Through years of working with patients suffering from chronic pain, we’ve seen the complex ways it shapes people’s relationships, stressing friendships and marriages, lowering self-worth and causing feelings of helplessness. We’ve seen the power pain has to make people feel isolated, but they don’t have to be. If you know someone suffering with chronic pain, here are a few things you should know.
When chronic pain patients talk about their pain, they are generally just looking for someone to listen and empathize. They are seeking connection and for someone to understand the hardships of what they’re going through. Chronic pain patients often feel as if they have exhausted all their options and that things may not get better. Implying that they just haven’t tried the right therapy yet may suggest to them that you feel you know their pain better than they do. Pain is also a very individual experience, so what worked for you or your friend may not work for them.
When you have chronic pain, your body is in a near constant state of stress. This can really drain a person’s energy, and that’s without even considering the mental and emotional toll chronic pain takes. Having to constantly worry about things like when pain will flare again, how to minimize it during simple activities and how much medication to take to get through the day without suffering side effects is exhausting. Chronic pain can also make it very difficult for people to get restful sleep if they are able to get to sleep at all.
Many chronic pain conditions are invisible illnesses. Just because people look fine or even appear to be happy does not mean they are not suffering. Many chronic pain patients learn to hide their pain in order to get through the day.
Often, in order to even be diagnosed with a chronic pain condition, people must first see a variety of doctors and may be given several different treatments. They may be pushed from office to office or referred to several specialists before finding the root cause of their pain. All these doctors visits, treatments and medications can be expensive. Not only that, but some chronic pain patients may also suffer loss of income due to their debilitating pain.
Sometimes chronic pain patients need to cancel plans, whether that’s from exhaustion or pain. Sometimes they have trouble picking up their children or doing household tasks. Sometimes physical affection, like a hug or a handshake hurts. While people with chronic pain know this is not their faults, it can still make them feel guilty that they can’t give 100% to all the important people in their lives.
Don’t measure the abilities of people with chronic pain by what they were able to do yesterday or last week. As with other illnesses, there are good days and bad days. Putting pressure on someone to be able to do all the same activities you saw them do on a good day, everyday just adds unneeded stress, which can actually make pain worse.
Between the pain and the fatigue, it can be very hard for pain patients to focus on what is going on around them. This means they may suffer from memory issues and difficulty concentrating.
When participating in activities with friends and loved ones with chronic pain, it’s helpful for you to check in with them and see if they are struggling with the activities or need any help, but don’t ask if they’re feeling better. Chronic pain is just that: chronic. It is often not something that can be conquered the way a cold can. And acting as though it is puts extra pressure on your loved one to pretend they are fine, which adds to their stress and exhaustion.
While this may seem like a lot to remember, the main idea behind it all is just to be empathetic. When interacting with loved ones with chronic pain, try to put yourself in their skin. Understand that they are more than their chronic illnesses, but that pain does have a big impact on their lives. And don’t get too stressed. The fact that you’re trying to understand them will mean a lot and remember, even just doing small tasks can be a tremendous help.