Living with chronic pain has changed the dynamic of my relationships. One of the largest complaints I have heard related to living with pain is in our relationships. I know, for myself, that I became very isolated after my surgeries. I feel blessed that so many people came to visit me; however, I still felt very alone. I had so much fear wrapped up inside of me before the surgeries that my head wasn’t really in the healthiest place. I felt broken, dependent and alone. It seemed as though my independence was slipping away. Especially when I did not start to feel better after my surgery. When my pain was getting worse and the doctors were saying everything looked “good” was when my negative thoughts started to escalate. I bring this up, because my thoughts and feelings turned out to have a huge part in the relationships around me. I want to take a second to truly thank the people who love me enough to express their thoughts and concerns honestly. These people are rare and irreplaceable. While I may not agree with some opinions presented to me, I definitely take them all into account. I am grateful I have people who love me enough and are comfortable around me to express their opinions. So thank you to my amazing support system, which includes family, friends and acquaintances alike.
I have noticed that the natural process of this experience has thinned out some of my friendships. The ones that are still intact are much more deep and meaningful now. It takes a lot of structured time and rest periods to honor my body the way that it needs me to, so I can live without pain. A positive aspect that has come from this is that I have become far more comfortable being alone. Now that I implement relaxation techniques for my body throughout the day and have applied more time for prayer, my alone time is very precious to me. The world and people in it do not stop moving just because I do. Today, I am ok with that, because I have accepted what my body, mind and spirit needs. When I compare my physical ability now to where it used to be, I do still get a little sad. Ok, I completely tear up, but I’m still holding out on some hope. Or denial…it depends how you choose to look at it. My friends and social acquaintances seem to be very sympathetic to my situation, maybe even more aware of it than I am. Sometimes, people would like to know where I’m at physically and being able to answer that is very difficult. That is how this blog came to be. My progress is long, detailed, drawn out and ever so suddenly in a constant state of improvement or digression. It is not easily summed up in a forty-five second response. Another thing that comes to mind when I think of my social interactions is when people express sympathy toward me or my situation. This is very difficult for me to take in or respond to. It always seems to blindside me and I have no idea how to respond. My situation feels no different than anybody else’s. Most people have some sort of struggle going on. I guess I am at a place where, for now, I have just accepted it. I just live with it and do the best I can to make a life that matters to me. How do you respond to these heartfelt kinds of comments expressed by people around you?
My marriage has posed an entirely different set of issues that demanded attention. When I suffer, the next in line to suffer is my amazing husband. A person having chronic pain puts a major strain on a marriage. People actually get divorced over this, and the numbers are startling. I understand that no one wants to see their loved one suffering or in pain. Significant others can actually start to show signs of depression, as well.
I had a heartfelt talk with my husband where I kept my defenses down and really just tried to hear him. I asked him what he considered to be the most difficult part of our ordeal. My physical limitations were difficult in the beginning, because I would not directly ask for what I needed. I felt like such a burden that it was impossible to just ask. I felt so much guilt and shame just asking for anything, because I had this idea of how our lives were “supposed” to look. What were my duties, and what were his duties? Once I let go and “lowered my standards” of living, like how clean the house needed to be, I began to accept where we are at this time. Once I had accepted the situation “as is,” it became easier to directly ask when I needed help. Instead of focusing on what I cannot do, I have spent a lot of time finding what I can do. Especially when it comes to chores in our home. My husband sees me make this effort and he appreciates it.
Another thing he mentioned was that I had to be ok with hearing him say “no.” Nobody can do everything, so I appreciate that he is strong enough to say “no.” In the beginning, this was a challenge. Sometimes, I would beat around the bush for a day and finally work up enough courage to ask him for something, and he would say “no.” I would immediately get defensive, followed by thoughts like, “I just can’t ask him for anything.” That thought was not true, even if it felt convincingly accurate. The tension in my marriage, due to my diagnosis and pain, came from my thoughts and feelings and rarely had anything to do with my husband. This came as great news to me, because some of the few things I truly have control over are my thoughts, my feelings and myself. I could change this, whereas changing my husband is an impossible task. I really would not want to change him anyways, because he is pretty amazing.
My marriage also became a lot better when I stopped feeling constant pressure to explain or communicate to him every pain I felt. This behavior was also driven by guilt. I was trying to get him to comprehend or see my invisible diagnosis. I needed him to know why I was laying down, or the severity of my pain, so he would not be upset with me. In truth, I was upset with myself, and I was putting it on him. He was actually never disappointed with me for resting. I don’t hide my situation, because communication is key, but I don’t need to point out every detail and exaggerate, either. He is a smart man; he gets it. What is more important is that I get it. When I started to understand my situation and became confident in myself was when I felt relieved of the pressure of explaining myself to others. That is when I started to feel better. That is when my relationships became healthier and more satisfying.