Since I launched my blog, thisisallgoingon.com, I’ve stuck to my schedule of posting twice a week, and I’ve enjoyed it, really enjoyed it. I have to admit I’ve even become a little obsessed with checking my daily ‘hits.’ But my body might be telling me that I need to slow down and start pacing myself.
But since then, I’ve come to the hard realization that it’s going to have to change. I’m going to have to cut back to posting only once a week.
You may be asking yourself why this is important enough for me to write an entire post about it, and why you should care enough to read that post all the way to the end.
It’s important because my need to adjust my level of commitment to my blog is a direct result of my having a chronic illness, and I’m hoping that maybe learning about my process will give you an ah-ha moment that might just reduce the duration and intensity of your struggle to adapt to your new normal – the normal of living with a chronic, energy draining, painful condition.
My decision to reduce the frequency of my blog posts was part of a lesson in learning to live a successful, productive, happy life despite dealing with a chronic condition. It’s about my struggle to adopt a different way of being in order to continue to thrive in the face of my chronic pain.It’s about learning to pace myself. And believe me, if a type-A, perfectionist, stubborn, go-getter like me can learn to do it, so can you. Click To Tweet
SO WHAT HAPPENED?
My blog is important to me.
I love writing my blog. I love combing through the hundreds of ideas that flash through my brain and figuring out which ones I want to write about – figuring out what exactly it is I want to say.
Writing, for me, is calming. Wrestling with my words to get them to convey the subtleties of what I mean is fun.
Blogging, for me, is about having a platform to hone my craft, but it’s also about sorting out the chaos in my life.
And that includes my chronic pain. And sometimes, I have to stop and re-read my own words and take them to heart – take note of the bigger picture.
MY CHRONIC PAIN
Learning to live with chronic pain has a steep learning curve – and I don’t particularly like hills. I will confess that on my bike, I will ride around the long way to avoid a steep hill. But, this was a hill I couldn’t avoid.
And, believe me, I’m still making the climb – I can’t even see the top yet.
But learning to pace might just be taking me a little closer to the summit.
Since, I started blogging about my chronic pain – which essentially translates into letting everybody in my world in on my ‘secret’ – I’ve had several friends and family members reach out and show their support through sharing their own experience with chronic pain. Each of us has a different story, a different brand of pain, but the impacts and struggles are extremely similar. So talking together is really helpful.
One of these friends introduced me to the concept of PACING for management of chronic pain and other symptoms.
I heard her words when she explained it. I even nodded my head in understanding (we were talking on the phone, so it’s kind of funny that I was nodding). I comprehended what she was saying, and it made complete sense to me, but I’m not sure that I really assimilated it – not on that day anyway.
I didn’t quite get how it applied to my life – to my particular brand of chaos.
I did lay down on the couch a bit more, and a few times I left dinner prep for my husband without feeling guilty, so I could rest, but that’s not really what pacing’s about – not at the heart of it anyway.
Pacing is about coming to terms with the fact that we only have a finite amount of energy on any given day; this is true for every person, but for those of us with chronic conditions, there is actually a cliff edge at the end of the energy.
A healthy person can get away from borrowing against future energy, but not so for those of us lucky enough to have conditions that result in daily pain. We can try using tomorrow’s energy, but every time we do, we’re getting closer and closer to that cliff edge – and at some point, if we’re careless with where we place our feet (AKA how we use our energy), we’ll tip over into the seemingly bottomless chasm of pain.
Pacing is a method for avoiding the cliff edge.
A NEED FOR CHANGE
I didn’t get to the decision to reduce my posting frequency lightly. I spent hours going through the pros and cons – finally, my body made the decision for me.
I’d been in an intense pain flare for weeks – it was time for a change.
Perhaps by sharing my process, I can help someone else, who is wrestling with their new limitations, make changes before their body is screaming at them.
When chronic pain overwhelmed my life, I didn’t quietly take to my bed and give in to it – I fought it.
I pushed myself hard to try and keep up with all of my responsibilities. I refused to step back. I refused to become dependent. I was determined to keep all of the balls I was juggling up in the air.
The problem was that chronic pain was another ball I had to juggle. And it wasn’t a light one. It was an overgrown bowling ball, and I didn’t have the strength to cope with it. If I was actually bowling, instead of just giving an analogy about the weight of my chronic pain, I would’ve immediately recognized it as being too ridiculously heavy for me to even think of trying to fling it down the lane, and I would’ve set it right back down.
WHAT WAS MY DEAL?
Apparently, I’m more sensible in my bowling decisions than in my life decision because knowing that the ball was too heavy for me didn’t stop me from trying to manage it on my own. I fought desperately to push it back up in the air every time it came to rest in one of my hands. It never occurred to me that I needed to adjust my behavior.
I think perhaps this stubborn determination has been my main approach to life – turns out it’s not so healthy.
Instead of recognizing that I couldn’t handle the chronic pain on my own, I put all my energy into keeping that ball moving, not letting it pin me down. Like many of the things we juggle, I couldn’t choose to just set the chronic pain down. I couldn’t just decide to not take it on. So, I fought it and ended up becoming so distracted by that one ball, that I didn’t even really notice that I was dropping all the other balls.
I didn’t notice there was a problem until all the balls were lying on the floor around my feet, and I was helpless to get them back up in the air.
I’ve been struggling ever since to get those balls back up in the air – not very successfully to be honest.
WHAT ABOUT PACING?
As one by one, I was forced to let things go from my life – reduced work hours, reduced exercise, reduced housework (and expectations about what it’s okay for my house to look like), reduced social activities, removal of volunteer responsibilities – I started to fear that I would have to give up all the activities that I love (writing, blogging) just so that I could function as a parent to my children.
My role as my children’s mother is the most important thing to me, but that doesn’t mean I wanted to quit doing all the things I love.
When I realized that I was starting to avoid sitting down in my chair and working on my blog; I ignored it. When I realized that the pool of extra blog posts I had created for myself to provide a buffer for weeks that I was just too busy or sick to write (or, you know, if my husband surprised me with a week in Mexico – it could happen), was dwindling each week; I ignored it. But, when I started to feel stressed about writing rather than rejuvenated, I couldn’t ignore it anymore.
Something needed to change.
I either needed to stop blogging or I needed to reduce the frequency of my posts.
I needed to pace myself.
Suddenly, I was back in the conversation with my friend where she was explaining to me how important pacing was and some of the things she’d had to let go to achieve some balance in her pain experience – it was like a light came on.
Suddenly, I knew what I had to do – I needed to pace myself.
WHAT IS PACING?
Pacing is deciding how many balls you can juggle in one day and slowing down the speed at which your juggle them, so that you can rest and enjoy the process – probably a good philosophy for everyone not just those of us combating chronic pain.I’m not an expert in pacing. I’m still struggling to adopt it into my own life. But, I do recognize that it’s essential, if I ever want to get out of the boom-and-bust pain cycle that I’m trapped in. Click To Tweet
MY PRE-PACING APPROACH
Before adopting pacing into my life, my approach went something like this:
I would start every day working as hard as I could to get as many things as I done as I could before my energy crashed and my pain flared so acutely that I couldn’t function any longer – then I’d rest (usually for the rest of the day, and the crash usually happened by 2pm but sometimes much earlier).
The problem was each time I went around this cycle my pain flare got more intense in both level of pain and duration. It hurt more, and it took me longer and longer to recover – plus, it started to take less and less to spike a pain flare.
I have pain all the time – even on my good days – but, when the pain is low, I can ignore it. The problem was I wouldn’t rest when the pain was low. I was so far behind that I couldn’t justify resting.By embracing the philosophy of pacing, I can justify taking rests even when I feel ‘good.’ Click To Tweet
Pacing will look different for everyone because everyone’s energy reserves are different and the particular things that drain our energy are different, but the basic idea is the same.
Pacing is essentially choosing which balls are important enough to me to actually expend energy to juggle them and then taking the time to enjoy the juggling process – resting.
This is what pacing looks like for me:
MY SIX PACING STRATEGIES:
Limiting the number of activities I schedule in a day
I try to not schedule two ‘big’ activities on the same day. Going to work, going grocery shopping, going to appointments and going to or hosting social events are all ‘big’ activities for me. So, I try not to schedule two of them on the same day. It gets tricky because I only have so many days in a week, and I have a lot of appointments and there are six people who live in my house, so we go through food quickly. But I can’t grocery shop from my bed, so it’s an important to acknowledge my limitations and not overschedule myself.
Managing my To Do List is another critical part to this strategy. Just like most people my To Do List grows faster than I can cross things off, but I have to let that go; sometimes the sweeping just has to wait for another day.
Breaking activities down into smaller parts
Many of the things I do are actually made up of multiple smaller pieces. When I’m pacing myself (which should be all the time), I break them up into smaller parts and take rest in between, so that I don’t wipe myself out on one activity.
Cleaning the bathroom can be broken down into: washing the sink, washing the shower, washing the toilet, washing the mirrors, washing the walls and fixtures, and washing the floor.
Recognizing that both mental and physical activities take a toll
Just because I wasn’t on my feet using my muscles doesn’t mean I wasn’t using up precious energy – I still need to rest. Editing my novel, writing a blog post and reading a book don’t use much muscle power, but they use a lot of mental power, and I have to be aware of that when considering how much I need to rest.
It can be a good strategy to alternate mental and physical activities – but still include actual rest.
Resting to save energy for future activities
It’s impossible to properly pace without taking a look ahead to see what’s coming up. I might have nothing big going on today, but if I’ve got a tough day tomorrow, I NEED to rest today. Or, if I have a quiet morning but am working in the evening, I NEED to get lots of rest in the morning, even if I feel good and could potentially get some things crossed off my To Do List.
Reducing expectation levels
Sometimes expectations come with an activity, and we can’t change them – like how my boss has particular ideas about what I need to accomplish in order to earn my paycheque. But, other times, the expectations that we are struggling to meet are actually our own. It’s me who wants a promotion at work, so I took on extra responsibility. It’s me who wants the floor swept every day. And it’s me who set my blog posting schedule.
I can change these expectations.
Maybe, right now isn’t the best time to be working on my promotion – I need to focus on my health (and my job is full-filling as it is, even if I’m not advancing).
Maybe, it’s okay if there are a few dust bunnies under the couch – I need to focus on my health (and I’d rather read to my children than sweep).
Maybe, it’s okay if I only post once a week – I need to focus on my health (and I want to be able to keep blogging).
Asking for help
This quite possibly is the hardest for me. I believe strongly in taking care of my own responsibilities. But, slowly, I’m learning that by asking for a little help, I’m actually able to give more and be more present. It can be as small as asking one of my children to fetch something from the basement for me, not because I’m too lazy to walk down the stairs but because walking down the stairs (and more importantly back up) just might take my last bit of energy.
It isn’t weakness to ask for help – it’s strength.
THE AFTERMATH OF MY DECISION
After today, I will only be posting once a week. I will post on Mondays because it feels like a nice way to start the week. I’m pretty sure when Friday rolls around, I’ll feel something – a twinge of regret, maybe. But, I’ll silence it just as quickly as it starts and instead sit down with a smile and write Monday’s post – maybe it will be about all the extra energy I have because I’ve finally embraced pacing.
Fighting my illness isn’t going to heal me – it’s going to make me sicker.
Embracing the necessary changes is hard, my mind simply isn’t wired that way, but it’s so worth it.
Besides, juggling isn’t really my thing, so I’m totally okay with some of those balls staying dropped.
If you enjoyed reading, please help me out and ‘share’ on your favourite social media sites 🙂