Pushing Through the Pain Doesn’t Work for Me: Finding Strength for the Wait

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This is not my first time talking about the costs and benefits of pushing through the pain. And the conclusion I am currently coming to is that it just doesn’t work for me.

Of course there is a certain level of pushing through that has to happen on a daily and weekly basis. I push myself to go to work two days a week, go grocery shopping, and go to church. But it is a carefully scheduled and carefully monitored pushing through within my current capabilities. It definitely increases my pain levels, but it is a temporary pain increase for the rest of the day or the following day or so.

But I am talking about another kind of pushing through. A pushing through the pain, when you really are unsure of the outcome.

I have made quite a bit of progress since my most recent relapse at the end of September. But I have kind of hit a wall. In discussing with my physical therapist how to move forward, we talked about pushing through the pain more than I currently do. She didn’t want me to do anything crazy, but she suggested that I do my current exercises more often, even on the days when I would typically think that it would be too much.

So this week I tried that. I didn’t do anything reckless. I simply tried to do my exercises or a portion of them most days, even when I was feeling a bit flared up. And it failed miserably.

I am lying here hoping that I didn’t set off a relapse. For me a relapse typically means three weeks to three months of barely getting off the couch, except for the bare essentials. And it means my pain levels skyrocket to miserable levels where every day I just want the day to be over so I can hopefully sleep the pain away.

I am not upset at my physical therapist for suggesting this to me. It was merely a suggestion to see what might happen. We have a high level of trust, and we both knew that it would come with some risk. And the thing is, as I have said before, pushing through has brought me out of relapse, but it has come with great cost. It comes with the cost of existing in a state of constant and unending misery for months at a time. And I’m just not sure I am willing to do that when a slower rate of improvement means a better quality of life.

Thankfully, there is a huge snow storm expected to hit tomorrow. Work will certainly be closed, so I rescheduled all my clients for Friday instead of Thursday. That means I have all day today and all day tomorrow to rest, not move, and try to wait out what is hopefully a flare and not a relapse.

The anxiety is certainly high today. The costs are high, and I am just waiting to know what the outcome will be. I am trying to convince myself that I will be ok either way. Yes, I will be ok. I will live to see another day. I will make it through minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day until I once again find myself in a better place. But in another sense, I really wouldn’t be ok.

So the lesson learned? I need to stick with what works for me. I feel pressure from myself and from articles that I read online that perhaps pushing through would work for me if I could just stick with it for long enough. If I could just endure the increased levels of pain for long enough, it will eventually bring me to a better place. But who knows if that would actually be the case? Maybe I would be pushing myself deeper and deeper into a pit of pain that I would never be able to escape from? That is a risk I am not willing to take.

The lesson is that my body responds to waiting and resting and extremely slow pacing. The lesson is that my body may be different than someone else’s body who responds to pushing through. The lesson is that I need to do what works for me. I need to stick with what works for me, and not keep going back to something that has failed me so many times in the past.

Honestly, in the back of my mind, it feels like the waiting, resting, and slow pacing is the weaker of the two options. It feels like if I were just a stronger person, I would just be able to deal with the pain to hopefully one day reach higher ground. I think that is why I feel the pressure to try something that has not worked for me in the past. I hope that, just maybe, this time I would be stronger and reach the other side.

But there is a strength in waiting. It takes strength to hold ourselves back from doing the thing we want to do when we know it would be better for our bodies. It takes strength to rest and to make slow turtle-like progress when we really want to be the hare.

I know this, but I always forget this when the pain starts to get better.


  1. So sorry you’re dealing with a setback again. I know this feeling very well, should I push through or not? And I often feel like others judge me for not pushing through, when that is what most “normal/non-chronic-pain” people do when confronted with pain. I feel like others don’t realize that a moment of lifting or doing something I shouldn’t do can translate into months of pain for me, whereas it might mean being sore for a day or 2 afterwards for them. And frankly, it makes me mad. Mad at my situation and mad at others who don’t have to live this way. As always though, you bring up an excellent point…it absolutely takes strength to restrain ourselves from doing, when that’s all we want to do.

    1. Thanks Kathy. I am still hoping it is just a flare up and not a true setback. You’re right – it makes me angry too. Thanks for saying that. I wasn’t even thinking about being angry at the moment, but I do.

  2. I understand. I too have learned that the only way to get back up again is at times, to sit out. It is hard. In the last week I have been going to bed at 830pm. So crazy! But it has given me the sleep and rest my body has been desperately needing. I pray you will be able to rest in Him through this flare (yes think of it as a flare not a setback!).

  3. Pushing through doesn’t always work for me either. Since I have Ehlers Danlos, I’m especially prone to injury- the bad, “help my arm is dislocated” kind. I had to find a system that worked for me!

      1. Years! Finding what worked was mostly trial and error. I took a lot of advice from others with similar illnesses, and I had figured out my limits and a schedule the hard way when I was diagnosed with MG. With MG, resting regularly and keeping a medication regimen are extremely important, so I got a lot of help from my PTs and from other people with MG. The patients described their routines, what had worked for them in the past, and what they absolutely couldn’t do, and that helped me get a baseline idea of things that would help and hurt. Then, I incorporated new activities and rest periods into my pre-existing schedule. Once every few months I go through and make sure my schedule isn’t stressing me out too much and re-evaluate certain tasks to make sure I’m not doing certain things out of habit instead of because I enjoy them or get benefit from them!

      2. The fact that it took you so long is both encouraging and discouraging at the same time 🙂 I am still figuring it out. There are longer periods of time now between messing up. And looking back, I had a bad feeling about doing my PT exercises this particular time when I had already had a long day (which is what set this flare off). I need to learn to listen to that gut feeling every single time. I almost always do, but it only takes one time not listening to it for there to be long-term consequences.

  4. My take on pacing is that it is so much harder to stick with than pushing through the pain. Especially for a former workaholic in her twenties, someone who had one physical job after another until I just couldn’t leave the house anymore. One impulsive “I can do that” moment could so easily take all my hard work down and does, regularly.
    It’s been such a slow shift in my mind to stop feeling like taking a break is wrong, using a cane is weak, and pacing my daily unavoidable activities is lazy.
    Shutting that voice up takes strength of a totally different kind. There is really no doubt in my mind that the requirements of pacing yourself correctly are much, much more difficult of a path to stick with, and you should be commended for finding out what works for you, and for trying both pushing through and proactive rest just to make sure.
    I was really happy to see that you wrote on this topic again, because I don’t think it can be overstated that we feel guilty for doing what is right for our bodies, but that if we can get over the feelings of being lazy for taking care of ourselves, we can do a lot more in the long run than when we push, push, push and don’t listen to our very real needs.

    1. I can relate with so much of what you are saying here. I definitely agree that pacing takes a different sort of will power than pushing through. I still can’t wrap my brain around the fact that a 30 second mistake can result in several months of payback. It is just mindblowing to me. Each time I think it won’t happen again and then it always does. When I goes through a time period of less pain, it’s like I forget how horrible it can get, so I take risks that I really should not take. I have to constantly remind myself that it really is not worth it even when it feels that way in the moment.

      I have been really appreciating your posts lately. Your blog is one that I go back to over and over again 🙂 How have you been doing lately?

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