Chronic Pain is Mostly Invisible

Many people around you are in pain most of their lives

When we hear the word “pain” we generally think of blood and bruises.  Things you can actually “see”.

But, pain is so much more than that. I imagine there are many people in your immediate environment that are in chronic pain – whether that be a physical or an emotional pain.

I was “fortunate” enough to experience debilitating chronic physical pain for over a year after I had Shingles (it’s called post herpetic neuralgia). Why did I say I was fortunate? Because it opened my eyes to so much more of the world and to realize that there are so very many people that have intolerable suffering every single moment of their lives. I had enough trouble handling the pain I was in and I know it’s nothing like that of these millions of other people. There are so many chronic diseases that cause insurmountable pain.

If I could do anything to help the world, it would be to find a way to relieve the chronic, constant pain. I get very angry and upset when I see the CDC trying to fix a significant problem (drug overdoses involving narcotics) by depriving people who are in desperate need of help. This is a very limited way of trying to problem solve. I definitely understand that the overdoses (especially now with Fentanyl) is an extreme emergency in our country BUT…….so is the chronic pain epidemic.

Remember, though, that I said that pain can be physical or emotional. Many people are experiencing such horrible degrees of emotional pain that they wonder if life is worth living and contemplate ending their lives many times a day or week. Do you know if someone you interact with all day long is, perhaps, in pain like this?

Most people in pain, whether it’s physical or emotional, will try to hide it from others because of the way we have reacted in the past. They don’t want the shame or the criticism. They don’t want the judgment that they are just weak or that they should simply “suck it up”. It’s so hard to function in pain. Think about when you’ve had a injury and had to nurse it before it got better. Could you focus on much else? Probably not. In fact, usually pain is such a distractor that it’s made ER personnel miss other important injuries (and yes, I know this from personal experience). Your body will focus on the thing that hurts the most and not even realize you are injured some place else. I had a patient once who was in a motorcycle accident and had an obvious fracture of his ankle. I sent him to X-Ray after asking if anything else bothered him – he said ‘no’. Fortunately the x-ray technician was astute and not just focused on one thing and called me and asked if I knew the upper part of his leg – by his knee – was fractured. Of course I didn’t because I had simply asked the fellow what hurt and he told me just his ankle. As usual, I digress but it’s important to realize that people focus on their pain to the exclusion of most other things. If they have to continue working while experiencing chronic pain, they are liable to make mistakes or be inattentive. So, at work, if you see that happening with a person who is usually very diligent and accurate, think about this and ask them if there is anything going on in their life that might be creating a chronic pain situation.

Offer support to people with chronic pain. Know that they will not want to go out; they may cancel plans at the last minute; they may not smile or laugh much; they may be irritable and grumpy; they may be upset that you don’t seem to understand a) that they are in pain and b) how devastating that pain is in their life. Being of support and understanding and asking if there is anything you can do to help, even if it’s just to listen, is a Godsend. Many of these folks have no one and no thing to help them with their pain. You could be just what they need.

Being in chronic pain of either type ruins your life. In fact, you don’t even really live, you just exist and that is or can be a miserable existence. Find out from them what you can do to make that a better existence. Do NOT expect their pain to resolve quickly like yours did when you sprained your ankle or when you got over your flu symptoms. Chronic pain is long lasting (the true meaning of chronic) and it is NOT all in their head. Believe me, they are not in pain just to get attention. There are a lot easier ways to get attention.

Pain is real even when you can’t see it. So please don’t judge people in chronic pain as weak. Reach out to them. Ask what you can do. Periodically ask how they are doing and what more you can do..remember, this isn’t going to go away in a week or two. By the time you find out about it, it may have been there for months (or even years) already and someone might be at their wits end.

Do a Google search for chronic pain and you’ll find out more than you can imagine. Just by reading this post, perhaps you’ve learned more about chronic pain than you’ve ever known before. I know I had to have my eyes opened by experiencing it myself. And I just wanted someone to care. But, in order for them to care, they had to know I had the pain and then know about this type of pain. I wanted someone to tell me they understood that I was suffering and that they were willing to do whatever they could to help. But there was no one. I hid the pain as best I could and that is also not healthy.

Be aware of those around you and know that you can help in so many ways just by talking or listening. Let someone know you care about them and what they are going through. Be there for them.  I am grateful for the experience because it has afforded me inside knowledge that I would never have been able to have otherwise. It’s something I feel now instead of just knowing.

Take inventory of those around you. You may recall conversations with them about an illness they have. Something like an autoimmune disease or Lyme or arthritis or any number of chronic conditions.

Be there for them and let them know that you are going to be there for them for as long as they need it. In this day and age of instant gratification, we tend to get “bored” with something if it doesn’t get fixed or change in a short period of time…We then move on to something or someone else. Don’t abandon your friends or coworkers who are in pain. Reach out to help them and know that you will be in it for the long haul! Your gift of love and support will definitely be appreciated and you will feel better about yourself (although you should do it anyway without expecting anything in return).

Chronic pain is all around us. Let’s become more aware of it and reach out to those living in it. I assure you it’s absolutely NO fun to be living in chronic pain.


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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