Chronic pain is something I've lived for years, chronic headaches, chronic hip pains and related chronic back pain, chronic neck aches and chronic muscle pain... not to mention the emotional pain that came with it.
I've healed from my non-stop, 24/7 chronic headaches and running happily without chronic hip pains again.
I am grateful for every pain-free moment. I am happy for my healing. I also don't take it for granted.
I understand others who are struggling with chronic pain right now. While I believe healing is possible for just about any condition, I know that in some cases it can take decades of trial and error and for some healing may not arrive this lifetime. The hope is out there. Healing is a journey. Personal and spiritual growth happens even if the pain doesn't disappear just yet.
Still, living with chronic pain is difficult. I felt misunderstood, lost and lonely -- often hopeless. During my many years with chronic pain I've heard many comments from friends, family and strangers. While I know most of these comments came with good intentions from kindness, the truth is many of these comments were hurtful, annoying, unhelpful and even inappropriate.
Because I know that you want to help your loved ones with chronic pain, yet your comments don't always come across helpful, I want to help you communicate with those with chronic pain.
Here are 13 things you should never say to someone with chronic pain and what to say instead.
1. "You should snap out of it. It is not a phase or a bad mood that one can snap out of." Chronic pain is real pain that is chronic that I can't just stop with a magic stick. Otherwise I would.
2. "It's all in your head. No, actually, it is not." There is truth behind the mind-body-soul connection, but that's just it, even if and when there are emotional reasons tied to the illness, the physical symptoms and physical reasons are very real.
3. "Just drink more water." Drinking more water, taking a few deep breaths and other simple things can help with small random pains, but it won't make chronic pain go away. Trust me, I have tried it, I am doing it, and I am drinking enough water. It is more complex than you think.
4. "But you don't look sick at all." Welcome to the world of invisible illnesses. I don't need a wheelchair or a permanent tattoo saying 'sick' to be in pain.
5. "But you look so great." This is not a beauty contest. Just because I look good in your opinion, look good today or was able to hide behind some good makeup, it doesn't mean I am not in pain. Just because I can stand and chat today, it doesn't mean I won't be having problems getting out of bed tomorrow.
6. "I am sorry." I don't need your sympathy. I don't need your pity. I need your support. "I am here for you" is a better choice, but only if you mean it. Otherwise, just say nothing.
7. "Don't worry, I am sure things will get better." You can't be sure. Yes, deep inside I am hoping the same. I am fighting and not giving up. But without knowing anything about my condition or knowing anything for certain, please, don't throw such general comment on my way.
8. "Everyone has bad days." Yes, everyone has bad days, gets stressed and gets sick at times. But when you have chronic pain it is not just a bad day. It is a bad day every day. My good days are your worst days.
9. "At least you don't have to go to school/work." I could kill for having a normal pain-free life going to school or to a job. Besides, living with chronic pain and trying my best to heal (or to function) is hard work itself. I should get a Ph.D. for all the knowledge I have on my condition and healing methods.
10. "You should try ________ diet/therapy." There is a good chance that I've heard, considered and/or tried what you are suggesting if it was relevant for me. If I haven't, though I am always open to new ideas and appreciate your help, your excitement of 'finding the holy grail' for my pain puts a lot of pressure on me. I don't want to let you down if it doesn't work out.
11. "You should stop doing _______." See point #9. I have either never done this, have stopped and it didn't help or trying hard to stop (but it is not so easy) what you are suggesting. Or it is simply not relevant for me. Every case and every body is different. Unsolicited and unprofessional advice can do more harm than good too.
12. "You are so strong, I don't know how you do it." I don't have a choice. Often I don't feel so strong. Often I am sick of being strong. I want to be weak. Actually, I want to be healthy. But I don't have a choice but to be strong and keep fighting.
13. "Just don't think about it." Experiencing chronic pain is constant. There are days that are better and days that are worse, but for the most part it is affecting our entire being, mind, body and soul. It is not something that we just stop thinking about, forget, move on and feel better.
Instead of all these unhelpful comments just say:
I believe you. I am here for you. I care about you. I am here to listen. I love you.
Remember, a smile and a hug does more than any words can say. Your love and support is appreciated.