Fibromyalgia and Pacing Oneself

“If you can anchor yourself to a ship of tranquility, you won’t be tossed about by the waves of stimulation”, Ted Zeffquilts 022

I recently asked my spouse what lessons he learned from his father. His reply was how to ‘pace’ himself; to be cautious and not overly frenetic. His father lived to be 90, was a factory worker and a musician and helped raise five children. He was a calm man, did not complain about aches or pains, was easy going and like his son, my partner of many years, a relaxed man. He was like this in spite of the stimulation of five children and two jobs. It was a pleasure to be around him. He moved about slowly, pacing himself. Neither he, nor his son, have , nor had fibromyalgia. That goes without saying.

My own father, even at 92, lives a life of great anxiety, ¬†fear, stress, intense anger and has complained about his body’s aches and pains as long as I have known him. He causes stress and agitation to all around him with his emotional outbursts. Everything is done quickly and often without care. He taught me to be fearful and to rush through life, never letting up. He would never know what it means to pace oneself. He says he could not sleep at night if he knows something has to be done (his example: like changing a dysfunctional electric socket in a wall!). In fact, he complains that he can’t sleep at night anyway.

A Buddhist therapist told me that a religious leader once said that when we are born it is as though we are presented with a smorgasbord¬†of personality characteristics to choose from: some of us will choose joy, fearlessness, optimism, and so on while others will choose depression, fear, anger, negativism to be our main life traits. Many of us choose a mix while others choose extremes. Needless to say we usually take on these personality characteristics based upon what we perceive to be related to our parents’ ways of being in the world. If we see a great deal of anger in one parent we may choose fear as the safety measure to guide us through life. If we feel the need to rush about helping others (whether they need it or not), rushing through our days, wanting everything done yesterday, how can we take care of ourselves?

But, how to pace oneself from our activities of daily living when we have been frenetically sensitive to all stimuli that urge us toward constant activity? Even the simple things like buzzing around from one one chore to another that need not be done immediately and burning ourselves out by early day? Learning to organize a doable routine, planning from one activity to the next, slowing our thought processes to that which is manageable requires discipline. Ted Zeff writes :” Perhaps when you are in an overstimulating situation a good question to ask yourself would be how you can feel more in control of circumstances rather than being a victim of stimuli”, (p.14).Book-Highly-Sensitive-Persons

Zeff’s book is one I highly recommend for highly sensitive persons. The strategies for living life in the slow lane are key for those of us suffering from the angst of daily pain and fatigue which often inhibits our ability to live life as we formerly did. The question I am left with is: why does the brain keep telling us to live life at such a frantic pace? Ah! The ability to change is possible. The neuroscientists have shown us some of those possibilities, so too have Buddhist thinkers who practice daily meditation.

10 comments

  1. Eileen Keddy says:

    Hello Barbara,
    I must say your father sounds very much like my father except my father passed on early at age 60. I now believe he had Fibromyalgia and I can’t help but think it is related to why I have it. While I consider myself a very optimistic person, I have pessimistic tendencies as well. Maybe because I am born on the cusp of Leo and Virgo.
    I believe that pacing ourselves is crucial to our well being today. I remembering being overly active prior to my conditions invasion. Yet I also remember that I never paced myself before either. Today I must for my own sanity as well as for my pain level. I look forward to reading your suggested text as well. Thanks for sharing your insights on this also.
    Regards Eileen

  2. Barbara Keddy
    Barbara Keddy says:

    Our childhood years don’t ever leave us, do they? While we say we have come to terms with it all, we find that early socialization crops up time after time! Thanks once again Eileen for your thoughtful comments! Barbara

  3. Carolyn Thomas says:

    Hello Barbara,

    Very interesting essay here, as always. And very timely too, this topic of p-a-c-i-n-g.

    Too bad that, for some of us, it takes a catastrophic chronic diagnosis for us to ‘get’ it. Allow me to quote from a recent email chat here among some of my sister heart attack survivors:

    One of my friends wrote recently about ‘Dr. Deb’, her wonderful new cardiologist who had recently sent her an e-mail even while away on a family vacation: “This woman can run the women’s heart center, raise a family, run for charity events, speak at the local WomenHeart group, and answer private e-mails without dropping a beat, and who knows what else?? ”

    (As if this is a good thing……)

    So I replied to my friend:

    *****

    “Dr. Deb is heading straight for a heart attack herself. She’s demonstrating what most women are sucked into believing is admirable behaviour – that we can and should work like maniacs, multi-task like crazy (even while on vacation!), have few personal boundaries, all while putting ourselves last on our over-scheduled and over-stressed To Do lists – and then expect to be PRAISED by others for killing ourselves on the installment plan!

    “Sure, it’s great to be the patient of a martyr who’s on call 24/7 – but is this doctor modelling to her patients or to her daughters any kind of sane, reasonable, heart-healthy lifestyle? She’s two working vacations away from complete burnout….

    “And isn’t the very definition of VACATION that one is NOT WORKING!?

    “I’ve met some American heart attack survivors who gripe because their doctors are not available by cell phone or home phone. Are you frickety-frackin’ kidding me? What kind of life would that be for that doc and his/her family? Would we want our own family members to be eternally available to their work clients and ‘on the job’ 24/7 — even while on a family holiday with us?”

    ******

    I too had never bothered to learn the fine art of pacing before I had a heart attack – an event that suddenly made pacing a necessity.

    I still “forget” sometimes not to “rush through life”, as you say – but my body now reminds me of these forgetful moments pretty darned effectively!

    Love your site!
    regards,
    Carolyn

  4. barbara keddy says:

    Oh Carolyn: You are always soooooo on target ! ” Isn’t she admirable?” , they say of the woman who gives 100% of herself away to others and leaves nothing for herself. ” A saint”, they call her. A woman who sets boundaries is considered self centred and selfish. But, old habits die hard. I can easily get myself into a turmoil if I am not disciplined to move more slowly! Pacing requires constant attention to the way we move, think, feel at any one moment! Thanks so much for your in-sights, and all you do with women and heart disease, your wisdom and your friendship, even though we have never met! Hopefully the readers follow this site to yours!
    Best always,
    Barbara

  5. Alida says:

    I have always been one to pace myself. I very much enjoy meditation and relaxation. I am far from lazy and work very hard when necessary. The hardest thing for me is fighting the guilt caused by the people around me who are anxious and incapable of pacing themselves. It sometimes makes it hard to stick to my philosophy of living and what I know is good for me. I find when I feel pressured to push myself to an uncomfortable pace, the only remedy is to remove myself from the situation, or person, that is the cause.

  6. Barbara Keddy
    Barbara Keddy says:

    Dear Alida: You have life in perspective! Your comments on flare-ups are brilliant and uplifting. We can all learn from you as you don’t let fibromyalgia hamper your joy. Thank you so much for being part of this discussion. Regards, Barbara

  7. Michelle says:

    I have always been one to pace myself. I very much enjoy meditation and relaxation. I am far from lazy and work very hard when necessary. The hardest thing for me is fighting the guilt caused by the people around me who are anxious and incapable of pacing themselves. It sometimes makes it hard to stick to my philosophy of living and what I know is good for me. I find when I feel pressured to push myself to an uncomfortable pace, the only remedy is to remove myself from the situation, or person, that is the cause.

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