Pain, fatigue and mental health

Pain and fatigue make moving unpleasant. However, if you’re dealing with them for the long haul, you can’t just rest. Too much rest costs you strength, flexibility, other kinds of body health and it also has a mental health impact. Pushing against pain and fatigue to be active can undermine your mental health too. There are no easy answers here, and I think some days there aren’t even any right answers available. You can only do the best you can with what you have. Anyone telling you that some fairly simple thing will magically fix you does not understand the nature of the problem.

When dealing with short term problems, ‘listen to your body’ is good advice. However, when the hurting is long term, and all your body wants to do is avoid pain, this doesn’t work. Modest exercise encourages blood flow which can help with healing. Lymph fluids don’t have any pump to circulate them and they need moving about – which means you have to move about. Muscles get weaker with lack of use, and everything gets harder and hurts more and you circle into even smaller spaces with less scope for living. Keeping moving is hard, figuring out how to do it safely is hard, and not everyone who is a professional in this area reliably knows what is safe for whom. Yoga and mindfulness are not actually good for everyone.

The conclusion I’ve come to is that it may be better to take risks with my body and focus on maintaining my mental health. If I can keep my head together, I can manage the pain and fatigue. If I plunge into depression and anxiety, bodily wellness cannot save me. So, when there’s a tension between different needs, I look most at what will best serve my mental health. There are so many days when listening to my body results in a set of contradictory messages. Bits of me need things that other bits of me will find difficult. I trust my head. In practice, my head is the bit of me that keeps the whole show on the road. If I can focus, if I have willpower to deploy, if I can reason well – I can manage everything else that much better.

It works for me – as well as I think anything can. It may or may not work for anyone else. What you’re dealing with is personal, and probably complicated in its own ways. How you navigate has to be personal, and it has to be based on your needs and priorities. Sometimes, no matter how positive you are, how much you focus on healthy life choices, doing all the right things, sometimes bodies still go wrong and hurt and decline to move much. It may mean you don’t entirely know how to manage some aspect of what you’re dealing with. It may also mean there are things that happen that cannot be managed, they’re just how it goes. When focusing on wellness, it is important to remember that there isn’t always a magic combination that will make you perfectly well, and if your body hurts it is not proof that you’ve failed in some way.

For some people, a change in diet or other lifestyle features can solve a problem – if that’s you, great. But I’ve also watched people trying to find magic bullets for problems and not getting anything to work. I’ve seen that turn into strange, faddish diets that rapidly caused more harm than good. I’ve seen it turn into a fear of doing all kinds of things. If trying to be well is narrowing your life options then it may not be working. Not everything is fixable, and learning to make the best of what you’ve got can be the most helpful and most liberating thing.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

9 responses to “Pain, fatigue and mental health

  • Jen Farrant

    Oh God yes! Yes to all of this Nimue, you have to move if you have a chronic illness, for so many reasons. I have spent so long searching for the magic bullet, I know I feel better when I eat by certain rules, but then I started to trigger asthma attacks for every little thing I ate, when I was fine before.So I stopped eating that way.

    The key to getting moving again was little and often, stop when you are still feeling good, do five minutes ultra gentle movement. Stop, regardless of how good you feel. Repeat for seveal times, then increase it to six minutes. etc etc.

    Now I am back swimming decent distances, can do longer walks, but I still listen to my body, and don’t over push myself. But even if I feel utterly crap I still do my gentle yoga, I often feel so much better aftewards. I also go for a gentle walk, it doesn’t have to be fast or far, but walk I must. Yoga and walking each and every day.

    And if I don’t then actually I end up not being able to sleep. The pain gets worse because I’m stiffening up.

    It is a delicate balancing act and I don’t pretend to have it sorted, but I am making progress.

    (formely know as Liminal Luminous)

  • Blackbirds At Night

    I have fibromyalgia and I get this completely, 100%. I don’t want to move but I need to move, and I’m so tired but can’t sleep. Who knows best? Me or my body? The struggle is real. 😑

  • Bookworm

    Yes absolutely, the hardest thing is to learn to control myself not to push to my limit on a good day because I’ll pay for it by being worse than usual for several days or even weeks afterwards, one unexpected side effect has been an increase in self assertion as a self protection measure, I was a people pleaser before and now I literally have to put my own well being first, it took years before I got the hang of it.

  • watchman84

    Yes! Thank you, this is very validating and encouraging. Sometimes I feel like I have to justify why I’m choosing a mental health boosting activity over resting, because it seems reckless or selfish (if I might be too tired to make dinner for my family later, for example). But some days I feel they’ll benefit more from a happy, positive parent and fish fingers than from homemade food from a miserable, distracted cook. It is a balance, and I don’t always get it right.

  • Harry

    Really good post. I learned a lot!

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