Pacing yourself through a week with Axial Spondyloarthritis.

I’m all-or-nothing. If there’s a job to do, I love to face it head on and go hard until it’s done.

Gardening, cooking up a storm, cleaning out my office or doing my tax, I’ve always applied the same principle – just keep going, then fall in a heap, breathing a big sigh of satisfaction at a job well done.

Unfortunately, the ‘all-or-nothing’ approach hasn’t worked so well since I developed Axial Spondyloarthritis. Long hours on my feet, heavy lifting or extended time bent over a desk can be a recipe for disaster for me and result in bouts of inflammation I regret for days or weeks to come.

It’s human nature to do too much when we feel OK, and to want to tackle a job head on. That buzz of being productive is addictive and spurs us on to keep going, forgetting while we’re on the go that we could be in pain later on. Many’s the night I’ve lain in bed wishing I’d stopped sooner or made better choices during my day.
So, as much to remind myself as to share some ideas with you, here are five ways I have learned to break up the tasks in my life and avoid putting unrealistic pressure on my body.

1. Spread a big job over time.

This might mean clearing out the garden shed over a series of weekends, rather than all in one Sunday. Or setting a small list of household chores for each day of the week instead of all at once on a Saturday morning. Vacuuming has always been a job that does me in (and to be honest my husband often spares me this one) but I’ve found that breaking the house up into living zones to vacuum on different days works well.

2. Spread the load over several trips.

I am the original carry-so-many-grocery-bags-that-all-blood-supply-to-your-fingers-is-lost! In the past I saw it as a matter of personal pride to bring ALL the shopping inside in one trip, but I’ve had to rethink this one. Several trips with reasonable loads takes a little bit longer, but if it avoids pain later it’s time well spent. I’ve also learned to split the laundry over two baskets, only half-fill the watering can, and lift fewer plates at a time out of the dishwasher. Does it frustrate me no end? Yes! Is it better than being sore and not sleeping? Definitely.

3. Get up and and move.

I own a small dog who has helped me with this one. Whenever I sit at my computer desk he can’t seem to make up his mind about being inside or out. We’ve considered getting a doggy door fitted, but his indecision has proven quite effective in getting me up from the desk chair and changing position. If you sit at a desk all day be really aware of your posture and try to change position (try setting a timer) or go for a short walk as often as you can; being sedentary is our worst enemy.

4. Exercise in bite-sized chunks.

Even when I’m doing something positive I still have that innate tendency to go too hard and suffer for it later. Listening to wise physios and yoga instructors over time, I have taken on board their advice to not push into pain. I now take the time to build up to a full stretch, or to break up the stretches into a few short sessions over the day instead of one big one that leaves me hurting. And as much as I love to see those numbers on my step-counter go up, I’ve learned to shorten my walks and change my route on those days when I’m feeling inflamed.

5. Respect your need to rest.

It’s so easy to try and keep up with others (or even our younger, healthier selves) but the reality is that AS can be exhausting. Inflammation goes hand in hand with fatigue and simply pushing on through will only make things worse. Be unapologetic about giving yourself the gift of an early bedtime, an afternoon nap or a quiet cup of tea in a comfortable chair when you need it. Small re-charges  can feel like they won’t make a difference but they are often investments in preventing the big crash of a major flare down the track.

Do I get it right all the time? No, but I’m getting better. And like all aspects of living well with this disease, it’s an ongoing process of creating small positive habits which add up to a better big picture over time.