When Chronic Pain Makes It Difficult to Talk to People

I’m generally an amiable person and I love a good conversation. Before I got sick a few years ago, I was definitely a chatterbox and could speak on almost any topic, ranging from literature to politics. I loved talking and I still do in the best of circumstances. Unfortunately, the “best of circumstances” don’t happen very often.

It’s very hard for someone who does not experience chronic pain or illness to envisage what it’s like to be too exhausted to talk to someone. People often assume that being in physical pain has no bearing on whether or not you can talk to someone on the phone, or online, or in person. A lot of times when I bail out of commitments, it’s as much due to physical pain or an exacerbation as it is because just don’t have the energy to talk.


Unfortunately, this doesn’t just extend to acquaintances or regular friends, but also to family, best friends and significant others. Most perceive my lack of communication to be aloofness or a sign we’re “drifting apart” or I dislike their company. None of that is true in even the slightest. It’s just that when you’ve spent your whole day battling your own body along with trying to be civil to people you can’t avoid, like family, you are too worn down and exhausted emotionally to partake in conversation, no matter how light-hearted.

Sometimes, we don’t even manage that civility if we’re in the grips of a
particularly nasty flare. Many people probably think (or even sometimes say), “But it’s me, how can you find it difficult to talk to me?” or “Don’t worry, we won’t talk about anything you don’t want to, you can just sit there and relax.” You don’t get it. I cannot talk or respond at all. Even the effort of registering your voice or your words is too much for me sometimes. Even keeping track of the conversation can be tough. Even giving the appropriate monosyllabic answers can be too much work. And if I’m not up to it, you will feel even worse believing my lack of patience or apparent lack of interest stems from you. They don’t.

Imagine being awake for two days straight and then dying to close your eyes, but there’s someone next to you trying to make conversation. Can you imagine even stringing together a coherent sentence? Or understand what they’re saying, even if their conversation is “light-hearted” or they’re your closest friends? No. That is how it feels, just replace the sleepiness with fatigue, pain and a gaggle of other symptoms.

So if you’re one of the people who feels slighted by my lack of enthusiasm to talk to you, I assure you my illness makes sure I have a lack of enthusiasm for pretty much everything, not just talking. I’m usually irate and bone-weary and too emotionally and physically wrung-out to force myself to talk to someone if I don’t feel like it. Please respect and understand that without being offended or thinking it has anything to do with you. It’s entirely me. I have so few choices left in my life as my illness has made most of them for me that I’m sure you can understand if I take advantage of the few choices I can still make. Be assured that if I can, I will talk to you and go out with you and do everything a normal person does (albeit with some limitations).

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Thinkstock photo via monkeybusinessimages.

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