It’s safe to say that pacing is a little like the marmite of the chronic pain world, people either love it or hate it. It’s just one of many tools we can use when managing chronic pain, and it can be used really successfully to help balance your day and avoid flare-ups. However, anyone who has given pacing a go knows that it isn’t always as straightforward as taking breaks when you need to, or moving tasks around. Life is unpredictable and not everything can be paced, so today I’m sharing how I manage my chronic pain when pacing just isn’t possible.
As someone who is self employed I largely work from home, an environment that is fairly easy to pace within, but recently with Covid restrictions easing I have found myself travelling for work again. It’s within those jobs that it becomes most obvious to me that pacing just doesn’t work for me in some situations, but it doesn’t mean there is nothing I can do to help support my chronic pain and avoid burning out.
On days when I’m working away from home, or recently when I was at a wedding, it’s usually not possible to take a proper break when I need to, so instead I will do smaller things to give my body a break in different ways. For example, I use an electric wheelchair but staying in one position for too long can aggravate my pain just as much as standing does so I will find time wherever I can to change position. Whether that’s 5 minutes to tilt back in my wheelchair, shifting my weight, or utilising bathroom breaks to stand and stretch. Whilst none of these things are as beneficial as the 30 minutes I’d spend lying down at home, it’s just enough to get me through a day without too many consequences.
At home I will typically spread my tasks evenly throughout the week so I don’t fall into a boom and bust cycle, but on these unavoidably busy days it is inevitable that there will be a boom and bust element. To help mitigate this as much as possible I do my best to schedule in low energy tasks the day before and the day after the event. Once upon a time I might have cleared my diary completely but I’ve learnt now that doing absolutely nothing is just as harmful as continuing at full speed. Doing this on a regular basis will lead to flare-ups, but I’ve found that doing it a few times a month is manageable for me. Pacing is all about balance, and for me this is finding balance within a situation where there could quite easily be none.
I think one of the most important things I’ve learnt about pacing is that it looks different for everyone, and it must be unique to your life. For years I was trying to make other people’s schedules and plans fit into my life, wondering why I was having no success. I also found that trying to pace every single activity in my life wasn’t working either, because that isn’t realistic. So, when I say that this is how I manage my chronic pain when pacing isn’t possible, perhaps I just mean when the ‘standard’ idea of pacing isn’t possible, because my version of it is flexible and personal to my life. It accounts for busy days and surprises and leaves me room to not miss out on life and work. Doing things my own way, with the help of healthcare professionals and friends living with chronic pain, has meant that I can truly lead the life I want to.
If pacing isn’t working for you then check out the Leva Clinic pain management programme for tips and advice from healthcare professionals and patients on how to get the most out of it for your life.