(by Dr. Heather Kuruvilla)
Roughly 100 million Americans deal with chronic pain. The statistics belie an enormous economic and personal cost. Studies indicate that chronic pain remains undertreated, and in many cases, its causes are poorly understood.
There are plenty of resources online designed for chronic pain patients, their family and friends, and their physicians. My goal here is not to review the literature, though I will give you some resources for further reading. As a chronic pain patient, I wanted to summarize my personal experience, along what I have learned from fellow patients in online support groups.
- We often feel misunderstood by our friends, families, and physicians.
- We are at high risk for depression, and often experience physical symptoms, like fatigue. This can lead to social isolation, since there’s only so much our bodies will allow us to do.
- We often do not look sick. We expend a great deal of energy trying to carry out normal functions, like caring for our families and contributing to our employers. In some cases, these functions aren’t even possible anymore, and we are forced to depend on others, not because we want to, but because our bodies just won’t allow us to do what we once did.
- We encourage each other online and in “live” support groups. Interacting with others who are coping with similar challenges gives us the empathy that we may not be able to find from our physicians, family, and friends.
- We are hopeful. We hope for better understanding of our conditions, and ultimately, for a cure. This hope can be a double-edged sword, however, as patients may be vulnerable to scams promising a “quick fix”.
How can we, as fellow humans, support those living with chronic pain in a way that affirms their dignity and worth?
- Be compassionate. No one can truly know what another human being is dealing with.
- Recognize signs of depression, and encourage chronic pain patients to get professional help, if needed.
- If you know that a chronic pain patient is pursuing a medically risky treatment option, such as long-term fasting, a radical diet, or other behavior that appears to be unsafe, encourage them to check in with their healthcare provider.
- Be a friend. Positive relationships help affirm meaning and purpose.
For additional information, these resources are a great place to start:
The American Chronic Pain Association