Life is a marathon, not a sprint.
Don't over-do it.
It's all so easy to say, and yet so incredibly hard to actually do. However, I've found learning to pace myself is a critical survival skill when dealing with fibromyalgia. It's an extension of thinking of my energy and health as a bank account (check out this post from last month on the topic), but a little more along the lines of, "I just got a huge raise, better not go spend it all."
When pain and fatigue have been weighing me down for days, weeks, or even sometimes months, it gets beyond frustrating. The household chores slip, or even go completely abandoned, my attendance at the yoga studio plummets, friends experience complete radio silence from me. Every ounce of strength, energy, fortitude, and pure stubbornness are harnessed to just get me through one day at a time.
Then a "good day" comes along. Sometimes they appear out of nowhere like a little present from the universe delivered to my doorstep in a, "Here you go, you looked like you could use a break," kind of way. Other times I see them coming and it's more of a gradual improvement in symptoms eventually culminating in a day when I throw back the covers and think, "Oooo! Not feeling much pain at all right now. Noted!" But however they come about, a "good day" means highly reduced pain, a more "normal" amount of energy, usually clearer mental focus, and generally a pretty fantastic mood due to all of this.
The initial temptation is to do it all. Take care of that whole back log of house cleaning and laundry and errands. Yoga every day. Maybe dinner downtown with a girlfriend if I'm feeling really adventurous. I want to make up for lost time. I want to take advantage of this energy surge that has me feeling like the Energizer Bunny! The problem is that then before the day is done I've overdone it. I blew through the energy and painlessness reserve and often wind up with my bank account farther in the red than I was before I woke up. It's seems simple when you see it here in black and white, but when it's your body and your life and you're living in that moment, it's incredibly difficult to reign yourself in. But I've learned it's absolutely necessary to be able to recognize when you're having a good day, and have strategies to help you pace yourself.
Here's what works for me:
- Regularly check in with my body every morning - When having this check in and assessment of my pain and energy levels become a part of my normal routine, it got a lot easier to spot right at the start of the day when I was having a "good day" and was at risk of over-doing it.
- Get in the habit of telling a loved one when I'm having a good day - Whether it's casually telling my boyfriend while we're brushing our teeth in the morning, sending a text to my mom, or just talking out loud to my dog Maddy, saying the words to another being, this holds me more accountable to the fact that I've recognized a good day is upon me. While Maddy can't necessarily hold me to this later in the day, telling my boyfriend or my mom then helps them to be able to help check in with me and remind me not to over-do things. Reinforcements if you will.
- Make a prioritized list - If I just willy-nilly approach my day of seemingly boundless energy, I will wind up squandering it, and not even necessarily on the things that were most important to me. The list helps me ruthlessly prioritize and focus my energy on the right things. Having it written down in front of me also helps me see if I've tried to bite off way more than I can chew. If that list is taking up 3/4 of the note pad, I should probably slow my roll.
- Use meal times as a built in break to check back in with my body - Inertia is a tricky thing. When I get in a groove and I'm flying through that to-do list, it's easiest to just keep moving. The danger is then the second I stop, I crash. I've found that using lunch and dinner as regular points to stop and take a break are a pretty reliable litmus test of whether I've been going at a reasonable pace and I'm ready to continue on to the next thing, or if I've crashed and need to call it a day, no matter how much is left on the list.
If you don't have a great system yet for pacing yourself on good days, I encourage you to try some of these out, and modify as needed to find what works for you. If you have a kick-ass system that involves some different strategies, I encourage you to share in the comments.