To the Loved Ones of a Person Living With Chronic Pain
I’m not sure if chronic pain is isolating in and of itself, but it’s often the lack of understanding that (at least for me) makes me feel alone sometimes. Sometimes the lack of empathy is more unbearable than the pain itself, like you’re living in a state that is so entirely foreign and inconceivable to most people — and that is what makes it alienating.
Good portions of my day are usually spent being guilt-tripped by friends that I haven’t seen them, haven’t FaceTimed them, never call, never text, etc. Before I always felt the need to apologize and explain myself, but most of the time now, I am so sick of constantly having to explain myself. People don’t realize the fear — the fear of being judged, the fear of not being understood, the fear of feeling vulnerable. That fear strengthened my relationships with close friends and loosened my ties with acquaintances.
In my worst pain, all I wanted was to be distracted. I wasn’t capable mentally and physically of contributing to conversations, and constantly explaining to friends and family what my pain is like, the current updates on my health and hearing the (mostly) senseless feedback was unbearable. (Keep in mind, for most of my grueling experience with pain, I had gained weight I am slowly losing, and compared to what I used to look like, I generally feel like I let myself go. My hair and make up is never done. I dress for comfort now mostly.) Sometimes I avoided people entirely because as nice as it is sometimes to be asked how you’re doing, it can also be a pain if you’re being asked 15 times in a row. I already do this with doctors almost every day.
Some people have taken it personally that I haven’t tried to “rekindle” relationships with them. The best response I have to this is that it is nothing personal. I am generally so overwhelmed by all the things I have to do and am so exhausted that old friends unfortunately get passed to the wayside so I can maintain the friendships for the friends who aren’t just “checking in” but calling me every day. To me, the people who loved me at my darkest are the ones I prioritize.
Here are several things I believe need to be known:
In general, I would rather hear about you. Your day, your funny experiences, etc. than talking about my health problems. I generally feel uncomfortable having to explain myself, and for some people, it’s just too damn sad, so at the risk of making it uncomfortable, let’s keep it about you. Or just send me funny things. I always appreciate it. No one understands how boring this gets sometimes. I generally try to “shield” people from how bad my pain really is.
If I cancel plans last minute, it’s never because I don’t feel like coming. I am in my house, doctor’s offices or volunteering for a good percent of my day, so if I can handle it, I always want to go out. Some people are good about this and some obviously aren’t. I’ve just decided I can’t feel bad about making decisions that may affect other people. I’m responsible for myself and need to take accountability for my actions. No one understands my body like I do, so I have to make judgment calls…whether it upsets other people or not.
I try to explain to people that my days sometimes feel like a sh*tty, charged iPhone. I have limits. There is only so much I can do every before my battery dies and everything takes some battery life. Especially those moments when you think you have 10 percent left and all of sudden you’re at 2 percent. Sometimes this becomes an anxious social situation. Situations where I am out with friends and I haven’t driven — I have no control. If I need to go home but can’t, I panic. I avoid these situations as much as possible.
Having a “good day” doesn’t mean I’m better; it just means I’m having a good day. And even if I’m smiling and looking like I’m having a great time, there’s a good chance I’m screaming internally. If I need to leave right at the end of a dinner or cut things off early, again, it has nothing to do with you.
When I say that I can’t be cured or that I’ll never be healthy, I’m not trying to be negative. My life is not CrossFit. I have boundaries and limitations. This is my reality and I’ve come to terms with it. I’ve accepted it. I hope others do, too.
Don’t be offended if I forget things you’ve told me. When my pain is bad, my memory can be extremely foggy and my short-term recall is really bad. Most people refer to it as “fibro fog,” and it’s a real thing. Google it.
I don’t want to be known as “the girl with pain.” I want to be normal and treated like everyone else. I still want to be invited to things. I hate to play the pain card and truly feel happiest when I’m in a “normal” setting.
Just because you see me posting online doesn’t mean I’m feeling better. Sometimes I am in a ton of pain but my choices boil down to sitting and crying or distracting myself.
I always try to be in a good, positive mood, but sometimes when you’re running on no sleep with lots of pain, it compromises your mood. Sometimes I just don’t want to do anything with anyone. Or talk to anyone. I need my alone time.
Small, thoughtful gestures mean the world to me. Actions always speak louder than words.
Dealing with chronic pain drains me every day. People who have known me forever have known me as an extrovert, but that is changing.
Even if I’m having a bad day or a lot of pain, your problems are still valid to me. Never think that because my problems seem more serious that I don’t want to listen to yours. I never purposefully try and make it a competition.
I still struggle with figuring out what I need from my friends and family sometimes. I hope people understand that I never intentionally try to discuss my health for pity, sympathy or attention. I wish people could understand that dealing with this is just a big part of my life, whether I want it to be or not. I try really hard to help people that are dealing with the same problems. I don’t want to be pitied, babied, fawned over or put on a pedestal. And certainly not be to looked down upon or judged.
It’s when people are uncomfortable with me that I become uncomfortable with myself. But I am comfortable with myself, and I own who I am.
Follow this journey on Slightly Distressed Damsel.
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