Learning to listen to your body is one of the most important things you can do, especially when living with a chronic illness like myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). That’s not to say it’s easy!
Before I became ill there were many times when I knew my body was tired and I’d ignore it, and I’d do those (really important!) tasks like cleaning the house, replying to that email or going food shopping because they needed to be done. Looking back now, that was a real luxury. I’d do those extra things and yes, I’d feel tired, but that’s all – just tired. Shattered maybe, even at the end of a busy week at work, but my body would recover after a good night’s sleep or a relaxing weekend doing nothing.
These days, if I try to override what my body is trying to tell me the impact can be hugely detrimental. It can mean a flare-up of symptoms or even days in bed. Just from doing that one teeny little task like dusting the living room or going for a coffee.
Therefore it is so essential for me to try and tune in to what my body is telling me. When I listen to my body I feel better. Simple, right? Unfortunately not!
See, when living with an illness like ME/CFS you may sometimes have “good days,” and on these days it can be very easy to overdo things – often to make up for all the bad days when you couldn’t do anything! Sometimes you know you’re probably pushing yourself too much, and other times there seems to be no rhyme or reason for why something is OK to do one day but not on another. The joys of the unpredictability of this condition!
Also, living with ME/CFS can be very frustrating. As much as we may find ways to deal with this frustration (meditation, yoga or relaxation techniques, to name a few) it doesn’t stop the fact that it is frustrating! So sometimes we will do things because we’re fed up from not doing them or because we’re sick of missing out. Sometimes it’s even worth the “payback” just to go out of the house and feel normal for a couple of hours!
However, I find that by trying to “pace” myself I can try and make the best of things and live life the best way I can. I find this is a much better way for me to live than getting frustrated and making myself feel worse.
It’s taken time for me though to accept this new way of life. In the early days I found it especially hard, as I’m a naturally fast-paced person who likes to be on the go. I was a busy corporate employee where the focus was on how much can we push ourselves to do each day and reach our targets! Also, in my work as a fitness instructor/personal trainer the emphasis was on encouraging the body to do more to increase fitness.
However, gradually I have accepted the way things are (most of the time), and have actually found many surprising benefits from slowing down! By slowing down I now notice the world around me so much more, and enjoy simple pleasures like listening to the birds sing or seeing the blossom appear on the trees. I now really value taking time out from the busy modern world we live in and have realized how important it is to learn how to rest our minds and bodies. On my “better” days I enjoy activities like going for a mindful stroll or a restorative yoga class (where I listen to my body and go at my own pace). That’s not to say it’s easy. When you can’t do simple tasks or you have to miss out on social activities, for example, it can be incredibly frustrating. And when you remember what you used to be able to do when you were well it can feel heartbreaking.
I have found it’s been trial and error to find out what works for me – not just following a regimented pacing statetgy. However, in the early days having a tight pacing strategy was helpful as I needed some structure as to what I should and shouldn’t do. We’re all different though and what works for me may not work for someone else. That’s why learning to listen to your body is so important! Get to know your body and what tends to work best for it. Treat it well!
Pacing is even more essential for me these days, now that I’m a (proud!) Mum to an energetic 2-year-old! The most important thing to me is having enough energy to look after him (tough sometimes!) and anything else is a bonus. Sometimes I have to push myself beyond my limits just to get through the day as I’m no longer always able to rest when I want to. However, I have learned to put strategies in place to allow myself to cope with this. I am lucky enough to have an incredibly supportive husband who does a lot to help, as well as having a wonderful sister who helps by looking after my little boy one day a week. He also now goes to nursery one or two days a week which means I can fully rest and recharge on those days. I have learned how important it is to accept help when living with a chronic illness. Sometimes it’s not easy and it means swallowing your pride but it’s essential. If you feel better then so does everyone else!
So really, with regards to listening to your body I think it’s about being still and listening to that quiet voice inside. Some people would say it’s listening to your gut, and I find that usually my gut feeling doesn’t let me down! Try not to judge yourself or get frustrated when you can’t do something or know you shouldn’t do something. Learn to say no to things and don’t feel bad about it (one of my biggest lessons!). Also, don’t beat yourself up when you thought you’d listened to your body and acted on this but still wound up feeling rubbish. Unfortunately that’s just the unpredictability of this illness. Similarly, don’t feel bad when you do things you know you shouldn’t. Be kind to yourself. Living with a chronic illness is not an easy journey.
However, by becoming more aware of our bodies and learning to listen to them we really can make a positive difference in our lives. Even if it’s only a little shift, it still helps!
Follow this journey on Not Just Tired.
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Thinkstock photo via lolostock.