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Even After Years of Battling Chronic Illness, I Am Still Learning My Limits

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I recently wrote about a great day I had where my pain was low, my energy high, my focus on point and how I was not entirely grateful for the small respite from pain. That day was over a month ago; however, I just had another great, and I mean it when I say great, day over the holidays. December 30th to be exact. I woke up at 7 a.m., without an alarm, feeling refreshed and recharged. I took my time waking up and getting around, not wanting to jinx it. I glanced at my ever-growing to-do list, which contained nine tasks I had planned to complete over the course of my three-day weekend. That meant approximately three tasks a day because I have learned I cannot always depend on my body so pacing is a must. Despite this knowledge, I threw caution to the wind and decided to seize the day, since tomorrow would undoubtedly bring me back to my “normal” baseline fatigue and pain. To give you an idea of what all I did, here is my to-do list, modified with numbers, so you can see how much I accomplished.

1. Grocery shopping at Kroger
2. Grocery shopping at Sam’s Club
3. Get gas

4. Lowe’s for sockets
5. Laundry: eight loads, including linens for our guest bed
6. Strip/make guest room bed

7. Dishes
8. Weekly meal prep: six days worth of meals for myself and my fiance, including three pounds of beef, three pounds of pork chops and five pounds of chicken along with green beans and black beans as sides
9. Bake cookies for neighbor

Add on activities:
At home full facial with mask, bubble bath where I actually took the time to shave my legs (TMI, sorry) and deep condition my hair, followed by an at home shellac manicure, cooked a homemade dinner.

I did all of that in one day and only took a one and a half hour break in between all of my running around and beginning my at home tasks. I only took one break. Granted, I laid down and watched some Netflix, so I genuinely rested, but, I usually need a break in between every task or two if I am lucky. I cannot remember the last time I felt so accomplished, normal, energetic and… grateful. Unlike the last good day, I was full of gratitude  and happiness.

I ended the day feeling content and knowing the chances of tomorrow being this good were slim to none, accepting that this was “just one good day” and that was OK because I was so productive. I slept well, but, when I woke on the 31st, I was taken by surprise at how debilitating my pain was and how little energy I had. It was obvious I had way overdone it the day before, but, unlike my normal day-to-day life when my body and pain communicate to me very readily that I am overdoing it, I got no signs of fatigue, pain, tension, loss of concentration, brain fog or the like. I felt fine from when I woke up to when I went to bed and I paid dearly for it. I spent two entire days in my pajamas, on the couch, only moving to grab water or use the restroom. I took every medication I could to relieve the splitting pain between my eyes and the aches in my shoulders and neck. I rubbed balms and lidocaine on my tense muscles, laid with heating pads on my back and ice packs on my neck.

I was so upset with myself. That I allowed myself to seize the day and do so much. I cursed myself for thinking I could do it all again and believing in my body. The truth is, even after 12 years of this, I don’t always know my limits. I am still learning every single day. This fight is more of an ebb and flow, a changing of the tides, and while it can be predictable, there are days when the tide is higher or lower than expected. Now I know that my body may not always give me a sign that it is depleting. The second I even think I may be over-extending myself, that should be my sign to gracefully bow out and set my own limit. I shouldn’t feel guilty for wanting to not be couch-ridden for days, despite still feeling good. I must allow my good days of productivity to provide me comfort in knowing I accomplished more than usual that day, even if it wasn’t much. I can and should be proud of anything I accomplish beyond existing in a day.

I was grateful for this day and feeling “normal” again, but, I am even more grateful for the lesson that I can stop myself instead of waiting for my body to stop me. The learning curve is steep, but, with each good and bad day, I learn more about navigating this chronic illness life and finding joy in the simple things.

Sending you spoons today and every day.

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Getty Image by Natalia-flurno

Originally published: February 10, 2018
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