Have you ever sat and chatted with a friend who also has chronic pain, and it did not seem helpful to you? Did you experience having some triggers that brought back some painful memories about your own journey with chronic pain? Or, has anyone ever come to you with their own experiences of chronic pain or chronic illness? It may start off with “I’ve been having this back trouble,” and they ask you to share your story. You end up having a lengthy conversation about your diagnosis(es), the times when you have survived, and thrived despite your illness. Are these conversations a positive experience for you? Or do they leave you feeling drained? What can you do when you may not be in a good place to have a conversation like this?
I had an experience like this recently. It was a two hour long conversation. Don’t worry, I had my headset in, so I was not radiating my brain with the phone. I heard a lot about my family member’s recently diagnosed illness. I also shared part of my story. The majority of the time, I don’t have a problem sharing my story to help others. I know the ultimate value is to offer my experience, strength, and hope (if they ask to hear it), so that they can benefit. However, this conversation took place at 9 PM. It was after two long, fully active days with not a lot of down time, and a lack of sleep. I had sat in a car for a total of 6 hours on a day trip up north for a conference, where I sat on my butt most of the day, and I was READY for bed! Plus, I had just actually just gotten off of the phone from having a two hour long phone conversation with someone else!
Why did I take this call then you ask? Thankfully, I was in a position where I could go straight to bed after the call, and I could utilize some good self-care tools before bedtime. I had also paid special attention to my diet, packing my meals over those couple of days, focusing on anti-inflammatory foods. In addition to diet, I also used my essential oils, and the fact that I was able to sleep in and take the following “day off”. Lastly, it was a dear family member that I hadn’t spoken with in quite a while. I wanted to be there for them, so that I wouldn’t have to think about my own pain for a while.
For those of us with chronic pain, we need to be careful about these types of situations. We need to be mindful of boundaries, pacing, and most importantly, the tools we have readily available to us to use to help manage our symptoms of chronic pain. These tools I have listed below may not be applicable in every situation, however, I encourage you to give them a try the next time you are in one of these situations.
1. Self-care – I find it challenging to have an intense emotional conversation when I am either: hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. This pretty much sums up the barriers for me, adding of course when I am having a higher pain level than usual. Paying attention to our self-care routine, and utilizing the tools that we have in our toolkit, helps us to stay on track so we are able to respond more effectively.
2. Boundaries – Occasionally, I have a hard time saying “no” to people. Especially when it is my family. Over the years of dealing with chronic pain, this has gotten easier. I have had to let go of the fear of people being angry or upset with me. Sometimes, the focus on my health has to come first. If I’m not taking care of myself, I will be of no help to anyone. If I am not able to fully engage in a possibly intense conversation, I kindly let that other person know. I acknowledge their need and desire to be heard and supported. Then I offer to schedule a different time for the phone call. This is fair and supportive to yourself, as well as to the other person.
3. Express your preferred communication method – My friends and family know that I function much better if I have pre-planned phone calls with them. I feel that I am able to hear, focus, and think more clearly if it is planned. Many times, this scheduling happens in a text message. Occasionally, friends, or family members, know that I am having a higher pain day, and they still need to chat. They’re okay with the option that I am limited and can only engage with them via text or email. Yes, I have awesome family members and friends!
4. Tools for in the moment – Occasionally, I may not realize the topic of conversation is a trigger for me until it is too late. We’re heavy into it, and I need to do something to immediately de-stress. Depending on who it is, I have various ways of responding. I may share that I am having some triggers from the conversation, and this can increase pain for me. I may need to stop the conversation and resume at a later time. Or, I may need to use some visualization technique (a shield in front of me, or an invisible bubble around me). Taking some deep breaths or gentle stretching in place is also another tool I use. Last but not least, there’s one of my favorite go to tools: essential oil for calming (and of course, offer it to the other person!).
Pain Camp is a safe place to share your thoughts, experience, strength and hope. How do you handle these tough chronic pain related situations?