Stubbing your toe, cricking your neck, getting cramp. All very unpleasant sensations. Now imagine feeling pain like that most days for hours on end. That’s what I’ve been told having chronic pain is like.
The biggest cause of stigma when it comes to chronic pain is that it’s often invisible. It can be caused by long-standing health problems or recurring internal injuries, but if people can’t see the cause of someone’s pain, then they often have the tendency to deny or ignore it. While chronic pain doesn’t need to be made into a big deal every day for friends who may suffer from it, it’s best if you try to understand what they’re going through.
Friends with chronic pain will really appreciate it if you’re curious about their condition and how it affects their lives. Even if you only have the conversation once, it’ll mean that you understand your friends a lot better, and, even though it’s impossible to feel their pain, your friends will feel a lot less isolated if you understand the extent of what they’re feeling.
After having the discussion about your friend’s chronic pain, ensure they know that you’re there for them if they ever need any help with anything. Depending on what kind of pain they experience, you could offer to help them carry things which may be too heavy for them, do errands which could be strenuous or chores which might tire them out – even if it’s just taking the bins out. Having said that, don’t be pushy when offering to help if your friends are adamant that they don’t want it. People who have chronic pain still want to be independent – they’re literally just ordinary people – so don’t feel bad if you don’t help them with everything; you don’t want to be patronising.
If your friend’s chronic pain is caused by an ongoing condition which needs to be treated, then offering to accompany them to appointments can be a lovely way to lend support, because hospitals and clinics can be daunting. Again, don’t be pushy with this, just show that you’re willing to give your support.
It doesn’t all have to be doom and gloom for people with chronic pain. Sometimes constant pain could make your friends feel that they’re bogged down with a condition which no one else can understand, so trying to plan fun things which they can join in with can help raise their mood. If you’re living with a friend with chronic pain and your house fancies having a night together, then perhaps suggest a shared dinner or a movie night if they’re a bit too sore to go out anywhere. It’s important that your friends don’t feel alienated just because they have chronic pain.
However, the most crucial thing you can do for a friend with chronic pain is to not mention it all the time. Constantly going on about a friend’s condition can sound like you’re pitying them and being condescending, which is the opposite of the impression you want to give. Even if you’re just expressing concern, make sure that supporting your friends always comes in the form of understanding, rather than pity.