Chronic pain, especially in its debilitating forms, leads to significant changes in one’s life. Mobility, activities, the ability to work and play can all be seriously impacted and as a result we, our inner self, changes as well.
The grief of the loss of our former selves and, for many, the sense that few understand our experience can have serious consequences. Crucially, our relationships are dramatically altered. We are often no longer able to meet and get together with others as easily as we did in the past, physical mobility, and mental states play a role (depression and anxiety are common “side-effects” of Chronic Pain) and too, some people, sadly, simply do not have the patience, understanding and/or compassion needed to maintain relationships with the chronically ill.
Our relationships though, and essentially the quality of our relationships, play a vital role in how well we will deal with and thrive, or not, with Chronic Pain.
A unique 79-year longitudinal study out of Harvard University has found that, of all factors, the quality, not quantity, of our relationships is the most important aspect in respect to living long, healthy, satisfying lives. Having what they term “good, warm and protective” relationships buffer us against the upsets of life and that without them our general health is weakened and physical pain and suffering magnified. A 2016 Ted Talk goes into the details and other aspects of study, but in their words, loneliness kills.
Katy Leung Ying Ying, assistant professor at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, says she believes social support affects how people react to chronic pain and cope with it. “We understand that socio-psychological factors like anxiety, depression and loneliness play important roles in chronic pain,” Dr. Leung says.
Author and Director of the University of Chicago’s Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience, John Cacioppo has been studying loneliness, how it affects the mind and body, for more than 20 years. He has found that a little goes a long way and that long-term loneliness can be dangerous, increasing the odds of an early death by as much as 26%.
“It’s bad for your mental health: well-being goes down, depressive symptoms go up, and your likelihood of developing mental and affective disorders increases,” according to Dr. Cacioppo in Fortune magazine.
For those living in Chronic Pain loneliness compounds the already considerable challenges for living well and thriving and, like most things regarding a change in life, take thought, care and planning.
What to do…
1. Joining a low-impact aerobic exercise gym or class can put you into community with others as well as fostering your mental and physical well-being. Even taking a regular walk around your neighborhood can help you to create and sustain relationships. With any form of exercise make sure you have your Doctor’s approval of course.
2. Find an on-line support group or community to interact and exchange thoughts and challenges with. Many web-sites have forums now, for example Spine-Health – has a chronic pain forum and a number of others specific to various conditions.
This web-site is designed to foster a sense of connectness and community amongst those living with Chronic Pain. A Patient Voice is another fine example.
3. Be pro-active about inviting others to visit. They need to know of course that you may not be up for a long visit but impress on them how much even a short visit means. Even if you’re having a ” bad” pain day, a little companionship can make a big difference!
If you’re up to it you might even think of starting a once a month get together- like a game night with friends and/or family. If people help by bringing snacks and disposable tableware it could be an easy get together and a little fun and commaraderie. Remember to keep it simple!
4. And finally, even those of us completely bed-ridden and/or house-bound can stay in contact via phone calls. texting, e-mail and the like. Remember to try your best to focus on the positive and remember that there are few who understand this path, being sensitive to how much of our suffering we can share and with whom will go a long way towards maintaining relationship.