I know that my chronic pain isn’t just tough for me; it’s also difficult for the people who care about me.
When you don’t really understand what a person is going through, it can be hard to know what to do or say. It’s kind of like when someone you care about loses someone they love – you just don’t know what to say.
You might be attempted to just avoid me – it’s easier that way. But, I’d like to appeal to the empathic side of you and ask that you seek me out instead. My illness is already very isolating, and I would love your company.
Here are some tips to help you show your support when I’m in pain:
10 WAYS TO SHOW YOUR SUPPORT FOR ME WHEN I’M IN PAIN
Don’t dismiss it when I tell you I’m in pain.
When I tell you I’m in pain, it might make you feel uncomfortable or it might be easy to think that I’m just whining or attention seeking.
The thing is I spend most of my time trying to outwardly appear that I’m not in pain; I want the world to see me and not my illness. I would never use my pain to gain attention – it’s not the type of attention I want.
If I’m admitting to being in pain, then I’m at my limit. I wouldn’t tell you unless I was really struggling and needed some help.
When I confide in you, please acknowledge that I trust you enough to let you in on my private struggle. Treat my admission the same way you would if I had a broken leg and said that I was in pain – you might ask me if I need to rest, or if there was anything you could do to help, or maybe you’d just give me a hug and say you wished there was something you could do to make it better.
Sometimes all it really takes is to hear or see that another person recognizes that I’m doing the best that I can in a difficult situation – even if it doesn’t seem that difficult to an outside observer. Being in pain makes me feel weak because I can’t do all the things that I could before, and every now and then it’s nice to feel like people don’t just think I’m lazy.
Don’t be afraid of my pain.
Don’t be afraid of my pain/illness. I’m not fragile. I won’t break. I might cry sometimes for no apparent reason – but I did that before I had widespread chronic pain, so…
Just remember that I’m still the same friend/family member/colleague that I always was – just a bit different. You know like if I’d gotten my hair cut short only to realize that it was a terrible idea and need to grow it back out. I would need you there by my side listening to me moan about how terrible my hair looks – yikes!! Talk about a struggle.
If you’re ever wondering if you should ask if I could do something for you or if I want to do something with you, and aren’t sure if it would be appropriate, just ask yourself what you would’ve done before I told you that I was in pain.
Or just throw caution to the wind and ask me.
Acknowledge that you know I’m struggling.
Not all the time. Just every now and then. It makes me feel less invisible.
Cut me some slack if I don’t manage to do things like send a birthday card.
If I miss sending you a birthday card, or haven’t viewed your pictures from your trip on Facebook, or a myriad of other things that friends and family do, please don’t think that it’s because you aren’t important to me.
I’m simply not functioning at full-capacity.
I’m overwhelmed and in survival mode.
I carry a significant amount of guilt around regarding the long list of things that I don’t manage to get to every day. The fact is I require a lot of sleep to keep functioning and everything I do takes longer, so I just have less time. In addition, I have to ration my energy to make sure the big things like interacting with my kids and making them dinner get done.
So if you haven’t heard from me for a while or maybe I missed calling you on your birthday – please don’t get angry and write me off – I’ve already lost enough friends because of my condition. Instead, I would love it, if you took the time to call me.
Don’t stop asking me to do things.
Because I WANT to do things with you. I want to do fun and exciting things or just have tea and chat. But sometimes I just can’t.
Sometimes it takes me awhile to commit to things – I have to really think about what everything that is going on to make sure that I can physical and emotionally handle the thing you’ve invited me to do.
Even if I CANCEL, it doesn’t mean I didn’t want to do it.
Please keep inviting me.
Don’t be offended if I ignore your suggestions.
Please understand that if I don’t act on a suggestion you’ve given – even if it’s one that would clearly help me – it’s not because I don’t appreciate the suggestion; I just can’t do it at this moment.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a situation where you needed it to stop or change, but you just intuitively knew that if you changed one little thing everything would come crashing down. Sometimes that’s how I feel. When the pain is really high, but I have a lot of things that I have to do – which happens a lot when you have young children – I go into what I term ‘survival mode,’ and when I’m in survival mode, I’m focused on a clear path to my end goal. I’m so invested that I can’t stop and reconsider another option – I just don’t have the internal resources.
Accept my offers to ‘assist’ you.
If I offer to make you a snack, get you a drink, or in some other way do ‘something’ for you, you’re initial knee-jerk response might be to always decline. You probably have this reaction because you’re worried about causing extra work for me when I’m already struggling – you’re trying to ‘help’ me. And believe me I do appreciate your concern.
BUT declining my offers only makes me feel worse. It makes me feel like I don’t have a purpose – like I’m extraneous. By accepting my offer and understanding that I only offer what I can handle, you essentially validate me.
The other response I often get is: “Whatever is easiest for you.” Again, this reaction stems from a desire to be helpful to me and not make things harder for me – and I get that and appreciate it.
BUT, it actually takes a lot more of a toll on me to have to make decisions about what other people want. It’s actually easier for me if you give me your preference.
If I’m offering, then it’s within my abilities at that moment.
Just keep in mind that YOU ARE IMPORTANT to me and graciously accept my offers – unless, of course you aren’t thirsty or hungry and then please decline.
Help without taking over.
I always appreciate help. I’m not good at asking for it, but boy do I need it. But taking over versus helping me isn’t necessarily a positive thing – for my feelings anyway.
Actually, maybe it’s assistance I need rather than help.
Let me give you a concrete example of what I mean:
HELPING = I’m cleaning up my kitchen, and you come and offer to load the dishwasher.
TAKING OVER = I’m cleaning up my kitchen, and you come and take the cloth from my hand and tell me to sit down.
Both of the above examples probably come from a good place – the desire to make things easier for me. The problem is that I already feel a bit useless and like a burden much of the time, and when people take over and push me to the side, it reinforces that belief for me – even if the offer comes from a gentle and compassionate place.
When offering to help, give specific ways you’d like to help.
Asking for help is hard, really hard. It’s even harder when you already feel like you’re a burden. I don’t want to seem ‘weak,’ so I’m reluctant to ask. I don’t want to put anybody out.
It makes it much easier to accept help when someone gives a concrete way that they could help.
Oftentimes, I’m so overwhelmed that I don’t even know what it is that I need help with, so having a vague offer of help also feels overwhelming – but something concrete, I can grab onto that.
Plus I’ve learned along the way that when people offer to help, they often have an idea in their mind of the particular ways they would like to or be willing to help – which is completely fair. And, when you tell me how it is you can help, I feel like then I know you are comfortable with what you are doing, and it eases my mind – which reduces my stress.
Another piece to helping me is that often it’s my husband that needs the help even more than me because he picks up most of the slack for me – so think of him sometimes too.
Cut me some slack if I’m grumpy.
Please try and not take it personally if I’m ‘short’ with you. It’s not you. It’s me the pain 😉
By all means call me on it, however.
I know that not feeling well isn’t an excuse to be unkind, and we should always be the master of how we treat people. However, when my pain levels are high or I’m particularly overwhelmed, I’m often caught unaware that my patience has been taxed to the limit. If I snap at you, and I don’t immediately correct myself and apologize, you can point it out to me. It provides me feedback that my own system was too taxed to be aware of it. It gives me a chance to step back and regroup.
STILL WANT MORE?
You can read about all the little things my husband does to show support in: When You Love Someone with a Chronic Illness: 10 Reasons my Husband is Amazing!
Britt Renee over on The Mighty shares some more ideas in: 9 Ways to Better Support Someone with a Chronic Illness
For some more concrete things you can do checkout: Friendship and Chronic Illness: 5 Ways to Support a Chronically Ill Friend on Living Grace.
TO SUM IT ALL UP
Chronic pain has done a number on me. It hasn’t changed who I am at my core, but it certainly has changed what I’m capable of achieving – not because I’m any less capable, but because the pain drains my energy and saps my emotional reserves, leaving less fuel for me to be AWESOME.
The last thing that I need is to become more isolated because the people who care about me are afraid of my pain or just don’t know how to show their support for me.
I already feel like I’ve lost so much to the pain, so I’m hoping by sharing a few tips for how to show your support, it will prevent me from feeling like I’ve lost you too.
I’m still me – I still laugh at inappropriate things – I still have dreams that are so farfetched they seem unachievable – I’m still driven to see that things are done right and on time – I’m just a little slower at getting there these days.
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