what information is irrelevant. Lupus is super-complex. Let your doc decide which symptoms he cares about. Over the course of years (and yes, you’ll be seeing your doctor for many, many years), patterns emerge. The more you and your doc understand about your lupus, the better you’ll be able to manage your symptoms.

6. It’s on you to address your concerns. Remember, no matter how caring your doctor is, she is not thinking about your problems after your appointment. So don’t leave the office until you’re satisfied with the info you received. This is your body, and you’re the only one who lives in it. Get the answers you need to feel better.

7. Remember that lupus baffles elite medical minds. It’s okay if you’re confused, too.


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.


My Challenge to You in 2015: Learn to Trust Yourself

Fellow friends in chronic illness, I think we should agree that in 2015, we are the experts.Carie Sherman

Because, really: the only person who can be an expert on you, is you! With a disease as multifaceted as lupus, I think it’s the only way.

When you have a chronic illness, it’s easy to give everyone else power. You feel sick, so you see a doctor and start new meds. You see more doctors. You submit to test after test. You get conflicting advice. You read endless books and blogs. Well-meaning friends and family explore hundreds of options. Yet many people with lupus still wake up each day feeling like they drank a fifth of vodka and fell down two flights of stairs the night before.

It’s easy to lose trust. But I think trust can make dealing with this lupus nonsense more manageable.

I’ll give you a health-related example. Over the last year, I began resenting my sleep apnea machine. My mask had permanently dented my forehead, and I’m vain. I was strongly considering having an invasive, hard-to-recover from surgery to remove my sublingual tonsils with the hope of curing my sleep apnea (and not having to spend the rest of my life wearing an ugly, face deforming sleep mask).

I spent the last few months trying to make a decision. But I just couldn’t decide. I berated myself for being such a procrastinator.

Turns out, I had a reason to procrastinate. I just didn’t know it yet.

Back in 2011, two independent sleep studies confirmed that I stopped breathing 30 times an hour, which constitutes moderate sleep apnea. At a recent appointment, I talked to my doctor about needing a different, non-forehead denting mask. He recommended another sleep study to make sure my treatment was as effective as possible. And, they’d find me a mask that works better. So I had another sleep study in October. And guess what?

No evidence of sleep apnea.

NONE!

My flabbergasted doc said there’s zero evidence of disordered sleeping or breathing. Apparently, spontaneous sleep apnea recovery doesn’t happen every day. In fact, he’s never seen anything like it. It defies explanation. We went over every possible reason, including the unlikely event that the study was wrong. The best we came up with was 1) I’m a medical miracle (which he chuckled about); 2) Taking allergy medicine cured my disordered breathing; and/or 3) (my brother-in-law is going to LOVE this crazypants statement) I quit eating gluten and cured my sleep apnea.

We concluded that we don’t know why my sleep apnea disappeared. But I’ve been sleeping without the mask for two months now, and I feel good.

Think of all the time I wasted, angsting over whether I needed to have surgery to cure my sleep apnea. Or worse, think of how terrible it would have been had I forced myself to make a decision when I wasn’t ready

Let’s learn something from this ugly dent in my forehead. The next time you find yourself doubting…or unsure whether a test is necessary or a new pill is the answer, give yourself a little credit. Trust yourself. This doesn’t mean you have cate blanchett (yes, that’s a 22 Jump Street reference) to pick and choose what you believe about your health. To fully trust yourself, you’re required to go full in—to really listen to your body, to really listen to your doctors, to really consider all the facets of your life and what might be causing your symptoms.

And for gosh-sakes, if you believe something is wrong, then don’t stop until someone really listens. If you don’t believe anything is wrong—that’s possible, too!

You are the expert on you. Not your doctor. Or your mother. Or a blogger who may or may not have lupus and claims going gluten free cured her sleep apnea. YOU.

Will you accept my challenge to cultivate a trust in yourself in 2015?

Stay tuned for future installments on trust. Happy New Year!