Many people don’t have to worry about things like chronic pain and illness, especially at my age. I’m in my early 20s with a child I’m thankful for and a partner I’m thankful for, but every day is a struggle for us. We’ve been in love since we were 17-year-old punks getting in trouble with our whole lives ahead of us. I always thought any bumps along the way would be because of my bipolar disorder. But I’ve been proven wrong.
Migraines. Not a headache. Migraines. The love of my life spends every day in pain. It wasn’t always so bad. He would get two a week. But then it turned into two to five migraines a day. He couldn’t get out of bed due to pain and related depression. He couldn’t enjoy the day with us. He couldn’t eat. He couldn’t sleep. We weren’t living the same lives.
I’d spend my days taking care of a baby and a patient. Then the painkillers and muscle relaxers came into play. I didn’t realize how much he abused the pills to escape the pain, along with excessive alcohol, until it was too late. When I found him unresponsive one week before our daughters 4th birthday, my world shattered. 50 painkillers, 50 muscle relaxers and three mixed drinks. That was my glimpse into the mindset of someone at his breaking point with pain and depression. I thought I had lost him forever. What if I hadn’t found him? Thankfully he was OK, and things are night and day compared to that day.
Now we have better communication with pain levels and medication. We have a pain scale and he has quit taking painkillers. We’ve been finding other ways to manage his chronic pain.
Being the partner of a chronic pain sufferer may leave you feeling hopeless, but there are things you can do to ease those feelings. Even something that seems small and insignificant to you can mean the world to your partner. The absolutely most important way to support you partner is to try to understand their pain. I believe these are some of the best ways to do that:
1. Learn about their medication.
This includes knowing the generic and brand names for each medication. Research the side effects and potential drug interactions. Talk to doctors and get familiar with each one.
2. Be open about the pain.
We have a 1-10 scale for pain that really helps me understand just how badly he hurts on any given day. Being open about the pain helps with being open about the medicine. This openness creates a communication to figure out the best course of action for the day because chronic pain can be a day-to-day way of life. There are days when his pain is at a 3, so he wants a relaxing shower and a head massage. Then there are days when the pain is at a 7 almost 8, and these days call for all hands on deck. We go through massages, caffeine, showers, and a heat compress, and if we cannot figure out a way to ease the pain otherwise, we look into pain medication or a doctor’s visit.
3. Do any and all research about the pain and treatments.
This helps me not feel as helpless because I understand the medical reasoning behind his pain. I can also bring ideas to the table that perhaps he hasn’t thought of yet.
4. Don’t forget about physical contact and laughter.
Physical contact can be a little tricky. Migraines and any other chronic pain can cause skin sensitivity or anxiety about being touched, but humans do need skin-to-skin contact; it can make us feel happier. I find myself being a human pillow a few times a day between my partner and daughter. Trying to keep up everyone’s spirits is also something I find useful. Even on days where the pain is an 8 for my partner, laughter helps us keep our heads above water. When we watch TV, it’s a comedy; when we play games, they’re silly; when we spend time together, we’re always trying to make each other giggle. Laughter truly is the best medicine.
5. Accept things as they are.
This is perhaps one of the hardest things for a supporter to do. I know it was for me. I’m a natural nurturer. So when someone is sick, hungry, sad or hurt, I feel this drive to take care of them. But there are a lot of times when I can’t help my partner’s pain. I can’t change or fix it either. Chronic pain can weigh on a relationship and the mind. Our life is day-to-day, and planning things and invitations are always a maybe. But that’s OK.
6. As a supporter, find a good support system for yourself.
Just because you’re not the one in pain doesn’t mean you’re not hurting. By this I mean, exhausting all your efforts supporting your partner leaves you feeling just that: exhausted, especially emotionally. I couldn’t help feeling alone but also felt guilt for feeling that way and even felt guilt for being well or sick.
I found strength I didn’t know I had and actually no one else knew I had until they saw my daily struggle keeping my family afloat emotionally. It wasn’t until I opened up to family and friend that I realized this strength and just how exhausted I was. I know now that my feelings matter and I shouldn’t feel guilty, especially about being well. He didn’t blame me for him being in pain, and it made him happy knowing I wasn’t in pain or even if I was in pain. It’s phenomenal what having a support system for yourself can do.
[Editor’s note: This advice is based on the opinion of one person and should not be taken as medical advice from a professional. Please consult a doctor for any health questions you might have.]