While travelling this bumpy road on my journey with CRPS and chronic pain, I’ve had a lot of time to think about stuff. It’s not a huge stretch to imagine that it’s difficult and uncomfortable to have someone in your life who has to deal with chronic pain or illness—especially if you’ve never dealt with this kind of thing yourself. It can be hard to know how to act around them or even support them if you wanted to. So, I figured that since I’ve been ‘lucky’ enough to have acquired this knowledge over the past few years, perhaps it would help to share what I’ve learned with anyone who wants to know how to support a friend that’s in chronic pain.
Dealing with an invisible illness like CRPS is exhausting. I know that, for the most part, I don’t look sick on the outside, but that means pretty much squat in my world because I actually work pretty hard to look normal. If I look bad, you know I am in really rough shape. I don’t want people to look at me with that look, you know the one (it’s usually a sad half smile or a glance that barely disguises their pity), but I don’t want people to feel sad or uncomfortable around me, so I’m hoping these tips and tidbits might help.
I’m still me
Please don’t forget that. Don’t forget about me. If you want to spend time together, please invite me to things, to coffee, to movie dates, to just hang out. If I’m not up to it, I will tell you, but let me be the one to decide. I can’t guarantee how I’ll be feeling from one day to the next—sometimes from one hour to the next—but that doesn’t mean I want to be stuck at home all the time either. I know out of sight, out of mind, is the natural evolution of many relationships that go south, but please, if you value me and our friendship, let’s keep talking. Life gets busy for all of us, but this thing I’m going through? It gets pretty lonely. I value your friendship probably more than I can say right now, and I need you, but might be having a hard time asking because I already have to ask for so much.
Your help is greatly appreciated
There are a lot of things that are really difficult for me to do right now and I won’t BS you about that. It’s really embarrassing, sometimes humiliating, for me, and I hate that I can’t do them. These are things that you probably take for granted, I know I did. Having a hand injury really makes you appreciate just how much you need two hands for. If you see I’m struggling, or you think what I’m attempting to do might be difficult (and you feel comfortable doing so), please offer to help. It is really hard to ask for help and it’s far less embarrassing to accept the offer of help than it is to feel like you are imposing on someone by asking. Even things like doing up my own seatbelt or opening doors can be challenging and painful, but trust me, I feel more than stupid asking for help with them, so would prefer to struggle through the task. Also, I can’t tell you how much your help really means. I have had friends literally just buckle me into the car without a second thought, cut up my lunch, open my water bottles, and drive me all over town. I am learning to ask for help when I need it and accept it when it’s offered. Regardless of how it happens—every gesture means so incredibly much to me.
It’s okay to come to me with your problems too
You know what? I want our friendship to still work both ways, and the only way that is going to happen is if you treat me normally and come to me with your problems, issues, and complaints too. I relish the opportunity to give back to you in any way that I can, and it’s a nice distraction from my ‘stuff’. Know that I still have two shoulders for crying on, ears to listen, and arms for hugging. It makes me feel good to know that I’m contributing to our friendship and giving as much to you as you are to me.
Forgive me if I don’t follow all of your suggestions
Please know that while I always appreciate your suggestions about things that you think might help me, I may not always be able to try them. In my case, I am on medications to try and help reduce my pain to a level where I can function on a day to day level, and am working really closely with a team (yup, I actually have a team) of doctors whom I trust explicitly. I know that your offers and suggestions about helpful products comes from a place of love, and if it doesn’t conflict with or contradict my meds, I will totally look into it. Thanks to some great recommendations, I’m getting into meditation and may even try yoga when I’m healed up enough—but please understand that even if I don’t do/try/use your suggested product or therapy, it’s not because I don’t value your opinion or appreciate the time you’ve spent looking into it for me; there is likely a reason, so please don’t take it personally.
Forgive me my bad days
I try really, really hard to keep my bad days to myself, but it’s not always possible. If you know me well, you know that I hate to cry. I hate to show any kind of weakness or anything that I perceive to be weakness in myself. Please believe me when I say that I will do my absolute best to keep the rough times to myself, but I also ask your forgiveness for the days when I might seem a bit “off” or short. The last thing I want to do is make anyone else feel bad because I am, so if that is the case, ask me if I’m having a tough day.
Don’t ask if you don’t really want to know
“How are you?” is often a question people feel they should ask out of social convention, rather than because they really want to know. Please know that if I ask you how you are, I really do want to know, and I am going to assume the same is true for you. As I’ve mentioned, trying to fight yourself and seem happy and cheerful when inside it feels like you have been invaded by angry electric eels is exhausting, and I often don’t have energy to try and figure out if you really want to know how I am or you’re just being polite. I have a standard go to answer of “I’m fine, thanks” but chances are I’m not, I’m just saying that to be polite too. If you really want to know, I am more than happy to tell you, though, and I hope you will do the same, because I really want to know.
Please ask me questions
I am happy to answer any questions you have about my condition. I want you to stand beside me and help me advocate; I want you to understand if you are curious; I want you to know. Ask me questions. You want to know what I go through every day? Want to know about my treatments? Want to know how you can help? Seriously, ask. I strongly believe that if I want people to understand what I am going through it’s my responsibility to be as open and honest as I can to help facilitate that.
Just be yourself
Really. I don’t want you to treat me differently (see point number one!) I know that it can be tough to know if you are saying the right thing, but just be yourself. Be funny, irreverent, sarcastic, emotional, anything you are. Just be the friend I know and love.
Really, there is no perfect way to be a friend or receive friendship in this situation, but there are a few things that have been meaningful to me and made a difference to my life over a few difficult years, so I wanted to share. I am really, really blessed to have an amazing group of family and friends who supported me through the good times—and the bad. Dealing with chronic pain sucks The Big One, but maybe these tips can help you understand a bit more about what it’s like for someone with chronic pain—or if you’re the person who’s suffering, maybe this will help your friends understand how you feel.
Previously published at One Crazy Kid. Photos used with permission of the author.
Singing, dancing and laughing through motherhood (and life in general) was how Brandee pictured life when she found out she was pregnant. As a mum of one crazy and amazing dude, she often finds herself laughing at fart jokes and dancing through sword fights. Brandee likes to approach life in a straight-up way, with honesty, a sense of humour, and lots of sass— blogging about life, love, and everything in between on her blog One Crazy Kid. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat.