How to be Honest When Assessing Your Limits

assessing your limits

In the struggle of dealing with chronic pain, you are always assessing your limits. What you feel like, how to proceed, your capability of performing a task, and on and on.  An individual with chronic pain knows the consequences of overreaching their limits, and pushing themselves too hard. So how can you be accurate and honest in assessing your limits? Here is a real look at what assessing your limits looks like.

For anyone that was not born with chronic pain, they struggle with the difference between their former abilities and their current ones. Once upon a time you could… (fill in the blank), but now you are so limited by your pain. It can seem like one day you were out experiencing all of the things that you love to do, and the next, you are imprisoned in your own house with no resemblance to your former self. Getting good at assessing your limits is a process. Not everyone possesses an instant innate knowledge of where the edges of their energy and pain tolerance lie. It takes time to try out activities and see how it goes. This is the most challenging time for new chronic pain sufferers. This is when you get angry, frustrated, depressed, and hopeless. You may find yourself thinking thoughts that contain the phrases “I used to be able to…,” “I should be able to…,” “why can’t I…,” “If I can’t even…, then…,” and “Why me?.” This is normal. This is part of the process of learning where your limits lie, and everyone is different. Some may go out on limited or well planned outings, while others never want to leave their house. And, for most of us, the limits change every day, and even throughout the day. The hopelessness and depression of this process can become a real and dangerous thing. There are times that you feel like you are at the bottom of a deep pit, and there is no foreseeable way to ever claw your way back out to normal. It can (and often does) feel very overwhelming. The reality of this process is that we must be honest with ourselves, and give ourselves a break.

How do we get honest with ourselves? First, we need to not filter the info that we receive through the biased filter of what we used to be able to do. Be honest about assessing your limits when you learn them. Get to know what happens when you feel a certain way, and the result of pushing too hard. Get rid of words like “should” and “ought,” and realize that you are in the process of finding your baseline. You do not yet know what you should or ought to be able to do. It is frustrating that you cannot do what you used to, but that is your reality now. You need to relearn where your limits are. Being honest with yourself means that it is not fair to hold yourself to a standard that you are no longer capable of. Learn what level of pain is tolerable for you to push yourself to, and what levels of pain you are not willing to feel.

Another aspect of being honest with yourself is realizing that you are not broken, worthless, and hopeless. There is hope to be found, and you are a valuable asset to humanity. You have something to offer the world, and you are loved. Your job now is to find out what you have to give to the world, and how to achieve it, given your limits. Being honest means not believing the lies that depression and hopelessness try to pass off as truth. Your dreams can still come to pass, but you may need to adjust the timetable of them.

Second, we have to give ourselves a break! Once we learn our limits, we need to be ok with the reality of those limits. This does not happen overnight. It may take several years for you to come to terms with your new limits, and you may never be ok with them. However, if you know what your reality is, then you need to allow yourself to exist in that reality. It doesn’t do anyone any good (especially yourself) to beat yourself up for your shortcomings and failures. That leads down a dark path. To quote AA literature, “Acceptance is the answer to all of my problems today.” Acceptance is not easy and will not come quickly, but it is a goal to work toward. Accepting your limitations without being critical with yourself about what you should be able to do is part of being honest about your reality.

Another part of being honest about your limits is being honest with your loved ones. The family that is around you and supports you needs to know where your limits are. They need to know that you are not capable of doing the same things that you used to be able to do. Cleaning, cooking, and errands may need to be discussed. As you are learning what your capabilities are, and you need to share that with your family. Have the honest conversations, and let them know that you need their support. Honest communication about the changes that need to take place is far better than resentment from both sides. If you are pushing yourself beyond your limits for fear of letting your family down, or if you are letting them pick up the slack without warning, both can lead to resentment. Those honest conversations are necessary and will save your relationships.

This is what I have found to be true about dealing with chronic pain. It is important to arrange your life in a way that allows you to be as happy as possible. Set yourself and your family up for success instead of failure. Setting yourself up for failure can lead to a dark and gloomy existence that many never get out of, for one reason or another. You will fail from time to time, and you will be depressed. That is part of the process, and you have to give yourself a break. Look ahead, and be honest with yourself.