The Mighty Logo

When You Feel Pressure to 'Do More' on Low Pain Days

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Although I generally try to avoid labeling my days as either “good” or “bad” and focus instead on moments — I do tend to put pressure on myself to do more on days where I am feeling “better” — i.e. experiencing less pain or more energy.

Many days, certain activities are simply out of the question due to limitations beyond my control which stem from chronic illness. On those days, I have become more adept at releasing the guilt I feel about cancelled plans and missed events; even though I still find it impossible for me to completely let go of the long list of things I wasn’t able to do, that I so badly wish I could have.

On high pain days, my pace and schedule is often decided for me. Once I arrive at a certain threshold of pain, it demands that I slow down or stop completely. I live with fluctuating daily limits as to how much time I can spend looking at screens, moving around the house or some days, even going outside. On the most challenging days, every single activity I do, from showering to feeding my dog to preparing food for myself, is impacted by pain.

When a lighter symptom day rolls around, I often quite literally feel “high on life.” That might sound like an exaggeration to some, but when you’re used to experiencing, viewing and interacting with the world through a veil of fog and pain; to have it lift, even marginally or fleetingly, can produce a drug-like euphoria. An excitement that parallels waking up in a gorgeous tropical vacation destination or coming down the stairs on Christmas morning. A feeling of freedom, possibility and ease of existence.

Sometimes, experiencing this lightness is so radical that it fills my eyes with tears and my heart with sadness. I feel such deep compassion for the “me” who endures so many days of heavy fear, pain and isolation without moments like this. The magnitude of the burden of chronic debilitating pain becomes starkly obvious and the strength it takes to carry and manage it all, suddenly so heartbreakingly clear.

On these lighter days, the list of all the things I haven’t been able to do can rush toward me at a fast and furious speed. My thoughts race through my brain in a dizzying array of choices — Go to Costco? Call mom? Go walk in my favorite park? Try to meet up with friends? Make the 45 minute drive to visit family? Do all of the laundry? Meal prep? Watch a whole movie?… The list is endless.

The slightest increase in energy and decrease in pain can make me feel like I have an obligation to take on the world; like I need to “make use” of this precious time and that my energy should be focused on the “most efficient” decision.

It is incredibly easy to get caught up in self-imposed pressure trap. It entices me sometimes, to push myself beyond reasonable limits. I’ve learned, at times, through painful experience, that very often, what my body and soul need more than anything is to just go slow. I’ve come to understand that there is such a huge difference between going slow because your body is forcing you to and going slow because your heart wants to.

When you’ve been living in a state where nearly every moment has been spent enduring, fighting with or managing pain, sometimes you simply need to use your “lighter symptom” time to relax — in less pain.

I’ve discovered that not “seeing people” or “doing something” or “checking things off my to-do list” can be the very best, most supportive thing I can do for myself. To stay home, where I can enjoy being cozy and quiet; to go on a short meandering walk around the neighborhood without needing to worry about whether the noise or sun might aggravate my pain; to read a book and light a candle because I want to, (not just to fill time that I wish I were feeling physically able to doing something else more active or outside of the house).

These all represent priceless ways to nourish my spirit. Although I use these methods even on higher pain days, they feel much different and bring me a different kind of joy on those days when I choose them for myself, not out of necessity.

I’ve always found that it’s easier to give myself permission to go slow when I am hurting and I have no other option. I suspect that is true for most of us, a part of our basic human nature. But, over the years, I have learned that it’s also important to give myself permission to go slow when I feel alright, good or even great.

A banner promoting The Mighty's new Spoonie Life Hacks group on The Mighty mobile app. The banner reads, Make life with chronic illness a little bit easier. Join the Spoonie Life Hacks group to get tips from other spoonies for tackling everyday tasks — and share your own hacks! Click to join.

A healthy person’s “slow down” time is usually by choice. When you live with chronic illness and pain, “slowing down” is often forced upon you that it’s easy to forget it is something you can also choose to do.

Of course, there will be lighter symptom days where your soul truly wants to do the “bigger” and faster paced things; that is perfectly OK! I’ve learned to check in with myself on these days before mistaking a “desire to do more” for “pressure to barrel full steam ahead” and perhaps, overdue it in the process! What I try to do is to mindfully create a quiet pause, to check in with my intuition and to ask myself what I really want to do, and what the best decision is for my well-being in that moment.

On lighter days, when I go on a solo walk and really soak in being outside, feeling OK, breathing steadily and moving my body — it can be an overwhelmingly nurturing and sobering experience. A deep awareness of gratitude for such precious, mundane moments of existence feels like sunlight washing over a valley that has been shadowed for days, weeks or months. A beautiful warmth washes over me as I breathe in how good it feels to feel good.

So on your next “good” day, morning, afternoon or evening — if your soul is asking for a slower pace, honor it and that be enough. Do what feels right for you in each and every moment. And drop the pressure to do anything else.

Originally published: August 10, 2020
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home