Chronic pain has so many challenges, it’s tough to come up with a number but 5 Challenges Of Living In Pain is a topic we thought was relevant to chronic pain patients. An estimated 100 million people in the U.S. are living in pain. Whether it’s from an injury or flares up out of nowhere, every day becomes a new challenge. People living in pain may have a pain level of one on Monday and then a nine on Tuesday, or vice versa. The unpredictable nature of chronic pain offers a particular set of challenges for both the person and their friends and family.
Here are the 5 Challenges Of Living In Pain
1. People cannot see the pain
If someone breaks a leg or has a bandage on their arm, the injury is obvious. Chronic pain is an invisible illness, not always readily apparent. People living in pain may be subject to questioning about their handicap tag when there is no visible illness. They may be told that the pain exists only in their head or that it cannot be that bad. Well-meaning loved ones may tell them to push through it or ignore it so that it goes away.
Far from bringing comfort, this dismissal of a chronic pain sufferer’s reality can be crushing and detrimental to their recovery. The person may curtail their outside activities to avoid comments from strangers, and this isolation can make the pain worse.
- Be as open as you can be about your pain. Some people just don’t understand.
- If you park in a handicapped space with your tag and someone comments, deflect the comment with humor, or simply ignore the comment.
- Strong social circles help those with chronic pain to feel connected, and this connection boosts mood. Surround yourself with positive people, and let them know you appreciate their patience and friendship.
- Assume that “helpful” advice is meant to be loving and truly helpful. Try as much as possible to accept that not everyone will understand. Ultimately, your friends and family want you to feel better.
2. Plans can change at an instant
While being flexible is a wonderful thing, living in pain means that plans made weeks or months in advance can change in an instant. The concert or outing that was eagerly anticipated in February may not be possible by the time the date rolls around in March.
Not only is this limiting and disappointing to the patient, but family members and friends may have a hard time understanding the cancellation. A chronic pain flare-up can make each day a challenge. One day a person may feel fine and ready for action, and the next it may be difficult to swing his or her legs out of bed.
- Try to plan activities during your best time of day. If you wake up every morning feeling very painful but loosen up and feel more manageable as the day goes on, aim for mid-day plans.
- On days you feel great, call your friends and do something. They may not always be available, but this sends the message that just because you have to cancel sometimes doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy their company.
- Use mindful meditation to help work through painful days. This does not negate the fact that you are feeling pain, but it may help you to change your perception of it enough to keep your date or plan alternate activities.
3. Living in pain places a strain on family life
Chronic pain patients do not exist in a vacuum. Often they are surrounded by families that include spouses, partners, or children. It is one thing to be living in pain alone with little effect on people daily and quite another to have small children who are there. Younger children especially may be confused when a parent is suffering from a flare-up. Children will be children, and there will still be temper tantrums and child-like demands to meet. Pain can make anyone irritable, and chronic pain can shorten even the most patient person’s fuse. A flare up in pain may be accompanied by a flare up in temper.
Partners of patients may feel resentful at having to carry the household during flare-ups. Many caregivers also hold full-time jobs, and coming home to a “second shift” or parenting and caregiving can make even the most saintly person short-tempered. Caregivers may also resent the attention to the chronic pain patient and feel undervalued and underappreciated.
- Recognize the role that your caregiver plays, and tell them how much you appreciate what you do.
- When you can, show them your appreciation. On good days, give them the day “off”: take the kids, make some dinner, and let them play hooky.
- Have regular conversations and keep communication open and loving. Know that you and your family are in this together.
- On good days, cultivate a hobby together, both with your partner alone and as a family. Maybe you and your partner enjoy exploring hiking trails, or your family likes museums. Take time to plan for those trips on days when pain is high, then go out and make them happen when you’re feeling better.
4. Living in pain makes it difficult to parent
As noted above, younger children especially have a hard time understanding why Mommy or Daddy can’t play or can’t come volunteer at school. They may not listen when a parent in pain tries to discipline them, or they may say hurtful things. Older kids may be embarrassed or may feel like they need to hide their parent.
The patient may feel guilty for missing the school field trip or being unable to attend every sporting event their child participates in. They may also feel like they don’t have any authority or control in their house, adding to the already helpless feeling chronic pain can sometimes bring.
- Talk to your kids and explain what you are going through in language they understand. Sometimes children will lash out because they are scared.
- When you feel well, make it count. Play with your kids. Cook dinner together, or go for a walk. Show them that even on your worst days you are looking forward to days when you can be with them.
- Don’t over promise or make false reassurances. It is tempting to make promises to your kids, but if you have to break them that diminishes trust. It’s okay to be honest, just as it’s okay to take each day as it comes.
5. Living in pain makes employment difficult
It is hard to hold a nine-to-five job when chronic pain makes it difficult to sit up for longer than ten minutes at a time. Jobs that require either lots of physical activity or lots of sitting can be nearly impossible for a patient, and customer service can be even worse. Putting on a happy face when your whole body is alive with pain and tingling is not sustainable for long periods of time.
- Be open with your employer. Let them know what you are going through and brainstorm ways to balance the good days with the bad.
- Look into telecommuting or work-from-home jobs. Most every office task can be done from home, even attending meetings.
- If you are unable to work for a period of time, try to find ways to keep your skills sharp by taking online classes or networking.
Staying active and involved when you are feeling well and showing your appreciation and love to those who help out when you are not are two strategies to cope with the challenges of living in pain. What other suggestions do you have and what other challenges have you faced?