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The Fine Balance of Learning How to Share Your Pain With Your Support System

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Sometimes living in the shell of chronic pain or a condition is lonely. Particularly at night. I often describe the experience of an invisible illness as isolating. Many times when someone sees a mobility aid or an artificial limb they understand what they are dealing with or are comforted. But that is not the case for those of us who navigate the world of the invisible pain and illness that will follow us forever.

I am a fortunate individual in that my support network is stellar. I know people from all walks of life that care, and just like everyone else I have a few choice individuals in my network that I allow to see me at my weak moments, when I struggle, when I’m scared, and frankly when the burden gets to be too much. As I am up frequently at night, my closest confidant for a while has been on a similar schedule as mine, and as such has seen me in some rough moments. A new love in my life has moved in and seen the unmasked and unfiltered reality of hurting 24/7. Those people have been there for me, without question, sometimes when they had their own battles to fight. They never abandoned me. But, it wasn’t until recently that I realized what a heavy toll venting and support takes on your network. I erroneously thought that my friends were so used to how I feel sometimes that it didn’t bother them. I thought they were immune. And particularly, since both are strong male figures, I thought it didn’t impact them. I was wrong.

People who care about you hurt when you hurt.

Even the strongest among us are not immune to suffering.

When someone enters your circle of trust, the care you take for another individual becomes important. Although you may or may not speak to your close friends everyday, we all want the best for those individuals. So, when the daily conversation becomes the reality of how you live, the pain is shared and absorbed by your support network. Sometimes that needs to happen. If you’re having a particularly rough day, a medical procedure, or dealing with a crisis, you need to get that information out, and unload. But when the daily niceties of “how are you” becomes the candid answer of a painful reality, it takes a toll on the people who care about you. It can become an unneeded focus of the relationship, drowning out the sunlight for happier moments that can release you from the day to day.

I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, suggesting that you lie to your friends. I think exactly the opposite is true. One of my closest friends has the unique ability to tell what kind of day I’m having just by how I type my text messages. My significant other can read my face and my breathing. You can’t lie to those people. They know. And they don’t want you to lie to them; they want to help you. But they also feel helpless when they can’t and that hurts them.

What you can do is take a certain amount of acceptance of your “normal.” Those of us that live with chronic pain know that “normal” for us would be daunting for someone who doesn’t know how to handle the daily toll of hurting and the wear and tear it puts on a person. What I am saying is that your friends who are “inner sanctum” already know what your life is like. They know your struggles.  They know what a good day is for you and what a bad day is for you. They know that even a normal day isn’t without pain. They know that you get angry at things you can’t do or independence that you lose. They know, probably as well as you do, what its like to be you. So just like you don’t need constant reminders of how life is limiting you – they don’t need it either. Reliving the struggle each day will overshadow the other things in your relationship, and you will soon find those who support you are as tired as you are. Be honest, but don’t dwell.  Your health should not be the focus of your relationship. It is but one small facet of who you are. Focus on the good, and know they are well aware of how your condition impacts you. It can be the great unsaid in the relationship, leaving room for happier moments.

Your support network is there for your bad moments, as well as your good. But try to make it more good moments than bad. Reliving the daily struggle each moment with them may be what you need for a brief instance, but you’ll find more pleasure in your relationships, and more distraction and happiness in investigating other areas of interest and conversation. They’ll always be there for you, but sometimes even they struggle with how difficult your world can be.

Originally published: September 13, 2016
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