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The Hard Words to Hear When You Live With Chronic Pain

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I choose to believe that people mean well when they offer their opinions and advice. But even well-meaning people can cross boundaries and say words that should be kept to themselves when talking to people who are struggling with chronic physical pain. Here are some examples of things that have been said to me, or as I like to call them, the “hard words to hear.”

1) “At least you don’t have cancer.” True, I don’t. You can’t compare two totally different medical conditions.

2) “You don’t look like you’re in pain.” In the words of Chuck Swindoll, “You can choose to be a drag and a burden, or an inspiration and an encouragement.”

3) “It can’t be that bad.” Actually, most days it’s worse than bad.

4) “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” He gives me more than I can handle all the time.

5) “You’re not getting addicted to opioids, are you?” As an RN, I’m careful about the medication I take. I have weaned myself off opioids four times to take a “drug holiday.” I don’t like being made to feel guilty for needing pain medication.

6) “There are people that are worse off than you are.” Yes, there are. Thank you for the reminder.

7) “You should go to a different doctor.” I’m married to a doctor. I have seen several doctors. There aren’t many who treat reflex sympathetic dystrophy or complex regional pain syndrome (RSD/CRPS).

8) “You should try essential oils.” I actually have. How exactly do essential oils help nerve pain?

9) “You need to get out and exercise.” True. It’s hard to exercise when you feel like you’re on the verge of getting the flu all the time.

10) “You’re not the only person with pain issues.” True. But I prefer to be treated as an individual.

11) “You should try hypnosis.” I don’t want to.

12) “You need to go to a counselor.” I tried a counselor or two. There aren’t many counselors who know how to help people with chronic pain.

13) “You need to stop thinking about yourself all the time.” Oh, how I wish I could — if only pain weren’t my constant companion. I’m heavily involved in my church and in the lives of women as a mentor. I’m giving it my best shot.

There are many “you need and you should” statements. They are the hardest of all. “Have you considered” would be better received. Even “have you thought to” would be more helpful.

I find I tend to be more sensitive now that I live with chronic nerve pain. I get edgy and weepy at a moments notice for no apparent reason. I once had a high pain threshold. Those days are long gone. I calculate every moment of every day, measuring how much energy I’ll have to get necessary things done. So in hopes of helping you to understand people like me, proceed with caution when you feel compelled to share new thoughts or ideas about what you think might be helpful. Chances are they have already been considered. Think twice before you offer advice or your opinion. Life for people like me is already a challenge. And remember, if you’re a part of my life, you are loved and appreciated.

Originally published: April 24, 2018
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