What do you picture when I mention protecting yourself? Do you think of the gear a baseball catcher wears? Or maybe you imagine yourself using martial arts to break free from an opponent’s Kung Fu grip? The protection we’ll discuss in this article is all about understanding the flares, limitations, and energy resources related to the fibromyalgia body.
Does this sound complicated? It doesn’t have to be.
When I was trying to figure out why my health was spiraling out of control many years ago, I focused on my pain and fatigue. They were too big to ignore. They let me know right away, whether an activity led to a feeling of healing, or increased hurting. For example, it didn’t take much foretelling to recognize that after marching in a two mile 4th of July parade, I’d likely feel like a car accident victim for days afterward. Although I loved the parades and the patriotic tunes, I had to let go of activities that really wiped me out.
I’ve always loved music and theater. I play various instruments, sing, and write plays and skits. Even though these activities were a priority to me, I learned the tough lesson that some could actually feed my soul yet strip me of my energy resources at the same time. I’d been part of choirs, bands, and orchestras nearly my whole life, but when my health was worsening, I had to pinpoint a common denominator to what “worked” for me and what didn’t.
It turned out that for me, it was the timing
I absolutely loved the performances, but the early morning call times? Not so much. It simply wasn’t my best time of day. I played in a handbell choir for many years and we typically had to set up and rehearse very early in the morning before a performance. I noticed that the days that began with a lot of activity (both physical and emotional), really made me loopy for the rest of the day. The same went for evening performances and rehearsals. I’d have a much more difficult time getting out of bed the mornings following late evening activities. Mid-day rehearsals and performances had little or no effect on my pain or fatigue issues. But, in particular, the evening rehearsals – especially on weeknights after fixing dinner, helping with my children’s homework, etc. – just did me in.
What I’d discovered is what I call my Window of Well.
I have a particular time of day, where my energy and pain levels are at their best. If I’m going to do anything “extra,” it’s best to add it in then. It’s not always ideal, but it’s simply a fact. My best functioning time of day is from about 9:00 am to about 6:00 or 7:00 pm. Scheduling anything before or after that, causes me to work against my own natural resources. Sometimes it’s necessary, but it helps when that’s the exception and not the rule.
For me, I get up early each day, but I need extra time to fully wake, move my body, drink water, and feel my brain begin to fire on all cylinders. After dinner at night, I need time extra time to wind down. I have an evening routine that helps me to feel relaxed and ready for a good night’s sleep. After a lot of self-discovery, I’ve recognized that this is what works best for me.
Once I realized that this was best, I had some tough hurdles to conquer.
One of the most difficult health decisions I ever had to make was to quit my evening choirs, concert bands, and board meetings. I felt that I was letting so many people down! And, I felt I was shirking responsibilities. I struggled with this decision for ages.
But, when I finally looked at my circumstance with objectivity and measured the pros and cons, it became pretty clear. I loved the music. It was so important to me. Yet, there was no denying that on the mornings after rehearsals or meetings, I had significantly increased pain and overwhelming fatigue. It took me the whole day (if not more) to recover. When I weighed these facts, it was clear that the evening events had to go.
This was the beginning of me learning to respect my own body’s needs. Even though I’m much healthier now than I was then, I still “protect” my Window of Well. Everyone who knows me knows that I don’t often do activities in the evening. I’m not one to stay out late.
Of course, as with everything in life, there are exceptions. I attend a series of symphony concerts every summer that stretch me way beyond my comfort zone. The outdoor amphitheater venue is difficult to access (lots of walking, standing, and hiking to get to the seats). To top it off, the concerts go very late and I’m typically home after midnight. Every one of those factors – when measured against my own “protect” practice – fails to pass muster.
Yet, I do it anyway.
I love the warm summer evenings listening to the symphony under the stars. I love the great company. I love everything about it. It feeds my soul. So, I jump in with both feet. Oftentimes, I don’t even feel worse for wear on the days following.
(Important note: It’s never helpful to expect
increased pain. You can plan for it and do your best to prevent it, but expecting
it isn’t beneficial.)
So, how do you start your own practice of protecting your Window of Well?
Here are four easy tips:
In order to protect your personal Window of Well, you need to be aware of it in the first place. When do you feel your best? During what hours of the day do you feel the most energy and least pain? When do you feel the most clarity of mind and in the best mood? We’re all different, so remember that we each have our own hours of prime function.
Create a buffer around your Window of Well. Sort through your schedule to see if there are activities that could be moved or re-arranged. Is there a better time of day for you to exercise, run errands, or do something extra? Reserve slower-paced activities for before or after your “best” time of day. Recognize that not everything can fit into the perfect time for you, but it helps to start with the most important things and then see what else fits.
Once you’ve discovered your own Window of Well, it’s time for you to step up to the plate and create your own practices and procedures. Activities that you sign up for are measured against what they give and what they take away. No one can judge what’s best for you, but you. Others may not “get it” but it’s up to you to create your own boundaries.
Oftentimes, we’re our own worst enemies. We compromise our own health needs to placate others. If this tendency sounds like you, then pay particular attention to this step. If you don’t respect your own Window of Well, no one else will either.
Last, it’s time to share your newly found practice with others. Let them know what works best for you. If you feel you need to explain, then go ahead. However, if you expect opposition or possibly even conflict, I hereby give you permission to not give an explanation at all. You can simply say that for health reasons, this is what works best for you. You can state your case, but making them understand why is not your responsibility.
Now that you have the primary steps in place to protect your own Window of Well, what will you tackle first?
Recognizing and protecting your optimum time of day can be a significant help with the common issue of pacing. Tackle difficult or emotionally challenging activities during your peak hours of energy. Refrain from starting projects such as cleaning out your kitchen pantry when you’re winding down for the day.
Learn to assess and recognize your own limitations.
Respecting your own resources doesn’t happen at the snap of your fingers. It takes time, practice, and most of all, patience. Be kind to yourself. Recognize that you can’t always schedule everything in your life to fit perfectly for you. In fact, there is no perfect, so simply do your best.
And, here’s a bonus tip. I’ve mentioned it, but I want to make sure to emphasize this key point. You get to decide when to protect your Window of Well, and when to make an exception
. An exception is NOT a failure. It’s simply a choice.
Years ago, I knew a man who was trying to better understand his wife who was significantly impacted with fibromyalgia. She had a difficult time getting up in the morning and often asked for help getting the kids off to school. They shared in co-op fashion, the chores, responsibilities, and events that typically take place in a busy family.
One thing he didn’t understand was his wife’s hobby. She loved to ride her bicycle. Not the cushy type of bike that you’d use to take a leisurely cruises up and down the beach. Nope, she’d been a cross-country competitor -- the type of grueling ride where you pump the pedals at full speed up and over rough terrain. Just reading that will probably make some of you cringe. All that physical jarring to the body isn’t something you usually think of as beneficial to the fibromyalgia body. Yet, she found it exhilarating.
He once asked me, “If she’s in so much pain every morning that she can’t get the kids off to school, how can she get excited about a Saturday bike race with friends? It makes no sense!”
Well, it makes sense to me.
Her bike ride is my symphony. And my symphony may be your full 12 hours at Disneyland with the grandkids. Whatever. You get the point.
Our desires have a LOT to do with our pain tolerance. If we’re participating in an activity that we want enough, the potential increase of symptoms is worth it. Whether we do feel worse afterward or not, isn’t the point. The important part is that we get to choose what’s most important to us.
That empowered choice can take us a long way toward improved health. Will you begin to protect your own Window of Well? The choice is yours.
Sue Ingebretson (www.RebuildingWellness.com) is an author, speaker, certified holistic health care practitioner and the director of program development for the Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Center at California State University, Fullerton. She is also a Patient Advocate/Fibromyalgia Expert for the Alliance Health website and a Fibromyalgia editor for the ProHealth website community.
Her #1 Amazon best-selling chronic illness book, FibroWHYalgia, details her own journey from chronic illness to chronic wellness. She is also the creator of the FibroFrog™- a therapeutic stress-relieving tool which provides powerful healing benefits with fun and whimsy.
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