They say the key to happiness, sustaining our lifestyle and managing pain is to simply pace ourselves. We have all been in a place in our lives where pacing our actions would benefit us. Whether it be because we had the flu, were pregnant, broke a leg or we were just too stressed and we needed a break!
I have heard this advice from the first day I left the doctor’s office with my diagnosis. “You have to learn to pace yourself.” My immediate thoughts were “Yeah, I can do that, that’s easy, what else you got for me?” You can tell by my response that this concept was completely foreign to me.
I had never once been told to pace myself in any of the activities that I did. The American way is full throttle, competitive, balls to the wall, aggressive, take what is yours, work hard play hard, multitask, be a champion at everything. If you aren’t first you’re last. Hell, even my generation isn’t pacing themselves with tailgating parties. We are bingers. We need instant satisfaction. And more importantly we are creatures of total independence.
So there I was: 34 years old. Successful. Miss Independence who put herself through college and grad school by nothing less than hard work and suddenly, I was told to slow down.
My attitude: Turn down for what?
So I didn’t. Clearly the doctors, physical therapists and even those who had the same illness did not know what this fierce redhead could achieve. It’s easy… mind over matter… push push push. Those chores and grocery shopping weren’t going to do themselves. Money had to be made, traveling for work must be done, presentations had to be delivered and people had to be counseled. It was as simple as that. My life did not have any room to slow down… I didn’t even know how to pump the brakes.
And I crashed.
My body began to rebel. My pain began to soar and my energy was non-existent. I was going through the motions because I truly believed there was no other way to live my life. It took numerous people and my persistent instincts to literally stop me in my tracks. When I crashed, I fell hard, knocking the wind out of my lungs and my legs no longer able to carry me to all of these “important” responsibilities that I had.
It was then that I realized… I was important. My health was important. Those responsibilities would fade and someone else was capable of doing those tasks. My body needed to heal. For the past 22 months I have been trying to figure out what that four-letter word means… Pace yourself. In the last six weeks during a battle between “how to heal” and “being a workhorse” I have determined that I am the worst when it comes to pacing myself. Since I am not an expert, I thought it would be fun to de-bunk those really unrealistic expectations we place on ourselves.
1. When you feel good, take advantage of the moment and get stuff done!
Terrible advice. I still do this. Every time I have a few moments of feeling good I dive headfirst into a project that is way too big. I usually end up sitting in the middle of a mess (literally) that now I cannot even clean up because I have pushed my body to the max. Projects this month have included organizing receipts (why!?), de-cluttering my bedroom, clipping coupons (seriously?) and trying to find plans and materials to build my chicken a coop. Who am I kidding? Sometimes, it is worth paying someone a few extra bucks. Teenagers in your neighborhood are always looking for side jobs, and think of it as helping today’s youth learn responsibility!
2. Volunteer to take on extra work, because honestly you could use the distraction.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Nobody is going to think less of you because you didn’t jump in and take on running the PTA, hosting a book club, working on the weekend! Usually after volunteering I am set way back from where I was when I started. This certainly only works as a distraction in theory. You can enjoy all of these things but you don’t have to be the ringleader! In fact, I guarantee you will enjoy them more if you aren’t in charge!
3. Nobody wants to hear you complain, so lie about how you really feel.
Not a smart move. Being honest is not complaining, you are simply expressing the truth and your reality. “I feel really great” will result in people being excited and then they start to suggest all sorts of plans that you might not be up for. Let’s go shopping! How about a three-hour movie! Or if you have the flu, you could end up sharing your germs. I recommend being honest and sincere and those around you will do their best to understand. Sure, those with who are healthy do not know what it means to be in chronic pain but they also don’t want you to lie about something that may affect your well-being. The same with being overwhelmed or stressed out — be honest and let others know how you are feeling.
4. If someone offers you help, turn down his or her offer politely. Nobody likes a mooch.
I just learned how to ask for help at 35 years old. I laugh when I hear toddlers say “I do it myself.” You my friend, are not a toddler anymore, declaring your independence. We all know you can do it… but… that doesn’t mean you have to do it alone. I believe people want to help you, so let them! You know that realistically you can’t do it all, so why not share some of the load? And get this… we all know people feel pretty helpless when it comes to our illness. When they are able to pick up a prescription, push your wheelchair or grab some groceries for you, it makes them feel good as well. One of my very good friends told me years ago, “Kelly, let others help you! It is a gift they are trying to give you.” Nobody wants to have their gift turned down. And if it wasn’t a sincere offering on their part, then guess what? They won’t ask you again and you can move on!
5. You feel guilty for not doing “your share” of the household chores, so even though you are feeling pretty icky, you splurge all of your week’s energy on the doing the dishes.
Another one that always gets me! If we don’t already feel bad enough, we have to add guilt in there? Why do we do this to ourselves? If your loved one really loves and understands your condition/illness, then they probably don’t expect you to mop the floors every week. They live with you and see how life affects you everyday. Would you want your significant other to feel guilty about not washing dishes? I would never! And guess what, they are just dishes. It is just cleaning. You may even create more work for the person now that you have used up your energy stash for the week. If you are having trouble with this, try heading to couples counseling where a trained professional can help you and your partner to communicate to figure out what is realistic for you. If there is extra cash, hire a housecleaner twice a month. If cash is low, check out aid services through social services, which may be free to eligible community members, or perhaps a church would be eager to help.
The bottom line is that this isn’t a competition, although sometimes it may feel like it. This is unlike any other race you have run before, so it takes some time to figure out where you may struggle and how your body responds to the environment. Be kind to yourself and know you are doing the best you can. Our bodies are amazing and even throughout all of our chronic pain and illness… we are still here.
Be patient with yourself. Listen to your body and your instincts and don’t let the false beliefs become your strategy of pacing.