The Art of Pacing
You would think that “taking it easy” would be an easy thing. It’s not. At least it wasn’t for me. I had a heck of a time slowing down. Like many people with chronic illnesses, prior to becoming sick, go-go-go was my modus operandi. Since my diagnosis with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) in 2017, I have gone through many push-crash cycles. It took me a long time to learn the art of pacing, but once I got a rhythm down, it helped me tremendously. In hopes that it may help other people, I have written about my own personal journey in the following steps.
Step 1: Radical Acceptance
Like many things healing, radical acceptance is simple in theory, hard as all hell in real life. Radical acceptance, a term coined by Marsha Linehan in her world renowned Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), is all about accepting everything, exactly how it is, in the present moment, at the core of our being. That means accepting exactly where our bodies are at, even though we may not like it. In fact, we may HATE it. But that is the way it is. We can’t begin to move forward in a safe and effective manner until we are honest with ourselves about where our starting line is. Are we allowed to be pissed off about it? Sure! But we still have to accept it.
Step 2: Know Your Limit, Stay Within It
(Did I just rip off a drinking and driving prevention slogan??? Yes, yes I did. Hopefully it makes the blog more memorable. ;))
Once I accepted where I was at, I was able to get a clear, honest understanding of my limits, even if I didn’t like them. From the research I had done, and the advice of others that had used pacing to recover from ME/CFS, I knew I had to be active enough that my body didn’t weaken any further, but not so active to set off severe symptoms or a crash.
I started to pay acute attention to my body and the signals it was giving me throughout the day. I used an app called Daylio to track my activities and corresponding symptoms/energy levels. I set a timer on my phone an hour apart to remind me to check in with myself and my body and to see if it was time for a rest (most of the time it was). And when I rested, I rested completely – no tv, no screens – just me, my eye mask and a youtube meditation or breathing exercise in a full supine position for 15-20 minutes (which would at times turn into a full nap). I rested before I got tired (which, by the way, is one of the HARDEST things in the world). It was all about taking baby steps and testing things out. There was A LOT of trial and error, but I eventually started to understand what was too much and what was just enough.
NOTE: Depending on where you are starting, this is going to look different for everyone. If you are bed ridden and barely able to move, even challenging yourself to lift up your arm once a day may be enough. People who are less severe may start with taking a short walk or doing light housework. If you crash, don’t fret, it is simply your body giving you information. Rest up and start with something less vigorous once you have recovered from the crash.
Step 3: Know Thyself
It is so important to get to know our bodies on an intimate level in order to recover. Mindfulness-based activities are scientifically proven ways to strengthen the mind-body connection. These can include everything from Yoga, Qi Gong, and Tai Chi, to mindfulness walking and breathing exercises. Explore and find mindfulness activities that work for you, that don’t cause over-exertion. Remember, mindfulness is a practice and it is not easy when you first start. If you need more help in this area, please don’t hesitate to reach out!
Step 3: Less is More and Quit While You’re Ahead
Once again, easy in concept, extremely tough to execute. It was SO HARD for me to stop activities I was enjoying while I was still feeling good, but that was the key. Once I figured out my limits, I had to stay within them until my body reached a new plateau. This often took an excruciatingly long time. For me, my general rule was no major crashes for at least a couple of weeks before I increased my activity level. That meant cutting visits short with friends even though at the moment I felt well enough to continue. It meant shorter walks than I would have liked and a messier house than I enjoyed, even though at times I felt like I had the energy to walk further or tidy more. I would often remind myself, “if I am questioning if I should do more, I probably shouldn’t.”
Step 4: Baby (I mean, itty, bitty, bitty, painfully slow) steps forward
I had never known patience like I now know patience after having ME/CFS. Anytime I pushed myself too far I would crash and spend days in recovery. This sometimes set me back a step, depending on the length of the crash. With pacing, my increased activity was small, calculated, and well documented. And, once again, I had to remember that it was better to error on the safe side with a tiny step forward than to over-do it and pay the price.
Step 5: Be Gentle with Yourself
There were times I would push myself too far, crash, and regret it. I had to learn to not beat myself up about it or get discouraged when things took longer than I thought they should. It was easy to think, “oh, this isn’t working”, or “I will never recover”, but it is important to not let ourselves feed those thoughts and instead remind ourselves of our accomplishments, regardless of how seemingly small. Set-backs happen, it’s okay. Get back up, dust yourself off, and keep moving forward….albeit, slowly.
I hope that these steps have been helpful! If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to reach out. If you are interested in a personalized counselling/coaching program to assist in your recovery, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-403-650-5750. You can also book a free 20 minute phone consultation on my online booking page.