Understanding Chronic Pain
Several years ago I recall reading a letter a person wrote about dealing with her chronic pain My initial thought was that of most people: suck it up and move on. However, having dealt with such issues the past several years, my perspective has completely changed. Today, I spoke with some of our congregation who deal with pain on a daily basis...and in each case I basically heard the same thing. People just do not understand how drained I feel; how discouraged it is; how debilitating it is; and how difficult it is. Yet, everyone tells me to suck it up and push on.
I am sure their advice is meant to encourage, however, it only adds to the discouragement. Believe me, for those who deal with chronic and constant pain, I know. You ask yourself how much longer must you cope? How can you cope? I am only 49 years old, and honestly, I can not picture myself having to endear this for another 20, 30, or possibly more years. It's crippling, it's crushing...yet know one understands.
People just do not understand what means and measures a person will take to ease their discomfort. It is not until they themselves or someone very near and dear to them that they come to some sort of understanding...but even that is not sufficient. I know firsthand what it is like to try to explain everything that I experience everyday only to get that look of a deer staring in the headlights. They are either overwhelmed or just do not have the words to say that would bring some sort of comfort.
Well, here are some suggestions. First of all validate that person as a person and the pain that they are dealing with. Yes, validate. Never underestimate what a person is going through. Just because what they are describing to you seems trivial, it is not so with them. Personally, I know firsthand how discouraging it is to not have what I am enduring not be validated--especially by the medical profession. They will look at you as if you are crazy...they consider you a failure in their book especially when they are to be the proponents of healing.
Furthermore, ask that person what you could possibly do to help ease their burden. For instance, if walking great distances seems to be an obstacle, ask them if you could do their shopping...a great distance for some may be just a few feet. Every Sunday, I bear witness to some within our congregation who can only muster the strength to walk 20 feet at a time. For the most part, people in pain will be more than happy to tell you what areas they need some assistance in...unless they are stubborn like me. I have a hard time believing that I am not able to do something only to find the opposite to be true.
And finally, offer words of encouragement to that person. Share with them that while they are legitimate in their pain that can still be productive...it just may not be the way that they were once accustomed to. By all means, DO NOT! and I mean DO NOT encourage them from taking away that which makes up their identity. Believe me, I understand this more than anyone can possibly imagine. For instance, I like to use my hands to build...to create...to fix...to change...and the list can go on. And I still do...it is not just the same as I use too or as quick...but by all means, let me decide if I should be doing those things...in other words, let that person at least hold on to what dignity he or she still has.
As a side bar...think about the caregiver. They like most people are at a loss of words and are just at a loss as to what to do. Every time I must call upon Judy because I have lost the use of my legs, I can see it in her face...she endears the same hardship that I am experiencing. Thankfully, I have a partner who is willing to do whatever it takes to get me back on my feet and moving.
The worse thing you can ever do is to underestimate a person's pain. And the second thing is to try to put some theology as to why a person is suffering. Most people, like the friends of Job, tried to explain his pain and misery by offering him words that did further damage to a soul that was already discouraged and yet not defeated. Do NOT---and I mean DO NOT share with someone that he or she has done something wrong in order to deserve the pain he or she is experiencing. Rather, encourage he or she how God's power is being demonstrated through him or her....that is, they are a walking testimony as to how God can strengthen a person despite the pain.