15 Ways to Help Someone in Chronic Pain
By Megan Ancheta
As someone who battles psoriatic arthritis, spondylitis, and Hashimoto’s disease, Megan Ancheta understands first hand what it’s like to suffer from chronic pain.
1. Ask about their pain levels (they change daily). I am a master actor. It is second nature for me to plaster on a smile and say, “I’m fine!” when asked how I’m doing. But, if you were to ask me, “How is your pain today?” you would get an honest answer. Pain for us varies from day to day. Some days it’s tolerable, while other days we hold back tears while just trying to get through the day. We would like you to ask. We won’t normally come out and announce it unless you’re a super good friend who (we know) genuinely cares. Otherwise, people think we’re complaining or that, “It’s all in our heads.” We’re not complaining, we’re struggling, and I can assure you – it’s not in our heads.
2. Call, text, or send them an uplifting Facebook message. If you really don’t know exactly what to say, a simple, “I just wanted to let you know I’m thinking about you.” goes a long ways.
3. Be mindful of making off-handed medical suggestions. Yes, we’ve heard tart cherry juice and apple cider vinegar will “heal every ailment we have,” and that the “Paleo diet or going vegan will cure us.” If it were that easy, we’d be all over it. The reality is, some of your suggestions *might* help some of our symptoms (and I fully support healthy dietary changes), but nothing cures a disease (unless it’s God himself). We get tired of chasing after the latest fads, oils, diets, supplements, etc… We literally exhaust our resources and bank accounts trying to be well. Please be sensitive to that.
4. Bring them a meal. And if they have special dietary concerns, try to work around those. We are always sick, and chances are, we will never get better. A meal in the freezer is a HUGE blessing for when we can’t bring ourselves to get into kitchen, because unfortunately it happens often.
5. Take their kiddos for a day, afternoon, or volunteer to play chauffeur to/from school or activities.
6. Hang out with them… in your PJs… with a movie. And bring chocolate or ice cream. When I am flaring, I’m exhausted, and I can normally be found in my PJs, on the couch, with a movie on. Most days I would love company, but only if you’re willing to “laze” around with me and accept that my house is most likely a disaster.
7. Offer to accompany them to their next doctor’s appointment — extra bonus points if you drive. Doctors, doctors, and more doctors…. the paperwork, the blood work, the 21 questions… It is so incredibly stressful. My anxiety goes through the roof, even when I’m comfortable with my doctor. The presence of having another warm body with me helps significantly.
8. Be their advocate. We fight so hard. Everyday is a battle. Be our champion. Be the one to whisper in our ear words of encouragement. Cheer us on. Some days your words make or break us.
9. Call their spouse/significant other/care giver to extend kindness and just see how they are doing. My husband and children are the ones who pick up the pieces when I am exhausted and have a super bad pain day. They are the unseen ones who suffer, and often go forgotten.
10. Don’t wait for them to call and ask for help (because chances are they won’t). Just do it. We are proud, suffer in silence, and generally would never ask for help. I need help with cleaning, laundry, etc., but I will never ever ask you to help me.
11. If they are having a bad day and need to vent, just listen. We work very hard to be as positive as we can, but when medications fail, more health issues rise, and everything seems to be going down hill with our health, it’s extremely hard to keep smiling. We struggle, not just physically, but mentally too.
12. Make them laugh with a good joke or story. Laughter is the best medicine, and forgetting that we’re sick for a minute is a true gift.
13. Extend extra grace to them when they talk slowly. Most days I walk around feeling like I don’t have a brain. I see what I want to say in my head, visually, but can’t form my thoughts into words. I am rendered speechless. Many chronic diseases cause brain fog, or if it’s not the disease, it’s the medication. Please speak kindly to us, even when we can’t remember what we were going to say.
14. Respect their dietary choices. After I went gluten-free and dairy-free (among other things), someone invited my family out to pizza, but then laughed and said, “Oh yeah, you can’t!” It wasn’t funny, but it was super hurtful. Those of us who suffer from chronic pain/disease often avoid certain food items because of the “other” symptoms that accompany our illnesses – like explosive diarrhea. But no one likes openly talking about that. Long story short, if we say we can’t have a certain food item, believe it, respect it, and don’t question it. I promise we aren’t doing it for attention.
15. Love the heck out of ‘um. Chances are, you don’t understand what your loved one is going through (not unless you also suffer from a chronic pain). Just because you don’t understand it though, doesn’t mean you can’t show them love. Not everyone understands our journey, but everyone understands love – it’s a universal language.