I want to talk a bit about chronic pain this week.
I, personally, have chronic migraines. On top of this, as part of my career as a massage therapist, I have treated and gotten to know myriad people who suffer from some degree of chronic pain. And what I have learned is that, first and foremost, it’s really hard to tell that they’re in pain.
The thing is, when hurting is a regular part of your life, you wind up having to make a choice. Either you spend your life acting miserable, constantly complaining about how you feel and letting it show, or you learn to hide it.
And the problem with the first choice is that most people, no matter how good-natured, no matter how kind-hearted, tend to have only so much patience or listening capacity for that sort of thing. They mean well. They do actually care. But being there for someone does cost emotional energy, and people only have so much of that. I don’t blame them for this, even the deepest well can run dry.
Most of us know this. We know that we do really need to pick and choose how much of our pain we allow others to see and know about. We have to decide, even if the process is entirely subconscious, how much of our pain we are willing to just endure quietly. Is it fair? Perhaps not, but neither is burdening our loved ones to the point of exhaustion. Math isn’t fair. It just is.
Why am I telling you this? Because sometimes, we come up with excuses for why we’re not doing something. We say we’re tired. We say we have other plans. We say something gentle like “Oh, I just don’t feel like going out this weekend”. Because we think that it may be less burdensome then “look, I hurt a whole lot so I don’t want to go out, but I still want you to go out and have fun and not feel bad about me not being there”. Unfortunately, sometimes that means that whomever we’re making our excuses to will sometimes stop asking us to do things. Or they may even think that we’re avoiding them.
We’re not. So, if you know that your friend, family member or romantic partner has chronic pain, do try to keep that in mind. You don’t need to constantly shower them in sympathy, but it’s still important to remember that it really isn’t you, it’s them.
Furthermore, keep this in mind: they may look perfectly fine, they may sound perfectly fine, they may act perfectly fine. That doesn’t mean they’re not hurting. Personally, by the time my own pain has reached the point where you can notice it, it’s actually reached the point of agony, and I know from all those clients I’ve talked to that I’m not alone. If you know we’re in pain, we’re probably in a lot of it.
So just try to be patient, and try to be understanding. We’d rather be spending time with you, trust me.
And, of course, be kind. Always that.