10 Takeaways Chronic Pain Patients Want You to Remember After Pain Awareness Month is Over
Pain Awareness Month
Each year pain advocacy groups gain more traction in their grassroots efforts to shed stigma and raise awareness around chronic pain conditions. Throughout the month of September, you will likely see an influx of content pertaining to the chronic pain population. However, what are the key takeaways from Pain Awareness Month you should keep in mind?
1. Pain is Complex
Pain is a sensory response to illness or injury that can cause suffering. Most people experience acute pain which is often sharp, intense, lasts for less than 3 months, and comes as a sudden response to tissue damage (like a cut or broken bone). Chronic pain on the other hand is pain that persists longer than 6 months, and typically results from an injury or chronic illness.
These descriptions are merely the surface of pain. What is less widely understood is how pain impacts us psychologically, socially and even spiritually. Pain has the capacity to bring us to emotional devastation, leading to depression, anxiety, chronic low self-esteem, isolation, and spiritual disconnection.
2. We all cope with pain in different ways
When I was a kid playing soccer, I remember my coach telling me “pain is just weakness leaving the body!” For some of the players on the team, being reminded of this was enough encouragement to power through our practices without showing any sign of discomfort. It did absolutely nothing for me on the other hand, and instead I would focus on whatever song was stuck in my head until the whistle queued us to relax
The point is, we all find ways to cope with physical pain in different ways. The most common pain management treatment has been opioid therapy which can work well for many. For others, it can become problematic, leading to increased pain sensitivity, digestive issues, and dependence.
Some would like to try alternatives to opioid therapy, but they are afraid of suffering with the pain so this remains the most widely accessible and affordable way to manage it. Those who do try, find proactive ways of preventing / managing pain through diet, good nutritional supplements, exercise, cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness, meditation, and other holistic / non-medication methodologies.
3. We really want to be there with family and friends
Pain takes away a lot of things, one of them being the ability to feel confident in telling someone “I can be there.” Sometimes pain creeps up slowly over the course of a day, week, or month. We try and hold back on canceling plans as we hope and pray that somehow our pain will subside enough for us to follow through. Other times, we may be halfway out the door when a debilitating pain flare-up occurs.
Canceling plans is a painful, and often embarrassing, situation for everyone involved. Friends and family feel the disappointment of being unable to spend time with their loved one, and we feel guilty and ashamed for being unable to honor a commitment. The same holds true for calling out of work. Sometimes we are forced to weigh the decision of calling out of work to practice self-care, or risk worsening the pain for the rest of the week.
4. My life is not some grand conspiracy – I am NOT a victim
Navigating a chronic pain diagnosis can be a long and exhausting journey. Receiving a definitive diagnosis can sometimes take years, and until then, patients are forced to play a cat and mouse game of symptom management. Symptoms come and go without warning, and pain may manifest in new locations throughout the body.
Friends, family and doctors alike will sometimes look at me like I am going out of my way to find symptom combinations that make no sense. Imaging specialists scratch their head wondering why I came in for an MRI when everything seems to be in perfect working order. All of this is nothing compared to the shame I feel when people judge me for taking my prescribed medications.
There is still plenty of stigma attached to chronic pain and chronic illness, so thank you for taking the time to read this! You may also enjoy reading 12 Things Not to Say to Someone With Chronic illness.
5. Please believe me when I tell you how I feel
Not all chronic pain conditions are linked to a physical trauma and some show no physically apparent signs at all. Some chronic illnesses like Lupus, Fibromyalgia, Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis, and Lyme disease are referred to as “invisible illnesses” because they lack observable symptoms. However, anyone living with any one of these illnesses feels the reality of their condition each and every day.
“But you don’t look sick, if you were sick wouldn’t you be at home?”
If that were the case I would be home every day, but like every other adult I need to work, want to maintain a social life, and lead as normal a life as I possibly can, etc.
6. I find distractions not because I’m lazy, but because I need them
If you ask someone living with chronic pain or chronic illness about their condition, you might be surprised to hear how much they know about it. Part of understanding our condition is knowing how to manage our pain. As mentioned before, opioid medications are enough to get the job done but the potential for side effects is high; they may lose their efficacy over time and actually increase pain sensitivity. However, a seasoned chronic pain warrior will have a wide variety of modalities to help address their pain.
Learn more about the variety of holistic and non-pharmacological pain management modalities offered at A Healing Place – The Estates.
After trying everything in our symptom management tool kit, sometimes there is nothing left to do other than put on a comfortable pair of pajamas and find a distraction. Sometimes this comes in the form of binge watching Netflix or listening to music in the bath with a hot cup of tea. Keep in mind that we are merely distracting ourselves from the pain, the pain is not gone. Distracting ourselves keeps us from focusing on the pain as this can lead to additional suffering.
7. Understanding and encouragement goes a long way
The way people show their understanding and encouragement is typically offered as sympathy or empathy.
Sympathy is feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune or feeling sorry for someone. This can be expressed in responses like “you poor thing, gosh I’m so sorry you have to go through that!” We don’t need to be felt sorry for, instead offer encouragement!
Empathy goes beyond sympathy. It’s putting oneself in another’s situation. Empathy invites a connection that sympathy simply can’t. Trying to imagine what it is like to live in the other person’s shoes, imagining the constant debilitating pain that interrupts life. Express your empathy by saying things like:
“That must really be tough, I can only imagine the pain you must be experiencing!”
“I just want to let you know that I am here to support you. Let me know if you aren’t getting your needs met, and I would be happy to help.”
“Although you are in pain, I want you to know what an inspiration you are. Seeing you power through your pain each day is profound to witness.”
8. When I need to vent, I’m not looking for you to fix me
Part of living with chronic pain is learning to put on a smile and pretend that everything is OK, or it will be. This is an exhausting part of our daily routine and can sometimes become physically and emotionally overwhelming.
When I come home and the end of the day and vent about how long the pharmacy line was, or how sitting in traffic for an extra 30 minutes brought me to the brink of tears, I am not looking for solutions! I simply want to be heard; I need to release my frustrations instead of keeping them bottled up.
We know you have the best of intentions, but sometimes an ear that listens and a shoulder to cry on go much farther than an attempt at a quick fix answer.
9. I’m not seeking pain pills, I’m just trying to cope and use what’s available to help with my pain
Many chronic pain sufferers have been personally impacted by the opioid epidemic that took upwards of 72,000 lives in 2017. The federal government’s knee-jerk reaction of restricting opioid medications was enacted to address one part a larger problem, i.e., pill mill pain management practices. Unfortunately for those suffering with chronic pain conditions, opioid medications were the only option made available to them for years, sometimes decades to help manage pain. Now opioid prescriptions are being severely reduced or eliminated entirely, with little else being offered to address the biological and psychological symptoms of pain.
Here at A Healing Place – The Estates, it is our mission to help those affected by these regulatory changes find solutions to more effectively manage their chronic pain. We offer integrated concurrent treatment with sustainable solutions without reliance on problematic opioid medications.
Click here to learn more about treatment options at A Healing Place – The Estates.
10. I am willing to learn how to stop suffering
More than anything, pain patients are looking for ways to help alleviate suffering. In many cases, individuals with a chronic pain diagnosis will be in pain for the rest of their life. Many of the patients entering our program have exhausted every biomedical solution to manage their pain: shots, pills, injections, surgeries and procedures. We help our patients come to the understanding that pain may be inevitable; but suffering with the pain is optional. The paradoxical solution is for pain patients to make peace with their pain – we need to make pain our friend, not an adversary.
A Healing Place – The Estates is a triple diagnosis treatment facility located in Camarillo, serving those with chronic pain, addictive behaviors, and psychological conditions (including trauma & PTSD).
Offering Hope and Healing
Our mission is to help Ventura County Residents find resources to manage their pain and suffering – even if it’s not with our program.
We offer free assessments and referrals to help those within our community find new and sustainable solutions for chronic pain management.
Intensive Outpatient and Primary Residential treatment options available.
Call today to speak with a compassionate staff member at 844-388-4100.