Constant pain can make people feel alone on a deserted island; a support
When you observe someone in a neck brace who is wincing in pain, it can
result in an immediate feeling of sympathy for them – an understanding
that this individual is hurt, as evidenced by the presence of the neck
brace. You need no further “proof” that the injury is “real”
because you see the brace as providing such evidentiary support. However,
there are so many diseases and neurological problems that people face
today – many of which can cause severe, debilitating pain –
even if the “proof” of the condition isn’t apparent
to anyone other than the person who is experiencing it. Research has shown
that people suffering from chronic pain associated with conditions that
may be “invisible” to those in the outside world can further
suffer if they lack a reliable support system. So if you or someone you
care about is dealing with the effects of a chronic pain condition, here
are some essential ways to get or be the necessary support.
Friends and Family
Chronic pain can be isolating. While there are often far more opportunities
for interaction and assistance in the acute phase (initial days or weeks
after a diagnosis or injury), things may be very different months or years
into a chronic pain condition. Ongoing and persistent empathy and compassion
from the closest people to an individual dealing with chronic pain are
crucial. Facing a problematic condition alone is often a scary place to
be, so reliable support from loved ones is necessary to help relieve anxiety
and to encourage the person who is affected. Do you have a loved one who
is suffering from chronic pain, but you aren’t sure how to help
them? Many online resources can be of assistance – including those
developed by the American Academy of Neurology. An important thing to
remember, however, is that merely lending a non-judgemental ear can make
all the difference. Intentionally listening to the struggles of someone
going through a severe illness can help to lessen their fears and anxiety.
You don’t need to have all the right answers or any answers at all.
Just being there can speak volumes. Also, if you are the person who is
in pain and you’re feeling all alone – reach out to your family
and friends. It’s likely that they want to help; they just may not
be sure how to provide it. The more honest you can be about what you need
in terms of support, the better.
In-Person Support Groups
Though well-meaning friends and loved ones are essential parts of the support
“mix” for chronic pain sufferers, sometimes the person amid
an illness can benefit greatly from interaction with people who are going
through the same thing. I’ve noticed over the years that one of
the most beneficial innovations in my pain practice was starting “group”
pain management sessions – 10-15 patients meeting for appointments
every 1-2 months. The simple realization that others have and are enduring
similar conditions is of benefit. The ability to share helpful tips and
learn of ways to mitigate pain, cope with pain, and/or function in spite
of pain are even more valuable when they come from another chronic pain
sufferer. If you have been diagnosed with a specific condition or disease,
talk to your doctor about finding local support groups moderated by health
care agencies dedicated to that disease. Support groups can be wonderful
communities full of understanding and acceptance.
Online Support Communities
Though in-person support groups can provide valuable peer-to-peer interaction,
not everyone is able or completely comfortable seeking support in this
way. The great news is, now more than ever, some online groups and forums
can virtually connect chronic pain sufferers with people who are facing
the same challenges. However, especially in the case of online groups,
you’ll want to make sure that the information shared is medically
accurate and safe. If one type of treatment or pain relief option worked
for one person, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for,
or is safe, for you. Make sure you run everything by your doctor –
yes, even if it’s something “over-the-counter” and also
when it seems otherwise safe to you.
Pain Psychology and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
One of the most valuable interventions for chronic pain sufferers is consultation
and brief periods of therpay with a psychologist trained and expert in
how chronic pain, mood, and behavior are related. The concept here is
NOT that the pain is “in your head”. The concept is that there
are ways to take advantage of the ascending and descending pain pathways
to reduce or eliminate pain that involve more than just procedures and
medications. It turns out, our brains have powerful mechanisms for reducing
pain. Attention, expectation, mindset, insight and other contributors
can be powerful allies (or powerful enemies) in our individual wars against
pain. A well-trained pain psychologist can help educate chronic pain sufferers
on a variety of strategies that empower them to reduce suffering and improve
function without total dependence on pills and procedures.
Self-care is a term that’s been thrown around a lot in recent years.
However, it matters. Especially if you are dealing with a condition that
causes chronic pain. Do take care of yourself. Meditate, do yoga, take
walks outside if you can. Focus on an inner dialogue with yourself that
is full of acceptance and compassion. It’s one thing to need understanding
and empathy from others, but the thoughts and feelings you have about
yourself must be positive as well. When you feel yourself sliding into
negative thoughts, deliberately use some phrases that take you in the
opposite direction. It might be tough at first, but with enough practice,
it will be worth the effort.
In a world that robs millions of people of living daily, pain-free life,
it’s important to remember that compassion and empathy can make
a massive difference in the quality of life for someone who is living
in pain. A day without pain is something that many of us take for granted.
However, after caring for thousands of patients in the throes of near
constant pain, I can tell you that it’s a challenging way to live.
Remind yourself to behave compassionately if you know someone who is in
pain, even if you can’t “see” their injury. Moreover,
if you’re the one in pain – don’t go it alone. Seek
support. It matters.