I’ve written and spoken before about my invisible illnesses, about the importance of self-care, finding a community, and settling into a new normal. Recently I’ve had a lot of people writing in to ask me what my routine looks like, and what I do to soften the impact of my autoimmune conditions on my happiness and health. Figuring out how to work with autoimmune conditions can be an uphill battle; they can manifest in so many different ways, they’re invisible illnesses, and the average person isn’t always aware of the toll they can take. It’s also important to know that autoimmune illnesses usually come in pairs or even sets of pairs. I have Sjögren’s Syndrome, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia.
There are the pieces of advice I give everyone who’s starting down the path of managing autoimmune conditions: get lots of rest, manage your stress levels, make sure you’re eating well and exercising. These are all good places to start, but I wanted to dig a bit deeper into what practices have worked for me. Community, forging connections between people with similar conditions, can truly be such a lifesaver when it comes to dealing with AI and I want to be a part of that transparency and support for my fellow fighters.
I said exercise is important, and it is: when I’m not moving I have no energy, no flow, I feel stagnant. Movement is vital to my wellness, but it was also something that took me years to figure out. Often when someone with autoimmune conditions pushes themselves too hard it results in flare-ups, an intensifying of symptoms, and total exhaustion for days or weeks afterward. There was an era where I was afraid to do anything for fear of putting myself out of commission entirely, and so many other times when I would work too hard on my good days, resulting in bad days, in an endless cycle. When you’re planning exercise into your routine, it’s so important to first recognize that you do have an illness. We have a right to thrive, but in order to do that, we have to accept a new normal for ourselves, with goals that might be a little (or a lot) more relaxed than what we used to have. It can be hard to identify as a sick person when many of us wish we could just get better and move on, but acceptance is the only way we can take steps forward into our new functioning lives.
I found a trainer, Michelle Lovit, who absolutely supports me and works to keep me healthy without risking damage or autoimmune flareups. I’ve worked with her for about two years; we started with simple exercises to open up the chest and shoulders. We incorporated more exercises little by little, moving on to include abs and lunges, and slowly my body got stronger and I got more into a rhythm. It’s all about finding a new threshold that allows me to be strong without pushing myself into a danger zone. Now I do two heavier workouts a week, one day of yoga, and every morning in the shower I do basic exercises: 25 lunges on the left side, 25 lunges on the right side, and 25 tricep pushups.
The shower is a vital part of my routine because the steam moistens my lungs. I speak for a living and Sjögren’s can dry out my mouth and sinuses, so providing myself with enough moisture is huge. In the shower, I also use a neti pot with saline water to flush out my sinuses, and I sing a little to warm up my vocal cords.
Sjögren’s can also cause extremely painful dry eyes so my days begin and end with saline eyedrops. I only buy eyedrops with no preservatives because those can increase dryness. I have two humidifiers in my bedroom, one in my kitchen and one in my living room. I have air purifiers all over my house to keep the air clean and manage the dander from my 6 beautiful rescue animals— this is one way I make my home and my environment more gentle on my autoimmune conditions. The only lotion I’ve ever found that makes me feel genuinely moisturized is Pure Fiji. I can’t recommend it enough and it leaves me smelling like coconuts, my favorite scent in the world. I use their body butter every day, but on special occasions when I want to look extra silky or lock in moisture I’ll mix in one part Pure Fiji coconut oil to three parts body butter. It’s a trick I learned when I was choreographing strippers a long time ago.
Eating healthy is a big part of my wellness. Every morning I make myself a vegetable based protein shake with probiotics and enough nutrients for the day:
Carrie Ann’s Stay Healthy Shake Recipe
– Fruit of your choice (I use peaches)
The probiotic has been a lifesaver; ever since I started adding it to my morning shake I’ve noticed far fewer flare ups. Every morning I also take lypo-spheric Vitamin C, 10000 mg of Vitamin D and fish oil.
A few other ingredients have worked their way into my diet to help me minimize health issues and maximize my body’s potential. For lunch I usually have a salad with turmeric, which is fantastic for reducing the inflammation autoimmune disorders can cause. Ever since I’ve started working The Talk and found myself around more people, I’ve become prone to catching small colds and coughs. The second I feel a tickle in my throat or any sickness coming on, I take some oregano oil to combat it. Every night I make sure to have a cup of tea.
Mental wellness can sometimes go overlooked when you’re being faced with the chronic physical pain associated with autoimmune disorders, but self care and recovery has to include mental health. Every night before bed I set time aside to meditate and pray. I always include a thanks: “Thank you for all that is, all that was, and all that will be.” I often thank God for each of my animals as well. For meditations I use Insight Timer or listen to Blinkist, an app that condenses bestsellers.
I’ve always felt drawn to self-help books. I don’t let problems, tensions or worries sit too long without addressing them. I’m always looking for solutions, because stress always seems to compile when we don’t have an answer. I look for signs everywhere; if I’m faced with a crossroads or an obstacle I don’t know how to address, I’ll start pulling angel cards or open a book I love to a random page. I almost always find an answer— it’s all about giving my subconscious the opportunity to express itself to me. You can never be wrong when you’re interpreting your subconscious. It leaves messages for you everywhere; you just have to take the time to listen.
These are practices I’ve cultivated over years of living with my own autoimmune conditions. If you’re on an AI journey of your own, or even just trying to get healthier in general, try any of these that works for you but never be afraid to try something different if it feels right. Everyone’s relationship with illness is different and none of our paths will be identical. If there’s a part of your practice you love and depend on, I’d love to hear about it. When facing invisible illnesses, nothing is more important than support and community. I’m honored to be a part of that community for you.