If you’re suffering from chronic pain, you may feel alone. You may look at the people around you—both strangers and friends—and feel that no one truly understands what a struggle each and every day is for you. But it’s important that you don’t give up hope and that you remember that your loved ones—even though they may not understand—care about you and only wish you the best. Here are some of the ways you can build a support group to help you cope with chronic pain.
Family & Friends
It’s essential that family, friends, and colleagues are involved in your treatment and pain management. “Having someone who can decrease the sense of isolation and fear and be another set of listening ears can make all the difference in the world,” says Micke Brown, a long-time nurse specializing in pain management and current Director of Communications with the American Pain Foundation (AFP).
When people see a loved one living with persistent pain, they suffer too. At first they are likely to feel sympathetic and worried about your condition, but as time goes on, the relationship between you and your family may become complicated. You may feel resentful towards them because of their inability to recognize your daily struggle, and they may feel frustrated by their inability to help.
Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, medical director of the Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers and author of Pain Free 1-2-3—A Proven Program for Eliminating Chronic Pain Now, says it helps to “recognize that after hearing about it a few times, most healthy people will not want to be immersed in a day-to-day pain report. As the saying goes ‘you can’t pull somebody out of quicksand by jumping in with them.’ ”
Family should stay involved in the patient’s life by actively participating in his or her healthcare and should simultaneously work to help keep the patient involved in the family’s affairs. Communication is the key. Both the patient and family should acknowledge any negative feelings before they fester and should feel like they are able to talk about anything.
Primary Care Doctor
When dealing with a long-term condition such as chronic pain, it is essential to build a positive relationship with your primary care provider. While he or she may not be able to attend to all your needs, your primary care provider will be one of the best advocates for your care.
Chances are that you will need to see one or more pain specialists during the course of your treatment. Dr. Teitelboum suggests seeking out a specialist familiar with chronic pain who is knowledgeable in using a mix of standard and holistic therapies.
Here are some questions that the National Pain Foundation recommends asking a specialist during a first session:
- How many cases of my type of pain condition have you treated?
- What are your special qualifications to treat my pain condition?
- Have you participated in any special training about pain management techniques?
- What is your philosophy of management of my pain condition in terms of medications and alternative therapies?
- What types of medications do you usually prescribe?
- What types of non-medication therapies do you use?
- Where do you refer patients who need additional treatment?
- Is your clinic listed with any professional societies?
- Are you or someone in the clinic available 24 hours a day if I need help?
Mental Health Professional
Many people living with pain also suffer from feelings of stress, anxiety, and/or depression. If you think you may be depressed, seek out professional help from a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other mental health professional.
You may find it helpful to try complementary therapies, such as:
- spinal manipulation
- guided imagery
- herbal supplements
- electrical stimulation
Before you undergo any complementary therapy, discuss it with your primary care provider or pain management specialist and make sure your alternative therapist is properly qualified and/or accredited.
For many, there is no better support than that of someone who is also suffering from chronic pain. One of the best ways to connect with others who can empathize with what you’re going through is to get involved in an online community. While there may not be someone in your immediate social environment with a similar condition, you can find people online with whom you can share stories with, trade advice, and build relationships. The AFP, for example, has an active community called PainAid that includes message boards, chat rooms, and venues for question-and-answers with licensed healthcare providers.