What you don’t understand about chronic pain
Model of chronic pain, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

What you don’t understand about chronic pain

Reader submission by Lila Marlow

If you’ve ever stubbed your toe, then you’ve experienced pain. But living through pain and living with pain are two very different things. People who suffer from chronic pain live with it every day, every week, every month for years. Can you imagine living with the pain of a stubbed toe for years?Having it disable you in nearly every aspect of your life? Being unable to function in daily activities? This is reality for chronic pain sufferers.

Anyone with chronic pain will tell you that at least one person (usually many) has doubted, minimized, or fully rejected their suffering. Being indisposed due to sickness or pain is only seen as acceptable for a short period of time, and this is especially true if the disability and pain are invisible. Many people find it difficult to sympathize with or accept something they can’t see or personally relate to. “On the outside I look normal and fine but trust me, I’m still in pain,” said one woman suffering from multiple painful illnesses. Chronic pain sufferers have to deal with unfair assumptions constantly. Comments like “you could get better if you wanted to,” or “just suck it up,” or “you should try–” are endless, and there’s always the fear that someone will accuse them of faking it because of laziness or for attention.

Chronic pain is debilitating and robs people of living a normal life. Many long-term sufferers have tried every possible treatment, but chronic pain is often a permanent condition that leaves them feeling hopeless. One long term sufferer commented “believe me, I have done everything in my power to get healthy, but the fact is that I will always have this disease, there is no cure.” Chronic pain is strongly linked to depression, anxiety, opioid dependence, insomnia, low quality of life, and cognitive and memory deficits, as well as increased risk for dementia and decreased ability to focus. In addition to this, those suffering from it often report that it causes strain on their relationships and social lives. According to one study, “half of the patients in pain indicated that their condition had prevented them from attending social or family events.” Some sufferers will even consider suicide, seeing it as the only thing that will end their constant pain.

Even though it’s impossible to fully understand what chronic pain sufferers live through, there are still things that you can do to support them. People will do whatever is necessary to keep the pain from becoming overwhelming. Don’t judge sufferers or question the things they need to do to manage their pain. Over the counter painkillers that work for you aren’t enough to help them. They know what will help them and what won’t better than you, and they’ve learned what it takes for them to function despite the pain. Things that are easy for you might be excruciatingly painful and difficult for them. Simple tasks stop being simple, and something small like grocery shopping can be exhausting when you have chronic pain. Sufferers don’t spend a week in bed, cancel plans, or call in sick because they want to. They do it because the pain is unbearable sometimes. People don’t choose to miss out on life. Respect their limits,
and understand that sometimes there is no ‘getting better’.

Chronic pain can be permanent, and you can’t expect someone suffering from it to recover. By simply offering patience and compassion instead of judgement, doubt, and frustration, you can become a supportive ally to people suffering from chronic pain. And unless you would choose to live with the pain of a stubbed toe for years, don’t question the reality of their suffering.

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