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5 Questions to Ask Someone Experiencing a Flare-Up of Symptoms

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For anyone who experiences chronic pain, one of the worst aspects of chronic illness is experiencing flare-ups. Flare-ups are an increased, severe onset of symptoms of one’s chronic illness. Flare-ups can also include additional symptoms only experienced during the flare-up stage, and not usually experienced during non-flare-up stages. For instance, people with fibromyalgia often report a feeling like their whole body is on fire during their flare-up stage (pun not intended).

Flare-ups are debilitating. Flare-ups are isolating. Sometimes they seem never-ending. Loved ones of chronic illness warriors often feel helpless during flare-ups because they don’t know what to do. Let’s be honest, there are very few things loved ones can do during a flare-up. With that in mind, here is a short list of very basic, but very important questions friends and family can ask during this hellish stage:

1. “Is there anything I can do?”

The answer to this question not only helps the chronic illness warrior, but the person asking the question. Friends and family feel helpless watching their loved one in pain, so any suggestion for how they can help makes them feel useful and needed. My go-to suggestions are heat packs, cups of tea (in a light mug, sometimes with a straw if I still can’t manage to hold the weight of the mug), and my pillows. I frequently ask my family to help me adjust my pillows and re-heat my heat packs. This makes the chronic illness warrior feel more comfortable (there might not be much to be done to ease the pain), but also helps them relax more in the hopes of falling to sleep. At least in sleep, the pain isn’t as bad. Although, frequently waking up from the pain and experiencing bad dreams or nightmares from the pain are very real examples of the relentless nature of chronic pain.

2. “Have you taken all your medication?”

Even if someone is vigilant about taking their medication, this question is always a good reminder of any over-the-counter medication their doctors have told them they’re able to take in addition to their prescription medication.

3.Can I put a distraction on for you?”

While a distraction certainly doesn’t take the edge of the pain, it does help distract the mind from knowing the body is in pain.

By “distractions,” I’m not talking about amateur theater (although that might prove rather entertaining). I referring to other forms of entertainment such as DVDs or music. Funny movies or even funny YouTube clips are especially distracting from pain. I find I’m the most distracted from the pain when I’m watching something I haven’t seen before.

Lively music is usually better during a flare-up because if music is too slow and soothing, it personally causes me to be more aware of my pain levels. For instance, while meditation music is very calming (I would recommend it for panic attacks), I wouldn’t recommend it when experiencing a particularly bad flare-up of fibromyalgia pain. One of the strange “quirks” of fibromyalgia is noise sensitivity (among other things), so, on the other hand, if music is too upbeat or loud, it increases my pain levels. Popular radio stations are a good place to start for a bit of musical equilibrium.

4. “Can I call someone for you?”

Sometimes it helps to have company. Much like a sick person in hospital, it’s comforting to sometimes just have someone there, even if neither one of you are talking. A friend watching a movie with me at home proves to be a comforting presence. A family member sitting beside me while I’m trying to fall asleep helps reassure me that everything is all right and that I will get through this flare-up. Even someone gently holding my hand as I try to fall asleep helps; it reassures me that it’s safe to fall asleep because someone is there for me.

5. “You know you’ll get through this, don’t you?”

This is one of the most important questions to ask to someone who’s experience a flare-up. (OK, it was originally a statement, but I changed it into a question so I could include it in this list.) There is no specified time period for a flare-up. Asking this question reminds the chronic pain warrior that a flare-up is generally short-lived, whether it’s for a few days, a few weeks or a few months. It reminds them there will be better days. Most importantly, it gives them reason to hope. For without hope, we have nothing.

Follow this journey on The Hope Writings.

Originally published: July 26, 2016
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