It’s hard to describe what it’s like to experience pain all the time. Usually there are varying degrees of pain on any given day – or hour – but there’s never a pain-free day. Thing is, an acute bout of pain is just that… a broken bone will heal, but chronic pain is on a whole different level that lends itself to all sorts of various issues for both the person experiencing the pain as well as their loved ones. Those with chronic pain usually feel misunderstood and alone. We hear judgmental comments on why we’re not out of the home working or why we’ve turned down social invitations, why we aren’t exercising (because as those folks say, exercising would be the *best* thing for us) and the list is endless on judgmental remarks. And I’m sure many of those people mean well, but again, the issue of chronic pain is generally misunderstood. Thing is, if folks could walk a mile in our shoes, they might have an inkling on what it would be like struggling to get through each day.
Let’s start at the beginning. People with pain issues have difficulty sleeping. If they’re fortunate enough to fall asleep in the first place (which is only if the pain is on the lower side of the scale – forget sleeping at all if the pain is too intense) most times they’ll wake up after an hour or two in terrible pain, then it becomes a nonstop cycle of tossing and turning which only exacerbates things. It’s a catch -22 however, because lying in one position is just as bad as moving around… every night is a battle trying to get more than a couple of hours sleep. What does this mean? It means every morning, that person is already starting their day behind the eight-ball. They’re working on little or no sleep, night after night. Week after week. Year after year.
Now we move on to daytime hours. You know how most people start their day with a shower? For a person in pain, just the shower itself can sometimes do them in for the day. Remember, they’re already waking up in pain. Standing in one spot for more than a minute can cause further pain. Makeup after a shower? Forget it… that’s reserved for rare occasions because bending forward to put the makeup on can wreak havoc with pain. You have to choose what tasks need accomplishing on any given day, which means planning ahead. Let’s say you have to go grocery shopping. You’d be wise to forego the shower or you’ll never get to the store, to say nothing of needing to go the store at a time when there are no lines because you can’t stand in line without agony… then you have to carry the groceries into the house. As you’re putting the groceries away, you’re spying the dirty dishes in the sink from the night before because you were in too much pain to do dishes. So now what do you do? Leave the dishes again because you’re in too much pain from shopping? That only leaves more work the following day, which in turn cuts into your other tasks you can’t do from doing the dishes. How about meals? You have to eat, but by dinnertime your pain level is just too much to spend any time cooking. When was the last time you vaccumed? If you plan on doing that, you might as well knock off a full day or two to recover, and it would be great if you could hire someone to do it but since you can’t work to earn the money for “luxuries”, forget it… vacuuming is up to you. How about garbage and recycling that needs to be lugged outside to the bins or washing your clothes and bending over the dryer, then standing in one place to fold them… or changing the sheets on your bed? Did it snow last night? If today’s a day you have to get out for a chore, how will you manage to clear the snow off the steps and car followed by the chore? You probably aren’t because by the time you’ve cleared off the snow, you’ve sent your pain reeling. At some point you realize it’s been months since you’ve had a haircut because not only does the car ride hurt, but then you’re leaning back for the hair wash, followed by sitting in the chair, which means coming home and having to recover the rest of the day – or sometimes two. This means your regular daily tasks don’t get completed and you have to make them up the following day (remember those dirty dishes?). There are always unexpected occurrences thrown into the mix as well… a toilet overflows and now you have to mop and clean the bathroom floor because there’s no one else who’s going to do it and the last thing you need is to slip and fall. Of course the real biggies are when you have children to care for or perhaps grandchildren you want to spend time with, or maybe elderly parents requiring assistance.
Okay, so now we agree… almost any task gets your pain screaming. Because of this, there’s a sense of alienation from friends and family since there are no reserves leftover for socializing. After awhile, those folks grow tired of asking you to join them only to be turned down. Thank God for understanding family members and friends… they are few and far between, but they’re out there… I sure treasure mine.
Living in constant pain can easily bring on bouts of depression because you can’t participate in things you once did. Perhaps you used to walk and enjoy nature, but now the pain won’t allow it… or maybe you’ve gained some weight because you can’t exercise… all of these factors play a part in resulting depression.
I didn’t bring the subject up wanting pity – no thank you - (and I feel blessed for so many wonderful people and the life I have) but for any of us going through the pain journey, we want people to understand what it’s like, mostly so we’re not judged for being lazy or what have you… when we say no to a dinner invitation, it’s nothing against you but just that we simply can’t do it, when our hair is dirty it’s not because we’re gross slobs and are choosing to be dirty, when our house is a mess, it’s not because we don’t care… this list could go on and on.
I’ve barely scraped the surface on this topic, but I hope I at least gave a bit of food for thought the next time someone tells you they have chronic pain. It’s like any number of things in life… every person struggles with something and we all need to stop being judgmental and work harder at empathy toward others.