Chronic pain – A complex issue that affects everyone differently. The one thing we all have in common? Chronic pain is a chronic pain in the ass to deal with!
Chronic Pain : A Chronic Problem
Pain can affect you physically, socially and psychologically, impacting everything from sleep and mental wellbeing, to work and relationships. Acute pain, such as following a bone break or muscle sprain, is generally short lived, compared to chronic pain, which is ongoing (generally considered a period of over 3 months). For those with the latter, relentless pain can be a constant battle.
Chronic pain can arise for a myriad of reasons, or maybe no specified reason at all. There are various types – all over pain, specific regions, CRPS, migraines, fibromyalgia, joints, muscles, and so on. A person could have one type, or they may be greedy and have several types of pain to contend with.
Treating pain is equally complex. Acceptance and management of ongoing pain is no easy task. For me, I consider it a constant work in progress. Some days I manage it better than others.
A BMJ study review suggested a 43% prevalence of chronic pain in the UK, equating to 28 million people. Meanwhile, other research suggests around 100 million Americans, and 1.5 billion people worldwide, suffer from chronic pain. Chronic pain is a chronic problem.
Pertinent Pain Points
For Chronic Pain Awareness Month 2019, I thought I’d do a brief couple of points on what I’d like more people to be aware of where pain is concerned :
- We don’t choose chronic pain. Chronic pain chooses us.
- Guilt is a common issue for those with chronic pain and chronic illness. We can be our own worst enemies. There should be no guilt, no blame game. It’s not your fault and you manage the best you can. That will always be good enough.
- Medication shaming needs to stop. It took me a long time of struggling with chronic pain that was rapidly getting worse to accept I needed prescription medications. With these, some semblance of life is possible. The ‘opioid epidemic’ is a problem, but this fear mongering is also dangerous. Many people need prescription medications of some description, taken as per professional guidance, and there should be no shame in that.
- Medications may help a little but they don’t usually take away the pain, and in many cases they barely touch the pain. Medications typically just help make managing it a little bit easier.
- Pain can make you irritable, angry, upset, frustrated, and generally an emotional jumble at times. It can be incredibly distracting and energy-sapping. It can be a spiral with mental health, anxiety and depression, with the knock-on effects touching other parts of the sufferer’s life.
- A little patience and consideration can go a long way when dealing with a friend or loved one in pain.
- Chronic pain is, for the most part, an invisible illness/disability. It’s a double-edged problem: heaven forbid if you smile as you’ll be seen as a faker, but putting on that brave face and getting on with life as best we can means we feel isolated, because we don’t necessarily talk about how we’re feeling and nobody can see how much we’re hurting or struggling.
‘Get Well Soon’
- For the majority, there’s no ‘get well soon’ or quick fix for the pain. One doesn’t simply ‘get over’ pain. While attitude and perspective play their own roles, it’s not as easy as ‘mind over matter’. Pain is real, it’s alive, and it’s debilitating.
Nothing Compares 2 U
- There are okay days, awful days, better days and everything in between. Not every day is the same and this means pain is often unpredictable, as is the case with many aspects of chronic illness. Whether moderate or extreme, whether one hour a day or constant, every experience is unique. It’s not a competition and one person’s experience shouldn’t be compared to the next.
- Respect individuality. Everyone has their own pain tolerance level, their own opinions on medication, their own ways of managing pain, and their own unique experience of pain. There should be no comparison nor judgement.
It’s Okay To Not Be Okay
- Those with chronic illness and/or chronic pain can become masters at saying ‘I’m fine’ and trying to hide the problems and how they’re feeling. They may not want to burden others, but holding this burden themselves can be isolating and exhausting. Sometimes it’s good to let it out and to confide in others in some way, but it’s entirely that person’s choice.
- It’s okay to not be okay and to feel rubbish about it and to vent your frustration with pain. There’s absolutely no weakness in seeking help, whether physical or psychological, in fact, it’s quite the opposite.
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What would you like others to know about chronic pain?