Woman wearing hoodie peacefully smelling a rose

The Neverending Question of Pacing

Why can’t I learn this lesson? So many unexpected lessons have come from a life with migraine. This disease has taught me to rethink who I am. It has shaken me free from the way I once defined myself. Formerly, I primarily saw myself through the lens of my profession. Now disabled from my career, I assess myself more by how I live, rather than what I do.

I also live now with gratitude at the forefront of my mind, rather than as an afterthought. Migraine makes me painfully aware of all I’ve lost and therefore acutely thankful for what I have left. But when it comes to pacing, and learning how to care for myself on good days to avoid overexertion and the pain that can follow, I just can’t seem to learn.

I want it all the rare days I'm pain-free

I’ve had migraine for 40 years now; 15 chronically. I’m enormously emotional about the issue of pacing. And I know that when emotions run high, the pain underneath runs deep.

On a day without any pain related to migraine (which rarely ever happens), I want to do it all. I want to walk, garden, be outside, and engage in all the world has to offer. A friend recently asked why I can’t just do a little extra on my good days in an effort to avoid a full-blown migraine attack the next day. The mere suggestion made me cry uncontrollably. Why? It’s too difficult to limit myself on good days because I simply don’t know when the next attack will happen. For me it’s quite possible that I won’t have another well day for a month; maybe three.

Chomping at the bit to run free

On my well days, I feel like a stallion just released after being confined in a stable for months. Wellness is having that stable door flung open on a beautiful day; my body yearning to run free across the fields and pastures. Pacing would be akin to just standing there, or taking a few steps out of the stable before turning around and going back in, and waiting for the door to shut behind me.

Living in fear

Holding back from galloping forth on a pain-free day can feel akin to living in fear rather than in the moment. It’s easy to be too afraid of potential repercussions to act. But, instead of seeing it as living in fear, perhaps I need to think of it as living smart. After all, it’s illogical to knowingly take actions that will cause oneself pain. And for many of us, overdoing is a well-known trigger for pain.

This is one of those issues that is difficult for people who don’t live with chronic pain to fully comprehend. To someone not living with migraine, the answer is simple. If you have a disease that is set off by overdoing, then live within limits. Why in the world would you want to risk triggering more pain?

Random acts of migraine

One reason that it can be difficult to enforce limits on good days is that with migraine disease, it’s just as likely that doing absolutely nothing will result in a day of extreme pain the next day anyway. Sometimes no rhyme or reason can be found for why an attack hits. So, why hold back? Tomorrow is likely to bring pain regardless of my actions or my restraint.

Some things are worth the risk

Here’s my reality: I cannot often go out as often as I’d like; take regular vacations; go on adventures; or, see the world in the way I wish I could. My pain dictates what I get accomplished each day. I’m unable to show up for my family in the way I want to. I miss out on countless events. So, even if it is not always logical or smart, on my rare well-days, regardless of the risk, I’ll continue to throw my arms open wide and embrace all the world has to offer. The emotional health and perspective I gain from doing so are absolutely worth it. So, there’s my answer, I suppose. Perhaps I have learned the lesson: for me, pacing doesn’t apply.

Do you take care not to overdo on the days that you feel well? How does pacing apply in your life?

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