5 Important Ways to Support a Loved One with Chronic Pain

5 Important Ways to Support a Loved One with Chronic Pain

Living with chronic pain is like managing a full-time job every second of your life, and there are a few ways you can really help the chronic pain sufferers in your community.

Think back to the worst case of the flu you ever had. Your head and body ached, and you probably wished for the Grim Reaper to come and take you more than once. Now, imagine feeling that way all day, every day. On some days, you feel slightly better than others, but you’re never entirely well.

That’s what life is like for me and the billions of others with chronic pain. Living with a disabling condition is akin to managing a full-time job — only you’re on call 24/7, 365 days per year. It’s exhausting, and we could use all the support we can get. If you love someone with such a disorder, here are a few ways to show them you care.

1. Ask What We Need

Living with a chronic condition makes you feel like the biggest whiner in the world at times. You have to become an advocate to get the health care you need, particularly if you’re female. If you remain in the workforce, you have to maintain a positive image while asking for reasonable accommodations. It makes you feel as if you’re continually asking others for special favors — which doesn’t benefit your self-esteem.

Plus, outside pressures can create unnecessary stress. Everyone from health experts to your best friend’s grandmother has a favorite miracle remedy, and they take offense if it doesn’t work for you. Few people want to sound like a Negative Nancy, even when they’re miserable. Trying to constantly stay positive when I’m dying inside can make me feel like a failure. I also often feel like a liar — how many times can you say, “Everything’s going great,” before the veneer begins to crack?

The number one thing you can do to support individuals like me is to ask what we need. Instead of saying, “This herb/supplement/exercise regimen is all you need to feel better,” ask, “have you ever tried X, and did it work for you?” Trust me — we’re all looking for a cure. If we haven’t tried your folk remedy, we will, and if we have, we’ll appreciate you asking more than insisting something we’ve already tried just has to work.

Also, keep in mind our “spoon supply” may run considerably lower than yours. If you’re heading to the store, ask if we need anything — we might lack the energy to go ourselves.

2. Listen Without Interruption

Others often silence the voices of the disabled and suffering because they prefer to focus on more positive topics. Honestly, if we could step outside our bodies and worry about something other than our health, we would.

Finding people to relate to and talk with has been shown to help ease the mental burden of living with chronic pain. So when we need to vent, please allow us to speak our experience — it really does mean the world to us when you’re willing to just hear our stories.

3. Accompany Us to Doctor’s Visits

Did you know that 5 billion people worldwide suffer from chronic pain? That’s nearly a fifth of the world’s population walking around, sometimes looking fine on the outside, but feeling horrid on the inside. Think about that. If you work with a team of 20 folks, it’s likely that at least four of them are fighting their own chronic pain battle.

Despite how many patients are struggling with some kind of chronic pain disorder, doctors often spend the same five minutes with chronic pain patients as they do with healthy folks in for an annual checkup. No wonder it takes eight years on average to receive a diagnosis of endometriosis — a condition 10% of women have. For people like me with less-understood conditions, the journey can take even longer.

Go with your loved one to their doctor’s visit. In their rush to remember everything in the allotted time, they could omit crucial details that you know you see them experiencing — especially if a flare hits.

4. Bite Your Tongue

Hey, I get it. I know that living with someone like me can prove exhausting and exasperating. Sometimes you may think, “All you do is complain.” Other days, you may throw up your hands at attempts to bring us out of a funk.

Throughout history, individuals have uttered words they wish they could redact once spoken. You lose your cool sometimes, but try to direct your anger at our conditions, not our failings. We know we’re not pulling our full weight around the house or acting like Miss Mary Sunshine every day. We feel terrible enough about it already — please don’t rub it in. Obviously we want to hear your concerns too, but if you can’t say anything kind, walking away is superior to saying something hurtful.

5. Love Unconditionally

I spend significant time feeling unlovable, and I know many of my friends experience the same emotions. Many with chronic pain struggle to support themselves financially, which can significantly impact both their self-esteem and their life expectancy. Socioeconomic factors are the most reliable predictors of disease, and many people build their sense of self-worth around what they do.

Unfortunately, few employers recognize the impact pain has on their staff, and folks on disability may lose a sense of purpose.

Remind the person you love that their worth does not depend on their ability to earn an income or perform any other task. We shouldn’t demand anyone to push themselves beyond their physical limits to recognize their humanity. Tell them every day that being themselves is enough — truly, we can’t hear that message too often!

Showing Your Loved One That You Care

Living with someone who has chronic pain can prove frustrating in many ways. However, if you genuinely care, you can show us compassion by adopting a few careful strategies like the ones above. We appreciate your efforts, and they do make a huge difference in our lives.