One of the biggest day-to-day frustrations people suffering from chronic pain endure is feeling that others misunderstand or underestimate what they’re going through, especially because unlike a fever or a rash, chronic pain is an “invisible” illness. What patients often want most is for their friends and family to be empathetic about their condition, and to avoid behaviors that are patronizing or hurtful. Of course, if you’ve never suffered from chronic pain, it can be hard to know what and what not to do to be a supportive companion. Here are a few tips that can help you be there for a loved one suffering from chronic pain.
Take Their Word for It
Chronic pain can be inconsistent and may be subject to specific triggers, so it can be hard to know when a person with chronic pain might experience a flare-up. They may need to cancel plans at the last minute, or realize once they’ve started an activity that they aren’t truly up for it. As a friend or relative, it’s important that you be patient and comforting—it’s not as if they would rather be in pain than keeping your plans, and they are probably as disappointed as you are (if not more). Chronic pain is invisible and unpredictable, and for sufferers, there’s the constant fear that other people may doubt its authenticity. Making the individual feel doubted in their credibility can be very hurtful and damaging, so it’s important to be clear that you trust them and want to do what’s best for their physical wellbeing.
Be Helpful When You Can…
For a person with chronic pain, there will be some days when even the smallest household tasks can feel overwhelming. One of the best ways you can be helpful is to simply be available when needed. Let them know they can call you for help with little errands like picking up the kids from school or basic chores like doing the laundry. It’s okay to set boundaries—you have every right to be unavailable on certain days or at certain times, or there might be some tasks that you feel should not be your responsibility. One thing to consider is that because the ebb and flow of chronic pain can be unpredictable, the sufferer may not always know in advance when they might need your help. One idea: Consider setting a particular day out of the week (or every couple of weeks) when you can come over and help out with whatever needs to be done. This can be an especially good strategy with people who are in pain but don’t want to feel dependent and like they are constantly asking for help—you’re already there, so just ask what you can do.
…But Know When to Step Back
Chronic pain that is untreated can often lead to disability, with sufferers unable to continue doing various tasks on their own. For others though, pain may occur as periodic flare-ups—sometimes it’s debilitating, but at other times, they may be okay. It’s a good idea to check in (this can be as simple as asking, “How are you doing today?”) rather than always assuming that help is needed. While it’s kind to pitch in, if the pain sufferer begins to feel that you don’t think they can be independent at all or if your attitude comes off as patronizing, your relationship may become strained.
If you are helping to care for a loved one with chronic pain, it’s important to have an emergency preparedness plan. Make sure you know that basic information like the individual’s doctor’s name, location, and phone number, as well as a list of any prescription or non-prescription medications they’re taking, is available. (It doesn’t have to be public; just something you can grab at a moment’s notice—for example, a designated notebook kept in a kitchen drawer.)
If you or someone you know is suffering from chronic pain, it’s important to know that there are treatment options available. With proper diagnosis and intervention, people can get back their lives and not have to live with fears of disability and dependence. To learn more about the treatment options offered at the Spine Institute Northwest, call 888-712-0318 and speak with one of our patient advocates.