It is oh-so-tempting to keep pushing through pain and fatigue to get things done. Whether it means cooking dinner for the family, attending an important event, finishing your hike, or completing a work project. I’ve certainly succumbed to the temptation many times over the years since my fibromyalgia diagnosis in 2003. Now, I do it as infrequently as possible, because I’ve learned the hard way what happens afterward.
A Little Backstory
Sometimes you can’t avoid pushing through, because you are in a serious, sometimes life or death situation, and you simply have no choice.
Like the time back in August of 2003 when I had to rollerblade all the way home from work because of the massive power blackout that hit the northeastern and midwestern United States and the entire province of Ontario. The power outage killed traffic lights, the subway, streetcar traffic, cellular communication, air conditioning, everything.
About 10 million people in Ontario and 45 million people in eight different states were affected, and twelve people died. In Toronto that day, it was a humid 31 degrees Celcius or 88 degrees Fahrenheit, and when the power went out just after 4 p.m. no one in my office at the Ontario Ministry of Finance knew what a shitstorm was brewing. The blackout was considered one of the major causes of Ontario P.C. Premier Ernie Eves losing the provincial election less than two months later to the youthful Liberal Dalton McGuinty.
Triggering a Flare-up
But closer to home the blackout was just the instigation of a major fibro flare-up. I call them my fibro crashes, because they feel like I’ve hit a brick wall. I’d been working with a physiotherapist who specialized in fibromyalgia and was having some success. I was taking my rollerblades to work and over the lunch hour I’d get in a few enjoyable minutes of gentle exercise. It’s probably a good thing I had my blades that hot day in August 2003. Otherwise, I would have had no other option but to walk the 7 kilometres, or just over 4 miles, home.
I rollerbladed home, sweating and slightly anxious about what this exertion was going to do to my fibro. The last kilometre was uphill. By the time I rolled up the sidewalk beside my house and into the yard, I had tears streaming down my face. My muscles were a shaky, useless mass of jello. My then-husband had to help me take off my skates and help me up the stairs where I collapsed into bed.
Talk about pushing through pain and fatigue! I wasn’t able to move much over the next four days. I felt like I had the flu: nauseous, dizzy, radiating pain through my back and down my legs. That day I had no choice.
If I overdo it even a little bit I will either suffer an injury or experience more pain, stiffness and debilitating fatigue for days. Or weeks. There was the recent experience where I was feeling really good. I wanted to lift our stand-up paddleboards up over the lifelines of our sailboat and put them in the water. I did it and went for a short paddle afterward. But later that day the inside of my right forearm swelled up to nearly twice the normal size. It was tender to the touch, very hot, and I couldn’t grip anything with that hand. I put the ice pack we keep in the galley freezer on it as soon as I could, and thankfully by the next day it was completely gone. Weird stuff like that happen all the time. Other injuries I have sustained when overdoing it don’t resolve nearly as quickly. Just one of the strange physical reactions my body produces when I go too far.
Bringing on Fatigue
Fatigue caused by overexertion hits me two to three days after the fact. Delayed response to physical or emotional stress is a hallmark of fibromyalgia. The non-fibromyalgic will be tired the day after a big long hike. Those of us with fibromyalgia will be fine the day after but hit hard on days two, three and often beyond. One of the women I interviewed for The Trauma Trigger, the book I’m writing, loves to backpack and hike. She knows that for a least a week afterward she does nothing but sleep and eat to recover. For her, the views and fresh air and sense of accomplishment are all worth it.
Makes Me Mad at Myself
I used to beat myself up pretty good when I overdid it: negative self-talk like “I should have known better”, or “When am I going to learn I can’t DO that?”. I’ve gotten much better at muting my negative self-talk, and the few times it creeps in I’m able to swat those thoughts back into the dark shadows where I hope they die :-).
Learn to listen to your body, and your brain, and make judgments on when you decide to push through pain and fatigue. It’s an ongoing process. I’d love to hear from you on this: how do you decide when you can “go” and when you need to “stop”?