Communication is Key with Chronic Pain and Illness

By Jennifer Martin, PsyD, Columnist

Have you ever felt like the people in your life have no idea what you are going through?  Like they just don’t get it?

Your friends keep asking you to go out with them for a late night, even after you have told them a thousand times you can’t do things like that anymore. 

Your husband doesn’t understand why some nights you just don’t want to be touched. 

Your parents don’t get why you can’t do 10 things per day like you used to.

The truth is, unless it happens to them, your loved ones will never fully understand what you are going through.  And you can’t expect them to.  There are some things you can do however to try and ease some of your frustrations.  In my opinion, communication is key.  And if you are thinking right now, “All I do is communicate and they still don’t get it,” then maybe it is time to try a new tactic.

It is essential to find a way to communicate with your loved ones about your wants and needs. This is so essential because everyone’s wants and needs are different and we as humans are not mind readers. 

Your loved one may think he is helping you when he does the laundry so you don’t have to, but for you that may not be something you want help with.  It may be the one activity you can do without pain and it may help with your sense of purpose. 

Or you may want your very active family to slow down a little because you can’t keep up anymore without pain and exhaustion.  But you haven’t told them yet because you don’t want to change their way of life on account of you.

How are the people in your life supposed to know these things unless you tell them?

Or maybe you have tried to communicate these things and they just don’t get it.  What do you do then?

The first step is to find the right time to communicate.  Over drinks in a loud bar or right before bed when everyone is tired may not be the best time.  Find a time to have a sit-down conversation in a quiet room with your loved ones, whether it is one person at a time or all together.  Think about what you want to say beforehand and write down some notes, so you make sure to talk about everything you want to.

Next, if needed, educate them a little on your condition and how it affects you.  You may be surprised by how little people know about chronic illnesses, even those closest to you.  They may understand the basics about your condition, but not enough to help you in the way you need them to.  They may not understand how dramatically life has changed for you or how much you struggle.

Finally, talk to them about how they can support you.  Tell them what you want from them and what you need from them.  Mention some of the things they are doing that are very helpful and that you would like them to continue and then help them understand what you need them to do differently. 

For example: “It is really nice of you to help me with the laundry but that is something I would like to do on my own.  It gives me a sense of purpose and makes me feel like I am accomplishing something.  Instead, I would really like for you to help more with the dishes.  That is more difficult for me to do and it really hurts.”

It may take more than one conversation for your friends and loved ones to really begin making the changes you would like.  But if you keep gently reminding them what you want and need, it is likely that you will see some changes.

Jennifer Martin, PsyD, is a licensed psychologist in Newport Beach, California who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and ulcerative colitis. In her blog “Your Color Looks Good” Jennifer writes about the psychological aspects of dealing with chronic pain and illness. 

Jennifer is a professional member of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America and has a Facebook page dedicated to providing support and information to people with Crohn’s, Colitis and Digestive Diseases, as well as other types of chronic pain.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.