The importance of pacing yourself

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Happy Sunday all! I hope you have had a fantastic weekend!

One of the keys to living with a chronic illness is…you guessed it – PACE YOURSELF!! I cannot say this enough times – to others AND myself included!

Yesterday, Bart and I were going to be going to Toronto for a date night to walk around, have dinner, then go skating. Because I knew we were going to be out for 8 or so hours, I slept in, and spent most of the day on the couch doing homework, reading my book, and relaxing. I knew my body would need to rest before we were out for the night. If I hadn’t done that, there is no way I would have even MADE IT to the shower and getting ready stage, let alone the date! So I hung out all day until 230 when I got up to get ready – as you know, this takes a while and has to be done in stages. I had to mentally and physically prepare myself for the shower, then the hair blow drying, then the quick makeup application. I was able to do it and still have enough energy left for the night – woo!!!

My morning / afternoon yesterday – homemade cappuccino with fair trade, decaf coffee from my brother and sister in law, and coconut milk frothed and finished off with raw honey. MMMMMM!

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Pacing is something that eluded me for a long time. I thought I was getting it right and then I would have a mighty crash that made me realise I didn’t understand it at all. Rather than pacing, I was simply living life trying my best to keep my head above the water. I failed miserably at that though and would often find myself asking the question “what the hell is pacing anyway?!”

We are all told to pace ourselves when we are diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I am sure some doctors are better than others at explaining what pacing is, but I’ve come to appreciate that it’s a term that is banded around without much explanation at all. It’s as if we should know what it means instinctively“Do a little at a time and break down tasks so they are simpler”. This is what pacing is in essence but, for me, it is far too simplistic an explanation. I mean, how do you manage to pace when you have so much to do in a day?

When you have fibromyalgia or any other chronic illness that is defined by chronic fatigue, pacing is an essential component of feeling well. It is absolutely vital to pace yourself if you want to live well with these illnesses. Though I am far from mastering pacing, I am beginning to understand what this term truly means and today I am going to share some insights that I have learned.

Pacing Includes Every Single Activity That You Do In A Day

When you think of pacing, your mind often relates it to exercise, work or the big activities that you find tiring. While it is true that you need to pace yourself when doing all of those things, we also need to consider the smaller activities that we do each day too. To pace ourselves successfully, we need to think about absolutely everything that we do as a form of physical exertion. Walking around the house, washing ourselves, making our meals… every single thing that we do, no matter how small or trivial, is an “energy stealer”.

I often found myself wondering why I was feeling so poorly when “I hadn’t done that much”. The truth was, I had actually done quite a lot without realising it. I was guilty of ignoring the small daily tasks when pacing because I felt like they were things that I should be able to do without issue. Why? Probably because they are the things that healthy people take for granted and don’t have to think about. I resented the fact that getting up, washed and dressed would drain me so much. I didn’t want to let the simple act of getting ready stop me from being able to do other things.

Now I am learning that I can only do so much in one day and that includes all those little things that I previously didn’t want to take into account.

Don’t Underestimate Mental Fatigue

Not only do I have to include physical activity in my “daily energy allowance”, I also have to factor in the things that I find mentally tiring. Reading, even if it is just browsing the internet, is draining. I have to limit my computer usage or else I am too tired to do much else! Writing is something I have to do in small chunks and I can’t do it every day. This means a lot of planning when it comes to managing this blog. Do not underestimate how tiring mental activities can be and bring your awareness towards how you feel when you are doing them. Treat them in the same way as physical activities: do only a little at a time.

What We Are Able To Do & What We Should Do Often Don’t Match Up

The unfortunate truth is this: when you are ill with fibromyalgia, what you are physically able to do and what you should do are often misaligned. It’s human nature to push on through and do as much as you want to do or what you feel you should do. The ability to do that, however, unfortunately doesn’t mean your body is coping and that you should be doing those things. We are incredibly resilient. We are able to do so much despite how we are feeling. We are strong, stubborn and determined individuals who will not let our illness get the better of us. However, I have learned that in order to feel as well as possible we cannot go on living like this. Pushing on through may get things done but you will also feel terrible as a result.

We are all bound by a certain amount of energy each day. You will not be able to improve on this unless you stick within your limits and build up what you do gradually. This will mean doing very little in the beginning and I know many are not willing to do that. I wasn’t, until I had no option but to. I’m now realising it’s worth it. I would much rather do less and live with minimal pain, than do more and be in agony.

Pushing On Through Can Be Problematic

I personally lived the “push on through” lifestyle for far too long. I wasn’t able to maintain living that way and I physically crashed (many times). I failed to listen to my body telling me to slow down. I pushed on through and parts of my life began to fall apart, yet I kept on going! I no longer socialised as much (if at all), I could no longer do the house work etc. Soon my life became all about work and time out with work was spent recovering from work so that I was able to put myself back together enough to work again the next day. Weekends and evenings were spent in bed or on the sofa feeling absolutely miserable and in agony. I told myself “I want to have a life, I have to keep going and not let this beat me”. Thinking back, this was no life. What was I achieving except from feeling terrible?

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Slowing Down Is Not A Failure, It Is Essential

I was reluctant to slow down because I felt as though it was some kind of failure or that I was giving in to my fibromyalgia. I blinded myself into thinking that if I kept going I would overcome fibro and things would be okay. I have learned that this is the complete opposite of the truth. Slowing down is essential. It is being sensible. Slowing down enables us to look after our health and it enables us to live as well as possible with this illness. Ask yourself this: are you happy? I know I wasn’t. Though I am unable to work right now, I am actually happier because I am no longer in extreme pain. My pain is minimal and is manageable. My body has thanked me for slowing down and putting it’s needs first.

Like I said above, I used to think that I wouldn’t have a life if I slowed down. Sure, my life is very limited and rest features predominantly. However, I am able to do a little of what I enjoy and I feel happier and more in control of my illness. To me it is better than constantly feeling drained and like I am fighting my body each and every day.

Pace Well & You Can Slowly Build Up What You Are Able To Do

We are all individual and how much we can do will not be the same for everyone. I have learned over the past few years that it is possible to get better control of your symptoms and it is also possible to slowly build up what you are able to do. Taking things slowly and building up is so important. It is human nature to want to more on the days we feel better. I am realising that I need to do the same amount on good days as I would on bad days. Why? To avoid the up and down roller coaster that would otherwise happen.

So how do I know when I can do more and build up? I start to do a little more when the better days outnumber the bad. I increase what I do slowly. This is all relative, I don’t mean I suddenly feel amazing. I just mean that I have noticed that I am feeling a bit better than I was previously. I don’t always get this right, sometimes I do a bit too much. However, I have become very attuned to my body and pay attention to how I am feeling. I know immediately when I have done too much and will rest more and then go back a step.

I know that I will reach a limit on what I can do but, as of yet, I am not sure what that is. I do know that it won’t be as much as I would like to do. But I also don’t want to have fibromyalgia! We can’t always get what we want in life but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy life.

Rest Features Predominantly

I have to incorporate a lot of rest into my day. I spend a lot of time resting on the sofa. The up side is that I am also able to do a little more of the things I enjoy too. It’s a balancing act. My life was previously all go and I never took any time out to pause and rest until my body screamed at me to do so. This has changed and even when I feel at my best, I still rest a lot. I know when I am getting things right because rest feels restful. If I don’t feel any benefit from resting then I know I have been doing too much.

Hope you found this advice helpful – remember to pace yourself, and don’t overdo it! Here are a few photos from our date night 🙂

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This was Bart being a total CHAMP in Urban Barn with me – he helped test out the couches AND look at the fabric. My mom and I went again this morning, and ordered our new replacement couch. Yippee! Will be here in April. We picked the Manhattan sectional with the Alpine Linen fabric. Cannot wait!

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Xoxo Lex

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13 thoughts on “The importance of pacing yourself

  1. people with a mental illness also suffer from chronic illness like pain and must also use ‘spoons’ and pacing to get thru a task, an event, or a day. even when i pace, i can only accomoplish 2 outdoor tasks per day…and a few more per day that are phone calls or emails. but still, i must rest between tasks, even phone calls, and give myself plenty of space to relax as well.

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  2. Oh my goodness, what an amazing post. This is exactly what I am finally learning to do. For the longest time it’s been a denial that being too active causes flare ups and “living to the fullest” on good days without admitting that that inevitably means a huge downfall. I guess I felt like the amount of spoons I had on good days were limitless as long as I felt fine. I was wrong. Your post is a great sum up of what I need to keep in mind, I am definitely going to come back to it when I need a reminder. Thank you 🙂

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  3. This is a really great description! I have had fibro somewhere around 10 years and still find pacing such a challenge! It is still so hard to accept my limitations and I want to just push on through, but you’re absolutely right when you say we pay the price! I’m doing much better with saying no, scheduling down time, etc. It’s the only way I can feel good. Wonderful post, looks like a wonderful date. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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  4. Pacing – the most important and rewarding tool we have to keeping our spoons for what we want to do, but why, please someone tell me why is it so difficult – it is like kryptonite to a spoonie, that fear of failure if you rest or say no to something. Paying dearly for a day out for day’s sometimes weeks on end, knowing when you should stop but that pesky mind telling you not to ruin someone elses day or fun! A great read I must make some top tips to pacing as I know it is a weakness that makes me suffer!

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    • It’s probably so difficult because every day is so different, some days we have 3 spoons, other times 0, and other times 10. We want to make good use of them when we have them, but it eventually backfires. Yesterday I had class for 8 hours (normally its only 3-4) and at the end of the day I was SO wiped, I was in bed at 830, and this morning I woke up in SO much pain. Funny how something that small makes a HUGE impact on our bodies. I’m now taking it easy today working on homework and not doing any exercise or anything more than I need to. The life of chronic illness eh?

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  5. Reblogged this on Seachy Waffles On, Chronic Pain is a game changer and commented:
    A great read from a fellow spoonie.
    Pacing – the most important and rewarding tool we have to keeping our spoons for what we want to do, but why, please someone tell me why is it so difficult – it is like kryptonite to a spoonie, that fear of failure if you rest or say no to something. Paying dearly for a day out for day’s sometimes weeks on end (that suffering that is invisible to others who have seen you out so claim you are a fraudster as no one except those you live with see you!), knowing when you should stop but that pesky mind telling you not to ruin someone elses day or fun!

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