How do you explain your pain to your family, friends, colleagues, and doctors? Describing pain is difficult, and it is compounded by social rules to not talk about such things. Yet, when you live with chronic pain, it’s important to make others understand the reality of the condition with which you live. This can make your life and relationships easier. In addition, if your doctor has a clear understanding of your pain, your treatment options may improve.
Giving your pain a name can be a very powerful experience, but also a very difficult one. Pain is the ultimate in sensation, perhaps only rivaled by orgasm. Words fail to capture the quality of pain. It would be so much easier if we could just ask others to plug into an outlet to feel the sensation.
When you’re asked to describe your pain in a medical setting, they tend to present you with the choice of stinging, burning, or stabbing. These are extremely limiting ways to describe a complex and multilayered sensation. Throw ‘em out! They’re only going to get in the way of you describing how you truly feel.
Describing pain isn’t about picking one word, but stringing several together into a sentence or paragraph, creating an analogy or metaphor. Does the pain have volume, like a fire alarm blaring right next to your head? Does your pain feel like you’re being squeezed within an iron maiden (the torture device, not the band)? Is it like a monster, eating your composure, sense of humor, perhaps your very essence?
This all sounds pretty dramatic, doesn’t it? That’s because pain is dramatic. Something that intense cannot be described by small and quiet words. It requires hyperbole and operatic heights of emotion. This is the only way you can describe the truth of living with chronic pain.
Accessing this story requires chipping away at all the walls you have erected around the pain in order for you to function. One of the best ways to connect to how you really feel is to write it down. Find a comfortable spot, a nice notebook, and the pen that makes it easy to write. You can also type, if that’s easier for you. Try to relax at first, and then start with “my pain feels like…” Don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t rein yourself in. No one has to see this if you want to keep it private.
Breaking the rules, starting to talk
After you spend some time writing about your pain, you might find that you’d like to share it with someone to help them understand you better. Or perhaps you’re simply tired of being silent. Telling your story takes courage — it’s like being emotionally naked — but it can make the pain easier to bear.
You might want to start talking in a safe environment, with a counselor or therapist. Techniques such as cognitive behavioural therapy, as well as narrative therapy, can be very useful in helping you talk about pain and learning to deal with it.
You can also share your writing online on Facebook, on a blog, or in a SharePost here on HealthCentral. Getting feedback from the community about their experiences with pain helps make you feel connected and much less alone. It can also help normalize your experience to learn that others feel similarly to the way you do. Feeling known in this way can be incredibly liberating and empowering.
Being connected can also make you feel much safer in talking about chronic pain and the effect on your life. September is Pain Awareness Month and many in the chronic pain community are taking the opportunity to speak out. They’re sharing their experience with pain and the barriers to getting treated, as well as how they found ways to embrace life again, even with chronic pain.
How do you talk to others about your pain? We’d love to hear your story of living with chronic pain.
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Lene writes the award-winning blog The Seated View. She’s the author ofYour Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain and 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain.
Lene Andersen is the Community Leader for HealthCentral’s RA Community. Lene (pronounced Lena) is an award-winning writer, health and disability advocate, and photographer living in Toronto. She’s written several books, including Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain, and 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain, as well as the award-winning blog, The Seated View. Follow Lene on Twitter @TheSeatedView and on Facebook. Watch her story on HealthCentral.