Loneliness and isolation. Two words that aptly describe the last year or so for many people amidst quarantining and COVID-19 fears. These two words, however, already resonate deeply with those of us who suffer from chronic pain. We frequently experience social isolation and loneliness because we are unable to join activities with our friends. Even when we can participate, it can be hard to find others who understand our struggles and how chronic pain affects our relationships. Loved ones sometimes take on more than is generally expected of them. They fill the roles of listener, comforter, and advisor all while carrying out part of the household management load. It can be frustrating, both for them and us.
Don’t despair, though! There are steps you can take that will not only prevent chronic pain from ruining your relationships, but can help strengthen and nurture them. Read on to find out more.
Communication is Key: Don’t Bottle it Up or be a Debbie Downer
Communication is vital in any relationship, particularly in a marriage. This goes for everyone and not just people who are living with chronic pain. It can be a challenge for anyone to control their tone of voice, word choices, and non-verbal mannerisms on a daily basis in order to clearly express their feelings and avoid unnecessary arguments – especially when their body is hurting. But putting effort into this part of your relationship(s) will pay off handsomely.
With that in mind, try to be balanced. It’s crucial that you express the difficulties and feelings you experience because of the pain you live with every day. Bottling this up isn’t healthy, and it’s also likely your loved ones want to know how you’re feeling because they care about you. Having said that, though, nobody wants to spend all their time with a Debbie Downer who complains non-stop about her ailments. Keep the conversations varied so no one gets burned out.
And when you do need help, don’t be ashamed. Just remember to directly and politely ask for the help that you need rather than expecting it or acting entitled. Passiveness and assumptions will only brew resentment, which can make the pain flare up. So instead of starting with “could/would/did you,” try to use “how would you feel about ___” or “what if you ___.” Opening in these ways invites a healthy discussion about how pain does and does not affect our lives.
Educate Others About Your Condition
It’s imperative that you teach the people in your life about your chronic pain. Since your condition may not be clearly visible to them and others, you need to verbally share what you are going through so they understand. Speak up when you’re feeling pain so they know. If you don’t, it’s very possible that the change in your demeanor from the pain will be misconstrued and taken personally. After all, people can’t read your mind, and it is difficult for them to understand how your condition affects your mood if they have never experienced anything like it before.
To help your loved ones better wrap their heads around how pain influences you, maybe consider asking your significant other or family member(s) to attend medical appointments with you. This will allow them to hear from a professional what you’re up against and so they can better learn how to support you. Again, we’re not going for pity here--just some shared understanding between you and your loved ones.
Be Clear About What You Need
Sometimes it’s easier for someone to offer to handle a chore or run an errand than it is for them to provide emotional support. But there will likely be times when what you need and crave is someone to listen and be emotionally there for you. Given that most people aren’t mind readers, make sure you clarify exactly what your needs are so the people who care for you understand and can try to meet those needs. And if you do need help performing an activity or running an errand, don’t hesitate to voice this as well. Be straightforward about what you need, no matter what it is, so the people who care for you know how to help.
It’s also possible that some people in your life frequently chime in with their two cents about what you should or shouldn’t do. They might say that you should try this medication or that possible remedy, that you should take it easy or venture out more. It’s probably the case that they have your best interests at heart and believe that you’ll benefit if you follow their advice. But not everyone wants to be given advice all the time. So be vocal about whether or not this is the kind of support you need. And if you tell them it isn’t and they persist in sharing their ideas and input anyway, remember: it’s just because they care about you and want to help.
Don't Forget That It's a Two-Way Street
As important as it is for you to clearly ask for what you need, whether it be emotional support or physical help, you should also listen to what your partner/friend/family member has to say too. The people in your life who care for you have their own emotional and physical needs as well. Just as you want your needs to be taken care of by them, don’t forget that they want their needs to be met by you too. Take the time to listen. Doing so and taking care of the people in your life sometimes may even help you forget about your pain or at least diminish it temporarily. Relationships go both ways, and the people who love you carry their own burden in having to watch you live in pain. So don’t forget to tend to their needs as well.
Maintain a Sense of Independence and Fun
Nurturing the main relationships in your life is incredibly important. After all, studies show that maintaining these kinds of relationships drastically improves your chances for a happy and long life. But don’t overlook the importance of also being independent. Going out on your own, even just to a store or perhaps to a movie, will do wonders for your self-worth and happiness. Although your condition might limit you in some ways, there are many places in life where it doesn’t. Choosing to fully live and enjoy those aspects of your life will undoubtedly be quite rewarding. Even if some activities are painful, they might be worth it.
Although it’s important that your friends understand the challenges you deal with, make sure to remind them that you’re still YOU! Tell them that while you greatly appreciate their help and concern, you don’t want to be pitied and that you still want to do all the fun things you’ve always done together. After all, you’re still the same person despite your chronic pain. And help them to understand that the pain can fluctuate - some days are good and some are bad - so it’s best if they can be flexible (e.g., perhaps they can leave invitations open-ended and understand that sometimes you won’t be able to attend a get-together last minute because it’s a bad day) but you still want to be invited! Your chronic pain doesn’t diminish your desire to spend time with them and have a good time.
Living with chronic pain is no walk in the park, and it might require you to carry on despite many obstacles and difficulties. But there are steps you can take to build and maintain relationships that will bring much light, love, and joy into your life, despite the ongoing pain you feel. At Lin, we want to help you move past your pain so that you can experience a full and loving life. Contact us today, and after getting to know you, we’ll pair you with a personal health coach who can implement an effective care plan that will help to tone down your pain.