I often refer to myself as a ‘recovering over-doer’.
Through contemplative practice, I realise that tendencies towards excess doing and thinking have been a long held pattern.
Looking back to childhood, I remember gleefully dancing at a family member’s wedding, not stopping until I reached the point of physical sickness and exhaustion. I almost passed out in the toilets after grading for my karate brown belt with two injured knees. Over the past weekend, I laughed with self deprecation as my Mum recounted the time I insisted on taking (and passing) a clarinet exam whilst in a neck brace (and a lot of pain). I was less than 12 years old in each of these cases.
In later life, this pattern of ‘achievement’ saw me through moves to new cities and countries. I got the ‘good grades’ at school, college and university. I ‘went the extra mile’ in each of my office based roles.
In some ways this pattern of achieving, pushing or striving served me. In many other ways, it did not.
When I first began experiencing intense chronic pain from central sensitisation, my ‘inner achiever’ wanted to take charge. My old life was quickly and uncontrollably crumbling around me. I researched and sought advice on ‘all the things’, I could do to make the pain stop. To quickly get back to living at a pace and in a way that I now recognise was unsustainable to my values and authenticity as an individual.
And whilst it may sound (and in many ways was) counterintuitive; this all makes sense – much of my social and cultural conditioning enforced this way of living as an ideal. My nervous system was looking for familiar ways to feel safe and ‘doing something about it’ was my default. My ‘achieving’ tendencies were a coping strategy. I was treating my pain as a ‘problem to be solved’. I was not fully accepting where I was and where I did and did not have control.
This idea of ‘fixing’ was also a means of avoidance. Whilst I was busy doing, thinking, problem solving or analysing, I was not fully feeling. I was pushing difficult emotions down. Not tending to fear, disappointment, sadness and discomfort.
When we avoid or ‘push through’’, feelings do not go away. Metaphorically speaking, we are stuffing items we do not wish to see, into a closet to give the illusion of a tidy room. Whilst this may appear to work for a little while, it is a fallacy. The feelings are still there. If we continue this pattern, the closet will at some point become full and start bursting at the seams. Everything in there needing tending too.
Much of my healing journey has involved processing emotions both old and new. There has been a lot of letting go of that which does not serve me. Be that careers, homes, lifestyles, ways of thinking, being and relating. It is deep work.
It feels like slowing down, resting and feeling my feelings at an embodied level. Befriending myself and extending patience and compassion to my full experience. I have learnt how to work with and support my nervous system. This process has and continues to be deeply transformational for me. Both in reducing pain and increasing energy levels but also in unlocking the richness of what it is I truly want in life. Embracing both the joy and beauty of being and connecting, along with facing the fear and discomfort that arises as a natural part of the human condition. It is both challenging and deeply nourishing. Life is rich.
When learning about the nature of persistent pain and fatigue, I resonated with what Alex Howard calls the ‘achiever pattern’ (please see reference, below)
Studies have shown that the ‘achiever pattern’ is often a common trait amongst individuals experiencing pain and fatigue conditions, alongside chronic stress and burnout. I say this not to pathologize, generalise or oversimplify but more as an invitation to explore what comes up for you here. Chronic pain and fatigue are multi factorial in their roots and this may be one aspect that you do or do not identify with. If it does strike a chord, this may be an area to approach with self inquiry and an attitude of kindness towards yourself. When and how are patterns of ‘over doing’ arising? How is this expressed in your body? What intentions and feelings are below this? How has this historically served you?
If you are looking for a holistic approach in your recovery journey with chronic stress, burnout, persistent pain and/or fatigue conditions please know that there is support and new options available to you. In 1:1 work I facilitate self inquiry through led contemplative practice, coaching questions and practical embodiment techniques. We work with both mental and body based practices to notice current patterns, process experiences and emotions and find new options. This work is powerful. When we work with the body as well as the mind, we don’t just think differently but we FEEL differently.
I currently have availability for new clients from January onwards. Please get in touch if you would like a complimentary/no obligation call to discuss if working together would be a good fit.
The Optimum Health Clinic blog – The Achiever Pattern, accessed on 22/11/22