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We Need More Understanding and Empathy Around Chronic Pain

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“It’s all in your head!”

“(S)He’s just faking it to get out of (work/school/insert activity here).”

” It can’t be that bad!”

“It must be good to be able to do what you want, when you want.”

“You just need to (exercise, eat this, do that) more/less.”

Millions of people live with chronic pain, but many people don’t understand it.

Chronic Pain

For the past three and a half years, I’ve lived with a constant base level of pain, punctuated by periods of overwhelming and unbearable pain. Over that time, I’ve heard many uninformed opinions and recommendations from strangers, friends and family, and even the professionals who are meant to be helping me. Sometimes I even judge myself, questioning if it really is all in my head. I’ve also heard stories from other people living with chronic pain that make the things I’ve heard sound trivial. Living with chronic pain can affect quality of life. I believe this is because of the dual impact of issues related to finding a pain management regime that actually helps, and the psychological impact of the myths and misperceptions surrounding these conditions that are invisible to those around us.

Managing Chronic Pain

Let’s take a quick look at the pain management regime issues. There are many drugs and treatment options out there that can be helpful, but they don’t necessarily work for everyone. For many with chronic pain, there may be no known cause or cure. This makes it difficult to work out what you should be doing to manage the pain. To top it off, if you do find a drug or treatment option that does help in some way, there might be side effects that make the treatment option not really an option at all.

Myths and Misperceptions

The myths and misperceptions surrounding chronic pain can be extremely detrimental to the mental health of those living with it. The constant disbelief and judgment of others can make you question yourself and the way you’re handling your condition. And for conditions like fibromyalgia, there are still doctors out there who don’t believe in it at all and others who believe it is all in the person’s head. These doctors might send you to a psychologist or do nothing and inform you to “just push through it.” What we need is better understanding and more empathy from ourselves and from others. We need to find a way to raise awareness of the prevalence of these conditions, and to counteract some of the myths and misperceptions. It is my hope that if we can get more people sharing their stories, we can make a difference. There are still many people out there who “just push through it” because they have no support around them, and they may not actually believe it themselves. It is only if we work together to raise awareness and to answer people’s questions that we can change the way people view chronic pain and make people aware of how big a problem it is in today’s society.

What can we do?

As a community, we need to work together to counter the myths and misconceptions with facts and understanding. The chronic illness blogging community do their best to do this and even band together for specific weeks, such as Invisible Illness Awareness Week, from September 26 to October 2, 2016, to try and make their message louder. But it’s important for everyone else to do their part as well. People with invisible illnesses that cause chronic pain need to feel comfortable talking about it with those around them, and to do this, we need to increase public awareness. This is slowly happening, but there is a gap in where the information is being disseminated. At the moment, the younger generations don’t really have any targeted education and awareness-raising on topics like chronic pain. We can change this by helping teachers better understand the topic so that they feel comfortable discussing it in class.

Image via Thinkstock Images

Originally published: October 10, 2016
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