Caring for Someone in Chronic Pain
Many persons with chronic pain have illness or injury that requires assistance. Sometimes there is a need for a full time caregiver and sometimes the person simply needs some added assistance by family members, spouses, partners, or close friends.
It is common for family, close friends, and even colleagues to grieve the loss of the person once knew. Try not to lose sight of the truth that all of your loved one’s or friend’s life experiences and undertakings are still part of who he or she is. Pain does not determine worth, nor is it the sum of the person who matters to you. It is important that you continue to recognize your loved one or close friend’s past accomplishments and help them identify and find things they can still do. It is a process, and people move through it in their own way. In addition, be aware that enabling a person by doing for them can be as destructive as not helping at all. Everyone needs to feel purpose. Consider exchanging tasks that are manageable. Do not be afraid to express specifics by asking, “What can YOU do today? What can I do today?” Lead by example, avoiding negative self-talk and encouraging your loved one/friend to do the same. Be prepared for outbursts or agitation and try not taking it personally. When commenting, let your loved one know you recognize it is sometimes difficult for them.
As the caregiver, it is important that YOU avoid burnout. While it will surely help to identify care needs and prioritize them, you will benefit by being flexible. Set limits, and be firm about what you can and cannot do. Set aside time for yourself by soliciting help from a family member or friend. Letting others help with grocery shopping, doctor appointments, and the like, can help you recharge your batteries. The rules that apply to your loved one also apply to you. If you are having a particularly difficult day, acknowledge it. Do the best you can and try be okay with that.
There are things to watch for to make sure you and your loved one are managing appropriately. Signs of difficulty coping might include:
- Disregard for appearance and hygiene
Likewise, be alert to your own feelings and behaviors that might perpetuate psychological distress, such as:
- Resentment for the increased personal load
If either or both of you are struggling, seek counseling from a qualified psychotherapist or counselor, preferably someone who specializes in the chronic pain.
Key points to remember are:
- Enabling fractures a person’s self worth; encourage your partner/friend/loved one to find ways to contribute.
- Express your feelings without judgment; your partner should know you have needs too.
- Everyone should own his or her behavior; you cannot change something over which you have no control and someone else’s pain qualifies.
- If guilt or resentment moves in, so should a good therapist. Remember, as caregiver or patient, your basic needs are the same.
- Accept that some things are not fixable, Focus on the doable, not the impossible.
By Celeste Cooper, RN, author, chronic pain sufferer, advocate