The day that I was diagnosed with anxiety and my festering post natal depression, I was introduced to the idea of pacing. I’ll admit that at the time I didn’t really understand but I was reassured that if I could get my head around it, it would change my life. After months of puzzling it over I think I might finally understand.
What is it?
Put simply it is a straight line on a sharp incline then a sharp decline versus a wiggly up hill climb. It is the difference between taking the direct, steep and dangerous route versus, the longer, steady climb with regular rest breaks. Any of this making sense so far?
It was explained to me as follows. In my early days of parenting I just kept pushing forwards. I was exhausted and overwhelmed, but I just kept pushing that to one side and “soldiering on”. After a while I learned just to keep pushing myself, whatever the cost. I became numb to my own pain both mental and physical.
I thought that by pushing forward I would reach some sort of parenting utopia. Nothing swish though, I was still realistic, just a place where I had a small level of control over the day to day in my life. The more things that got thrown in my way the harder I pushed. Instead of stopping and taking stock I just kept planning and over planning, beating myself up and feeling like a failure. Instead of climbing higher, I was sinking lower.
The psychiatrist explained that had I stopped for regular breaks. Just a moment here or there to take stock properly. Extract the unimportant from the important rather than striving to catch all the plates before they fell. Then I could achieve more and be less overwhelmed. I’ll admit that I didn’t get it at first. Because the plates never stop spinning! There is always something. Appointments, school stuff, tantrums, accidents, emergencies, deadlines, blah, blah, blah, on and on. Before I finally got it, I had to let a plate smash.
A tentative smash
It was only a small plate smash at first. A saucer really. I didn’t make a to do list (shock horror). Then I just let things happen and I forgot to send in the dinner money. Did the school call? Was my child refused his dinner? Did the school staff chastise me when I wasn’t there to hear? No, No and I have no idea. Knowing that the world doesn’t end when things go wrong was liberating. So I let a few more plates slip.
Soon I was like a jolly drunk Greek at a wedding. There were plates smashing all over the place. This is all great but let’s be honest, it couldn’t continue or the kids would have no clothes and I would be sacked for persistent tardiness at work. I had to re-establish control but with some pacing.
The fine art of pacing yourself
Take my recovery from injury. The plates went back up on the sticks. One or two at a time. Some things had to wait while I found my feet and my pace. Once I was confident they wouldn’t fall, I started a couple more plates. If they fell I just took stock and restarted. Soon I had (almost) all my plates back up in the air.
For example, my PT sessions became really intense after I began to push my boundaries. My PT went with it adding more difficult exercises. I loved it while I was there and worked hard. Soon I found that I couldn’t do anything for the next couple of days. Exhausted and achey it was starting to make me unhappy and my progress really dipped. I spoke to my PT who adjusted my workouts to include some longer breaks between exercises. I still worked hard but the breaks helped me improve without losing two days afterwards.
Pacing is the key
Once I began to understand pacing I applied it everywhere. Whenever I feel overwhelmed mentally I take a deep breath and give myself a moment to sift out the unimportant or the things that can wait. When I am exhausted or ill I take the time to check in with my body and decide if I should train or rest or just reduce the intensity.
Working hard but at a steady pace makes so much more sense than working flat out and going nowhere. It is only when you really learn when to stop and listen and give yourself a reassuring talking to to that great things really do happen. Trust me, they are happening to me right now.