“No matter what kind of job you have, you can’t just keep going and going like a machine until you drop. Pace yourself. Trim the fat from your task list, stop wasting time on things that don’t matter.” Laura Stack
A characteristic about myself that I used to take pride in, was my push to overachieve in every aspect of my everyday life. I always signed up for every committee, never wanted to turn down any opportunities, and did not miss any chance to take part in social events. While I was healthy, this was a possibility. However, as my health declined, this proved to be a large hurdle to overcome in dealing with my sense of self-worth and happiness with my life. When all that excitement, and if I am being honest, exhaustion comes to an abrupt halt, it can be a rough road. I had to stop work 5 years ago and didn’t know what to do with myself. I replaced working and scheduling my every moment, with hyper planning every moment of my life at home. I developed a morning routine, started being super focused on having an immaculate house, started gardening, and every course or lesson I could find to fill my time as full as I could. Luckily, I also started working with a counselor who works primarily with patients with chronic illness. For that I will always be thankful. As I would go to sessions, I would spend time telling her how overwhelmed I was and how busy my life still was. Filling her in on how I felt that I just couldn’t keep up and telling her how tired I was. Letting her know that I could not stop focusing on the things that “needed” to be done. I would talk about how I had pushed myself beyond my limits (almost bragging about it) for weeks and then had crashed for several days and couldn’t get out of bed. At that point, she introduced me to the 70% Rule.
She showed me graphs of disease progression for people who pushed themselves to 100% whenever they could and then crashed to low levels. Over time, their disease progression looked like this:
You cannot apparently push yourself to 100% all the time. Why didn’t anyone ever tell me that before? You are always told to try your best, keep pushing. No one ever talked about taking things easy as a positive. However, my counselor’s words made sense. If you push yourself to your maximum all the time, you have nothing left in your reserve tank. When my husband forgot to wipe off the counter and I lost my mind about it, it was because that pushed me above my limit and there was nothing in the reserve to pull from. This depletion of my reserve tank had drastically reduced my level of patience and ability to empathize and be reasonable. Although my house was clean, my relationships were a mess. You need room for all aspects of your life, including being decent to the people who make your life enjoyable. This was a massive shift for me in my way of thinking.
I worked with my counselor on reprioritizing what was important in my life. Essentially “skimming the fat” so that I had energy to focus on the things that were important in my life like having kind conversations with my husband, having energy for family get- togethers and having patience for my niece and nephew. Those things take energy as well. She talked about living my life at 70% all the time. For me, on the days that I feel rough, it is natural and easy for me to push myself to the 70. What was much harder for me, and still is, is on days when I feel good, pumping the breaks and pacing myself to fill back up my tank. I think for people living with illness, when you feel good, you just want to get as much done as you can in case then next few days are worse. However, when I was shown the progression chart for people who learn to live within the 70, I was sold.
Overall, we will end up much higher functioning and less progressed in our disease if we can learn to pace ourselves. It required me to realize that I am more than what I can “do.” I have worth just being me, even if I do not always have an immaculate house and a fruitful garden. It took me learning to trust that people would still love me for being me rather than what I can accomplish. Isn’t that the hardest lesson to learn though?
It is something that I still struggle with to this day. Personality wise, I am a doer and an extrovert. I still sign up for a lot of committees and try to help others whenever I can. However, now I have that little voice in the back of my head that whispers “Remember to live at 70.” I don’t as often push to 100 but I still often find myself hitting 85 before I pull on the breaks and slow it down. There is nothing worse than feeling you are losing who you are to illness. Hopefully by pacing and slowing down we can learn to maximize how much and how long we can keep doing things that bring us joy.