We hear a lot of statistics about the impact of chronic pain. For example, more than 76 million people in the U.S. live with persistent pain every day. That's more than cancer, diabetes and heart disease combined. We also hear about the financial cost of chronic pain. The American Academy of Pain Medicine estimates that healthcare expenses, lost income and lost productivity from chronic pain costs the U.S. $100 billion a year.
What we don't hear a lot about is the social cost of chronic pain. That's a lot harder to measure. How do you calculate the disruption to family life, the disintigration of social relationships, or the loss of self-esteem? I don't know of a scale or yardstick that can measure those intangibles. But for the person living with chronic pain, the impact of the social cost is as great, or I daresay greater, than the financial cost.
For individuals with chronic pain, the area of family life probably takes the biggest hit. Sadly, according to the National Health Interview Survey, the divorce rate among people with a chronic illness is 75%. I can't tell you how many people I've heard from whose spouse doesn't understand what they're going through. Some spouses don't believe their mate is really in that much pain. Others believe them but just can't cope with the changes pain has brought to their lives.
It's not just the spouse who has a problem. Often those suffering with chronic pain feel guilty because they can no longer contribute as much as they once did to the marriage and family. Their income may be reduced or eliminated altogether; they may not be able to continue doing their usual household tasks; they're probably not up to going out and socializing as a couple; and their sex life may seem like a fond memory.
If there are children still at home, the guilt is multiplied. Parents want to be there for their children whenever they are needed. But many times the parent with chronic pain simply isn't able to do everything they would like for their children. For some, even lifting their child up to comfort or play with them is impossible.
When it comes to personal experiences in dealing with marriage and children when you have chronic pain, I'm afraid I don't really have firsthand experience to share. My children were already grown and I was single again by the time I developed fibromyalgia. I do hope, though, that any of you with chronic pain who are living with a spouse, significant other, and/or children will click “Comment” below and share your experiences. Also please share any tips you have found that have helped you.
I do know of an excellent book on the subject – Beyond Chaos: One Man's Journey Alongside His Chronically Ill Wife. It is written by Gregg Piburn and chronicles his journey of understanding and coping with his wife's fibromyalgia. I met the Piburns several years ago and they have an amazing and encouraging story.