The most caring act of service is to reach out and check in regularly with your loved one suffering from chronic pain. Let them know that they aren’t forgotten.
Some years ago I noticed a subtle discomfort in my left knee. As a healthy 33-year old who had not experienced any pain prior to this, I was initially certain that it was not a cause for concern. It took a full year of constant pain to realize that I was indeed suffering from chronic pain.
Little did I know that this pain was going to spread throughout my entire body – and change the course of my life forever.
Chronic Pain is considered a “Silent Epidemic” in the United States. A reported 50 million Americans suffer from significant chronic pain. Even though the number of sufferers is high, outside of pain management clinics and narcotic medications there is very little discussion on the subject of providing support and comfort to the patients. The question then becomes: how do we support those suffering from chronic pain?
Despite having a large group of friends and family wanting to help, for the last three years I was not always able to articulate my needs. Now I can. I offer what benefit lies in my own experience.
Here are 5 ways you can support a loved one suffering from chronic pain:
I’ve found that the most difficult thing about chronic pain is not the pain, but rather the isolation that comes as a result of the pain. Often patients are unable to engage in the social activities they once enjoyed. Or they are so embarrassed about their constant pain that they isolate themselves in fear of their condition becoming the focal point of discussion in social settings.
Remember that just because someone hasn’t been responding to invitations or coming to gatherings, this doesn’t mean that they prefer to be isolated. The most caring act of service is to reach out and check in regularly with your loved one suffering from chronic pain. Let them know that they aren’t forgotten. Let them know that you care. If they don’t seem ready for a phone call, try sending flowers, or a care package, or a simple card.
Be a Good Listener
Active listening is an act of healing. There is deep comfort in knowing that someone is there to hold the space and listen without judgement, interference, or unsolicited advice.
Not sure how to be a good listener? Do not interrupt. Do make eye contact. Do offer your full attention by not multitasking. Don’t eagerly wait for your turn to speak. Don’t share your own emotional troubles in that moment. In my own experience, I’ve found it difficult to deal with others crying – it made me feel shut down. Please resist the impulse to offer unsolicited advice no matter how well-intended. Do feel free to ask if your loved one wants primarily to vent or is seeking actual advice.
Mindfulness is critical when interacting with or caring for a patient. Chronic pain impacts so much more than a specific region of the body. Chronic pain causes depression, mood and anxiety disorders, sleep disturbances, and memory problems. It is imperative to be mindful of all these factors when interacting with the patient. Factors like noise, light, crowds, scents, children, and pets can potentially be overwhelming to someone in pain. It is best to approach the patient by asking what feels good and trying to accommodate their preferences. Try to help with comfort care. Offer aromatherapy or a short, easy walk if they are up to it.
Ask How You Can Help
When someone is diagnosed with an illness, be it terminal or chronic, the natural response of friends and family is to offer help. Often that help comes in the form of unsolicited recommendations regarding anything from dietary suggestions to medical advice. Although the gesture might be deeply appreciated by the patient, the sheer volume of suggestions can be extremely overwhelming, leaving the patient with a deep sense of hopelessness. Ask the patient about the kind of specific advice they would like to receive and the limits to what they want to hear. Be mindful of these boundaries. Be respectful of the patient and empower her/him by respecting the choices they make.
Fill Your Cup First!
Caring for someone with chronic pain can be a daunting and exhausting task. Be sure to fill your own cup from time to time. This will enable you to maintain your most vibrant and happy self. Then you will be better able and ready to deliver the joy, humor, and kindness they need.
Anahita Parseghian is a Holistic Health Advocate currently focused on helping people with chronic pain. Following her own long battle with chronic pain and healing herself after three years, Parseghian left her career in venture capital to focus on helping others free themselves from chronic pain. She is now developing the “Compass Protocol,” a holistic approach to pain killer detox and pain management.