The Struggle of Balancing Pacing and Parenting With Chronic Pain


The word “pacing” has come to mean something different to me since being introduced to the chronic pain community. Prior to that, I had linked it very much so with parenting – pacing up and down corridors waiting for news, pacing up and down the house with a crying infant. In the chronic pain/illness world however, pacing is a coping strategy, basically “to pace yourself.” It’s a skill that can be quite difficult to get the hang of. In essence, you find out what your limit is, and then figure out your schedule to what you can do. And then parenting comes along. Boom. My toddler does not care for pacing. Parenting and pacing are not the easiest of combinations to master.

I start the day out in full intent of following the pacing, obeying the correct doling out of spoons.

The aim is to not overdo it. Today will be the day, I say to myself. Which is fine and all, until the toddler wakes up. Because see, the whole spoon theory thing, the pacing thing, doesn’t take into account the things which are not in our control. Yes, it takes a certain amount of effort to get myself showered and dressed. However, the toddler, he’s as changeable as the tide. Some mornings are easy; he wants to go to daycare. He finds his shoes on the shoe rack, is helpful and ready to go. Most mornings though, he’d rather remain on the sofa, kicks me away when I’m trying to dress him, runs off. It’s not that he doesn’t love his daycare – the second we get there he’s the happiest child in the world – he’s just like me before coffee in the mornings. And aside from giving him coffee, I need to find a way to combat that.

So, daycare run. We drive down now, dropping Daddy off to the bus stop for work, park up outside and get him sorted out. There’s the drama of the “I’ll do it myself” and the “Let’s run through the carpark because I clearly have a death wish” routine. My coffee from the lovely place next to the daycare is a very welcome and much needed addition. Right now, I’m off work because of my back again, so I’m able to head straight home. All before 9:30 a.m., and most of my spoons are gone. At this stage, I’m waiting for pain medications to kick in, having gotten up early to eat so I’m not taking them on an empty stomach. There have been a few days where I wind up going back to bed. I’m grateful to be able to do that – I know that when I go back to work this won’t (obviously) be a possibility.

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However, as anyone who lives in a house with a small child can tell you, the work is never done. The ever-growing pile of laundry glares at me, as does the mess of toys, the mess of everything. I’ve come to realize that moving clothes from the washing machine (down low), to the dryer (above it), is not something I can do unless I have literally nothing else to do that day, or I wind up with gritted teeth and sometimes tears from pain.

It’s not as simple as getting my partner to do it all. He works punishing hours, recently outside the home as he’s moving back to the office from working from home. Sometimes only Mammy will do. Even if the time was there – and it isn’t – the effect of being this ineffective is so detrimental to my mental health that it’s not even worth it.

There are days where I prefer to be in physical pain than have to subject myself to the mental torture of having to ask for every little thing to be done. It’s not the way I was raised. I was raised to pull my socks up and do my share, not to depend on others. So having to depend on others to do seemingly menial tasks is still something I’m grappling with, and it’s not something that counseling has managed to fix. Feeling useless in work or useless at housework is one thing. Feeling useless as Mammy is quite another.

Pacing is all about doing what you can do and no more. A physiotherapist once told me that because I’m prone to overdoing it, I need to find my limit and then do only 80 percent in order to allow myself to heal. Said physiotherapist, it must be said, had no children at the time of that comment. The toddler years are hard work even for fully functioning, fully alert, super parents. Anyone who says otherwise either has an angel child or is lying. Add in the dual diagnosis of mental health issues and chronic pain, and you’ve got a battle.

Honestly, I have no idea what it is like to parent without chronic pain. It’s been a feature since day one. This isn’t intended as a whinge, more as a point of view that the ideas flouted as being “the key to management” when it comes to pain aren’t really one-size-fits-all. In the same way as those ads telling depressed people that a good night’s sleep and going for a run will fix them, telling a parent of a small child to “take it easy” feels condescending and lacking understanding. It’s not a deliberate thing, just lack of actual knowledge about the realities.

I am by far not the worst case scenario. I consider myself very lucky to have supportive family, friends and a wonderful partner who all pitch in. I’m still able to drive my car certain distances, and I have a close knit circle of friends who understand chronic pain and fatigue. I’ve got an employer who is relatively understanding, and has been accommodating of my difficulties to date. That doesn’t minimize my feelings of being a failure to my child when I watch other parents at the playground, or when I know we’re behind on laundry but I can’t manage to get it from the washer into the dryer.

I’m writing this in a fog of pain at the moment, so it’s something I feel strongly about. I’ve recently had a facet rhizotomy performed alongside corticosteroid injections into my sacroiliac joint. Basically, I’ve had nerves burnt in the base of my back and steroids injected into my hip, both in attempts to make the pain go away. As with everything in life, things get worse before they get better, so thats where I’m standing right now.

It’s been a tough week. I’m hopeful that the procedures will kick in and will provide me relief for a few months and so it will all become easier, but this is where I am at the moment. I wake up in the morning and I don’t know how many spoons are there to begin with. It’s not clear what will happen that day, whether the boy child will be compliant or a battle. I don’t know how much traffic we’re likely to hit. I’m unaware as to whether my back will decide to let me know mid-drive that it’s there and aching. Add to this that I don’t know what the weather is like. Cold and wind are really not conducive to good pain days.

I am working with incomplete information, and there’s only so much you can do with that. Some days I finish the day with a few spoons left over. Others I wind up borrowing them from the days ahead and feeling the damage afterwards. While I’m not sure anyone could ever class me as organized, the disorganization of how I am able to spend my time grates on me. It’s something I should be allowed to control. As stress contributes to inflammation, and inflammation increases pain, it’s not a great combination. There are no answers here, just more questions. Like most things, it’s a work in progress.

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