A Summer Pacing Experiment

I have written quite a few posts on pacing over the years. Pacing is what brought me out of some of my worst pain flares and what keeps me from falling back into that same place. I still regularly have pain flares, but they are nothing like what has happened in the past before I knew how to better balance activity and rest.

For some background, you can read my initial posts on this topic.

Quantified Activity Tracking to Prevent Chronic Pain Flares

Quantified Pacing for Chronic Pain is Changing My Life

Reflections on One Year of Careful Pacing for Chronic Pain

The biggest problem when it comes to pacing is pretty obvious – life responsibilities. For pacing to work (at least for me), you have to do it very consistently over a long period of time. But this is often impossible. You can’t really call out of work because you want to pace yourself better. You can’t decide not to make lunch for your kids because you want to pace yourself better.

So, for years I have been pacing as best as I can. But it’s always been derailed by something. Typically…my work schedule. What happens is I wake up knowing I really need to rest that day, but I have to go to work. So, I push through the extra pain, and once I do, everything spirals out of control for days…weeks…or months….

A lack of pacing with chronic pain leads to huge ups and downs. You find yourself pushing through and then resting only when you absolutely have to. Then when you start to feel just a little bit of relief you do all those things you were putting off while you were resting. You don’t ever go anywhere because you are too busy managing the flares as they come and life responsibilities as you are able to, so life turns into a roller coaster that goes nowhere.

Life starts to look a little bit like this:

When you can adequately pace over a long period of time, there are still ups and downs, but hopefully you start to slowly go somewhere. Like this:

You keep making slow, slow progress until some necessary activity comes out of nowhere that you absolutely have to do…so you do it, even though you know there will be consequences, and everything just goes crashing down.

Well, this summer, I’m going to give something a try. A few weeks ago I was able to quit one of my part-time jobs. since I finally gained all of the hours I need for clinical licensure, I no longer have to worry about seeing a certain number of clients each week. For just the summer, I will only be working one or two half days a week, which is cutting my work schedule down by more than half.

I want to see what happens if I carefully pace myself for the whole summer. This is just a temporary experiment, and I plan to go back to working a bit more in the fall. I’m looking at this summer as a bit of a break/vacation. I wasn’t able to take a vacation for the past over a year and a half because I had to use every available bit of energy to work towards my hours. So, now I just need a break. And I’m going to use that break to try and get out of this cycle.

Besides the fact that work prevents me from resting on those days when I feel myself about to fall into a bad flare, I have been facing another dilemma for the past few years. On those days when I go to work, I am not able to also do my physical therapy exercises without major flaring. I know for a fact that when I reach a certain point with my exercises, I feel a lot better and it takes a much larger trigger to throw me back into a flare. It’s just extremely hard to get to that place with my exercises when I am working more days of the week.

My theory is that if I can pace consistently enough for long enough I may be able to get my body to strengthen to the point that it won’t be so sensitive to activity.

I really think that my method of pacing discussed in the articles listed above works. It has been strangely accurate. It mostly comes down to being able to follow the method strictly without a necessary activity getting in the way or not having the self-control to rest when I know that I should. I’m wondering if a summer with an almost completely free schedule will allow me to follow my system for long enough that I will be able to add more commitments in the fall without going back into the same cycle of progressing and crashing over and over again.

Besides my pacing chart, I have also been using a Fitbit to pace my steps over the past year. This has been an invaluable tool, as there are days when I am not sure I should walk further, but my Fitbit lets me know it’s ok. Then there are other days when I feel like I am totally up for more walking, but my Fitbit lets me know I really need to chill for the evening. The way my body feels is not in the least bit reliable. But my Fitbit is.

So, the summer plan is to pace in three areas: my (1) daily activities and (2) physical therapy exercises (using my pacing chart discussed in the articles above) and my (3) walking (using my Fitbit).

On the days I do my PT exercises, my plan is to do them first thing in the morning. That way if I have to skip any activities throughout the day to pace myself appropriately, it won’t be my exercises that get cut out. That is what has happened a lot in the past. My exercises just don’t get priority because things like going to work and cooking and all those necessary tasks of living have to come first. Hopefully, freeing up my schedule will enable me to make exercises my most prioritized activity in the day. That’s the plan at least!

I’ll give it a try, and if it doesn’t work over the summer, I’ll probably go back to pushing through even if I know it will make me crash. Sometimes that’s the only way to live life when you have chronic pain. It’s not ideal…but if nothing else works, nothing else works. I’ll give this a good try for a few months and see what happens.

There are so many different pacing strategies that people use. Different methods work for different people. Here are a few articles that I have found helpful. Maybe their methods will resonate with you more than the one that I use.

How I Gained Hope and Control: Pacing for the Bedbound Patient

Pacing for Pain Management – The Princess in the Tower

Pacing: A concept analysis of a chronic pain intervention.

Have you tried pacing for your chronic pain, fatigue, or other symptoms? How has it worked for you?

(This post contains affiliate links, which help this blog. If you click on any affiliate link and purchase an item, no matter what it is, this blog receives a small percentage of the purchase cost. I only recommend items that I personally use and have found to be helpful.) 

7 Comments

  1. I think you’re right. Everyone has to find a method that works for them, but they also have to watch their energy levels. They have to make sure they don’t overdue it, which in my case is near impossible. It’s frustrating when, like you said, life’s responsibilities makes it hard.

    I think cutting down on responsibilities, if you can, is wise. I’ve had to cut down on things, even say no.

    And sometimes, saying no is all you can do to prevent yourself, in essence, from being harmed because of overdoing what your body can handle.

    Thank you for the article!

  2. hello esther, i think of you often this time of year when the raspberries are in season, and then i pray for you and the journey that God has put you on, love you, lois

  3. Hi Esther! Your post is bang on and right in the middle of a flare up of my own. I was nodding to it all, saying ‘yep, yep’ to myself as I read haha So thanks a lot, we always need reminding no matter what. Especially because our coping mecanism is pushing through to get through Life but that’s our downfall as well that keeps you from Life, ironically. Ahhh… the big pacing life challenge.

    I like your idea of trying out your exercises first, and then see what else you can achieve that day if these exercises really make you stronger. It’s an investment for the long term. In my case, the reason specific exercise time doesn’t work is chronic fatigue syndrome (ME) which depletes my energy as fast as an old battery discharges the minute it gets a long call. So one session to do exercise drains me for the day. However, I spread my energy and muscle endurance all throughout the day (stretching here and there, picking up random things) and by short bursts (like cooking a meal, doing one specific task). So though the ME limits my doing all the exercises in one go, in terms of chronic pain (like in my case, fibro), keeping the exercises up is indeed essential. So in a word: My personal tweak is to do them spread over the whole day but also to count any cooking, cleaning and chore as exercises themselves that strengthen me and need monitoring.

    Glad the Fitbit works for you and it’s a good tool as long as it’s for pacing rather than reaching unrealistic goals like some people are now seeing themselves do because they didn’t realize they hit their peak performance a while ago and just want to see those numbers go up. One essential tool to relearning how to walk without flaring up and losing all my efforts was a pedometer. So very similar to your principal of being super cautious once I reached the daily limit or not worrying so much if I was way under if my legs had not been too active that day. I wish I could have one for my arms LOL Now that would be useful!!!

  4. I was so encouraged by your article! Yet, I am overwhelmed at how to make a chart. How do you figure out what number to assign an activity. How many points a day? I wish I had a study buddy that would like to work on this together.

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