This I Believe

Stef - Olympic Valley, California
Entered on June 15, 2007

I believe pacing oneself is an art. How quickly or how slowly I move through the day impacts more than how much I accomplish, it impacts the quality of my experience.

Each day, I do my best to reconcile my natural rhythm with the pace of the world around me. I am stoked if in keeping with the current, I am still tending to my internal pace.

Years ago, I arrived at Duke University and met the demands of an acclimating freshman at a speed so determined that I hardly noticed I was gradually falling ill. Even as my cognitive abilities were slowing to a halt, and my body ached so badly that I was crawling when no one was watching, I ignored the cues to slow down in an effort to stay my pace as part of an over-achieving campus.

I saw myself as an athlete, a diligent student, a social butterfly. For years, I had volunteered with and cared for chronically and terminally ill pediatric patients, and I continued to do so at the University Hospital—I believed I knew what illness really looked like.

Slowly, my training runs became a battle of mind over matter, dragging legs heavy with ache even farther, trying to maintain the authority I thought I had over my body. I could barely read. My speech was fragmented and slurred. From sophomore to senior year, I hadn’t slept more than three hours a night.

I wasn’t keeping up with the rest. And denial can make a girl funky after a while.

I was put on medical leave and quickly went from a student, hitting the ground running, to a convalescing 21 year-old, bed-ridden and subjected to daytime television indefinitely.

Diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and Rheumatoid Arthritis, I was never guaranteed full recovery. Today, I am healthier than ever, running mountain trails, skiing snow, kiteboarding, and reading incessantly.

Without listing all the traditional and alternative healing modalities I tried over the years, I will say that choosing to pace myself made every difference in what worked and what didn’t. I stayed still when the full-body pain was unbearable, and let my mind move instead. I slid down the stairs when I could manage. And on good days, I tagged along with my parents on errands.

The mercurial nature of all three diseases was humbling enough to soften the lines of any blueprint I had drawn out for the direction of my life. As much as I believed I was able to will myself well, I recognized the need to yield some days and simply rest, and not always at my convenience.

Sometimes I need to hustle and be an active agent in how my life unfolds. Sometimes I am best to move with the whims of the day.

Illness and wellness have taught me about healthfully balancing how I expend my energy to create what I envision my life to be, that includes necessary recovery, recreation, and, I believe, a flexible pace.