Michele Gargan, PsyD, and director of support and education for the U.S. Pain Foundation recently addressed a question in Pain Pathways posed by a reader…. When I try to describe now much I hurt and why I can’t do things, they think I’m exaggerating. How can I explain myself to them without sounding cranky or hysterical?
Dr Gargan – Often, one of the most difficult challenges of living with pain is that even with the support of others, your journey may be a solitary one. This is an important concept. When you accept the possibility that your family may never really “get it,” you can stop expecting specific actions from them because they understand and instead focus on helping them change their behavior.
The first step is to observe your own behavior. Be aware that your actions, not your words, communicate how you feel. A client said recently that she didn’t want to tell her husband how little she was able to accomplish during the day because she didn’t want to upset him. So she did the laundry, cleaned, cooked and then collapsed. Her family reported that she was exhausted and emotionally unavailable in the evening. They also said that they really didn’t know how bad the pain was for her because she acted as if everything was fine. Further exploration revealed that my client was doing much more than she should to avoid her own feelings of shame and embarrassment at being unable to perform basic household tasks. Be aware that your behavior from day to day may be sending your family mixed messages. If one day you do a task and the next day you can’t, how are they to know what the limits and expectations really are? Pain is inconsistent – there will be “good” days and “bad” days – so discuss your needs and concerns with family and develop realistic expectations together. But be prepared. Before you can explain to others what you need, examine your own feelings about your level of functioning and accept your limitations. Over time, your family and friends will be better able to adjust their behavior to assist you in managing your pain.
Dr. Gargan adds that during the acute stages of a loved one’s pain family members and friends are usually empathic, and supportive. Sometimes though, after a period of time some family members and friends may forget how bad the pain was (or is)…….Pain Pathways Summer 2012