My Bully, My Brain

My brain treats my body like a hormonal teenager treats her 23-year old step mom.Carie Sherman

For as long as I remember, my body has never been good enough for me. When I was a little girl, I hated it for being so small. Then I became a teenager. Suddenly it wasn’t small enough. The pattern repeats throughout my life: Not tall enough, tan enough, skinny enough, strong enough. Not fast enough, not coordinated enough. Not enough. Period.

And while years of psychotherapy have helped me get past a lot of my self-hate, I still hate something about my body: Now, it’s never healthy enough.

(Go figure. Hardy har har.)

My body is always to blame. When I’m tired but my brain says it’s IMPOSSIBLE to say NO, I defer to my brain. When I eat, I eat what my brain says to eat, hitting that voice in my head saying “a pint of mint chocolate chip will hurt your gut for days!” like a kid at Chuck E. Cheese playing Whack-A-Mole. Even after years of living with chronic illness, Mind Over Matter is my mantra with exercise—tweaked knee be damned!

And guess what? When conflict arises (especially the kind of conflict that requires me to disappoint someone else), my body is the first to break.

Poor thing. It’s never been listened to. Until it started holding me hostage with illness.

I realized this yesterday as fatigue forced me onto the couch. There I marveled at an observation I made while talking with my BFF the night before: “BFF,” I said. “You know your problem? You think too much! Your brilliant brains are keeping you stuck in this situation you complain of!” (All of this is communicated in my it’s-Friday-night-and-I’m-three-drinks-deep voice, delivered with my condescending I’ve-got-my-life-figured-out face.)

I recalled this as my brain was doing its best to will me off the couch. In fact, my bully brain was pressuring me to do ALL THE THINGS (fold the laundry, clean out your closet, arrange some flowers, feed the dog, run to Goodwill, write 1,000 words…).

My plan was to accomplish ALL THE THINGS while my husband and daughter were at swimming lessons. A 30 minute swimming lesson that’s located 10 blocks from our house.

I send my BFF an apology for my lecture and admitted to her my epiphany. Then I took a deep breath. I paid attention to my body.

It was happily fed. It had already been on a walk. And it was tired. It wanted to stretch. It wanted rest.

I thought of my poor body. I thought of my heart. I watched as my brain totally flipped out about wasting the only solo 30 minutes I’d get all weekend.

I fell asleep.

And when I woke up, I had the energy to be present with my family the rest of the day.

Maybe it’s time I start being a better listener. To my BFF and my body.

Does your over-thinking brain hold you back?

I Have a Hard Time Asking For Help

The 2016 Lupus Colorado Community Walk was a couple weeks ago. Prior to Carie Shermansaid walk, I surprised myself: I pledged to raise money.

I knew that I’d need to ask people in my inner circle for money. It felt like I was asking for help. And I don’t like asking for help.

It made me feel really exposed.

I might seem like someone who is totally cool with expressing my deepest and darkest. For the most part, I am! Just as long as I’m expressing myself to strangers. And when I write this blog, I picture the audience as strangers. (Strangers with whom I have a common identity thanks to this massive pain in the rear end called lupus.)

I don’t write this blog for my healthy friends, family, and colleagues. So asking them to give me money is like admitting to the world that I’m sick and can’t do it alone.

Unless you’ve physically spent more than a few hours with me at any given time, I probably don’t seem sick. My illness has made me an excellent planner and an excellent faker. When I see most of the friends, family, and colleagues I solicited money from, I’ve planned and napped and drank more coffee than I should have. I’ve over-applied mascara and bright lip-gloss and, applied a bucket of concealer on the dark circles under my eyes. I’ve rearranged my day as much as possible to give them my very, very best.

But here’s the funny thing: I asked for help; I asked for pledges; and so many people responded. So I’m writing this post to say thank you, from the bottom of my heart. First to my husband, who wrote what he wrote on his race bib and made me fall in love with him all over again. Next to my team—who gave up their Saturday afternoons and showed up with smiles. Janellen, Sarah, Kelli, Deb, and the little people:  You’re awesome. Third, thank you to everyone who donated. Your generosity stuns me. The nice words you included along with your donations were the ice cream on my gluten free lemon-ricotta pancakes. I raised three times—THREE TIMES—more than my goal!

So, to all my colleagues, friends, and family who donated to the lupus walk, thank you.

And to those people who are closest to me, the ones who routinely spend more than a few hours with me, the ones who routinely see my broken bits and love me anyway, thank you for supporting my walk. And for holding all my shattered pieces together in a way that’s more complete than had I never been broken by lupus at all.

The 2016 Lupus Colorado Walk raised $40,000 – well over their $25,000 goal – and every penny stays in Colorado to help people living with lupus. Thank you!

Finally! A Lupus Walk in Colorado, for Colorado

When I was a little girl, my dad gave me a nickname. And while some young girls might have found it embarrassing, I owned it: I was Carie the Crusher.Carie ShermanDad borrowed the name from one of his favorite Bugs Bunny characters, a professional wrestler whose physical strength made him the champion. (Of course Bugs uses his wiley ways to defeat him, but The Crusher’s physical strength is never denied.)

Here’s why this is funny: I was a wimp! I was tiny: My grandma still talks about how my skinny legs didn’t fill out a pair of tights. My best friend’s mom wouldn’t fix me a whole hamburger for lunch because someone so small surely couldn’t eat that much. Mom ordered my clothes from the Sear’s catalog because they offered “slim” jeans and pants.

In the face of these truths, I never once doubted my own physical strength. Because I was – in Dad’s mind and in my own – Carie the Crusher.

I grew up thinking I could beat up the boys. In some cases, I did. My little brother grew 7 inches taller than me and works a physically demanding job every day, but I’m still not afraid to arm wrestle him. Even when I get beat, I still think I’m tough. I imagine now that these delusions about my physical strength translated into a mental toughness fueled entirely by stubbornness and egged on by Dad’s running commentary.

Until this very moment, I didn’t consider the fact that my toughness may be a result of this nickname that Dad teased me with. Maybe it was never his intention, or maybe he it was deliberate—like Jonny Cash’s song about A Boy Named Sue. (Either way, thank you, Dad, for making your WimpyWimpyWimpy daughter feel so strong!)

Walk with Me to Support Lupus Colorado

When my health got wonky in 2011, for the first time in my life, I felt weak. I went from boot camp to bed bound and it sucked. I contacted Lupus Colorado, and they gave me an opportunity to share my story and work through my issues in the form of this blog. For this, I’m eternally grateful. Chronic illness is so much more than what’s physically happening to your body: It requires the summoning of strengths you aren’t aware of until you get thrown into the ring.

Lupus Colorado is the only organization in Colorado helping people stay tough while navigating the realities of living with lupus. Please, join us on Saturday, Sept. 10 in Berkeley Lake Park, for the 2016 Lupus Colorado Community Walk.

You can even join my team, Carie’s Crushers! (I’m literally the only person on my team at the moment. I’m tough, but showing up as a one-woman team would be kind of embarrassing.)

Let’s crush this!

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.