When to listen to your body vs. ignore the pain?

How do you know when to ignore the pain in order to get work done vs. listen to your body and give it a break?

This can be a tricky balance to achieve with chronic pain. We cannot focus on the pain all of the time or we would never be able to do anything; but overdoing things can get really rough too and lead to a flare-up which can take weeks (or sometimes months) to subside. So where is the fine line that we try not to cross?

Featured image: In the Darkest Hour Before Dawn (11X14, oil on canvas)

In a broad sense, I would say my pain is fairly well managed to where I can live with it. I might be slow and creaky, but I am making progress towards my Ph.D. I can usually put in a full day’s work with little breaks throughout the day. I try to meet up with friends on the weekends, or crawl along during coffee breaks at work, so I am making efforts at not losing my social life. I am also trying to get into a twice-a-week aquatic exercise routine to work on my “pissed off” muscles. All of this despite the constant pain. So clearly I am somewhat adept at keeping myself distracted from the pain to some extent.

But how does one ignore the stabbing pain that makes it hard to breathe? How long can one ignore a neck pain that makes it hard to hold up their head? How does one take no notice of the intense shooting pains that feel like stingrays invading their arms and legs? And for how long, before they reach for their pain medication and/or collapse on the bed under a heating blanket? And how bad would it have to be before they take a day off from work or cancel their plans for the day?

I feel like chronic pain is like a child who often throws a tantrum over not wanting to go to school. It is generally a good idea to ignore the child and send them to school anyway. But how to tell when the child is really sick and not just pretending?

My physical therapists have all talked to me about the importance of listening to my body.Β  All to avoid that fine line between working my body and not overworking it so I don’t accidentally cross it.

But in avoiding that line, I sometimes wonder how far am I from it really before I call it quits. Obviously I feel I am edging close to it when I, say, take an early leave from a social visit; my husband can often detect the escalating pain/fatigue in me as well when that happens. But when I am constantly told not to focus on the pain, to ignore it or deal with it, I wonder – am I being a baby? Am I giving my condition more power over me than I should? Or am I being smart for listening to my body? How do I know if this is just a tantrum or if the child is really sick? Am I “catastrophizing” or just experiencing, and responding to, “rational alarm”?

It took me a long time to get to a point where I allowed myself to listen to my body. As a result of slowing down to a pace my body could handle, I think I am a happier, more balanced, person now. So I would hate to go back on my progresses because of my misgivings. But I cannot help but wonder anyhow – am I selling myself short? Am I capable of more than I am putting forth?

Am I really rising (enough) above the pain?



2 thoughts on “When to listen to your body vs. ignore the pain?

  1. A delicate balance to achieve, but one that’s worth working out. I have suffered with Fibromyalgia for decades. It was diagnosed in the late 80’s or early 90’s (I don’t remember exactly now) after many years of traipsing back and forth to the doctor with chronic pain and fatigue. During that time, I raised my five children, held down a voluntary job and tried to live a reasonable life. I did it, but at what cost? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that I suffered a huge mountain of pain, hiding it behind a smile when I could, hiding in the bathroom to lie on the floor and cry with pain and fatigue when I couldn’t, pushing myself beyond what was reasonable. I know that now. As I approach seventy, I am not only older, but wiser too. I pace myself.
    I’ve recognised that ‘should’ is a dangerous word. It pushes you until you break.
    So now – I do a little more than I thought I could, but never as much as I thought I should.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your story. You are an inspiration to us younger folks with chronic pain and fatigue. πŸ™‚ I agree with you that balance is key. What you said about doing a bit more than you think you could, but not as much as you think you should makes a LOT of sense! I guess I am still trying to figure out how much I *could* do, and how much more than that I *can* do without wiping myself out. But it’s a long and difficult road to finding peace, coming out of the workaholic mode! There is always some guilt that I am not doing as much as I should be doing… “should” is a dangerous word indeed! πŸ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

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