Learning to pace myself

I am still learning how to pace myself under the changes to health and lifestyle that RA brings. I keep trying to do what I did before, and I simply cannot. I pay the price one way or another – pain, fatigue, infection, or if I’m particularly unlucky, all three. 

I have a tendency to try to do everything when I’m feeling good, taking advantage of the times when I do have energy. This backfires, unsurprisingly. I haven’t yet reliably identified that zone between “enough” and “too much” – the zone where I can push my boundaries just enough to stretch them but not break them. 

But I’m starting to learn and make better calls. I decided to make this a “personal” long weekend because, even though we just had one last week for Easter, I felt very tired all week and knew I was headed for a crash. But I didn’t want to sit around for four days feeling tired and pathetic. That wasn’t going to help me recuperate and restore my depleted batteries. 

I had been invited on a day hike on Saturday. Ordinarily this would have been a great plan, but I didn’t sleep well, was worn out from the work week, and woke feeling very lethargic. I briefly argued with myself about going – would it be good for me or too much? I decided it would be too much and cancelled. I’ve gradually learned to distinguish between the kind of tired that benefits from a walk, and the fatigue that is exacerbated by exercise. This was the latter. 

I was inclined to lie on the couch and watch TV but I know that when I’m exhausted, this does nothing for my mental state and consequently has no positive impact on my fatigue. So I opted for sketching. I found a photo on Google of Amsterdam’s canal houses, and spent about an hour drawing them. And I felt pretty darn good when I was done. Good enough that after a decent long sleep I called my friend on Sunday morning about that hike and off we went. 
Now I’m back home resting and feeling tired in that good way, when your body has done something to justify the fatigue you feel. 

I made the right call not to go hiking on Saturday even though the weather was glorious. I made the right call to sketch rather than passively sit in front of Netflix. Both those choices helped recharge me. Perhaps because I know I can spend tomorrow in bed, I was willing to push the walking today, but I did feel less exhausted this morning and more up for exercise. It wasn’t a great distance – about 5km – but it involved sun, fresh air, beautiful scenery and good company. 

I’ve never been very good at paying attention to how my body feels. RA has forced me to pay attention, and not just to what hurts. As a result I’m getting better at recognising what my body can tolerate, which is frequently quite different from what my mind thinks I should do. Pacing myself seems to be, at least in part, about learning to shut off the “should” voice and trust that my body is telling me the truth.