Many of us are looking forward to the easing of lockdown. I notice lots of talk about wearing nice clothes again, with adverts for lovely summer dresses. I hear people planning a drink in a pub garden within a few weeks, or a trip across the country to see long-missed relatives. Haircuts are being booked, including mine! the car is being serviced, guest bed linen is being dug out from the back of the cupboard. Football matches are looked forward to and trips to the zoo thought about. Things feel as if they are changing at last.
This is wonderful, it is good to feel that normal life, and those little things that make life worth living, are on their way back. Some of us are even feeling brave enough to think about booking a summer holiday.
Yet for people who suffer from chronic pain, there may be some worries as well. A client, who visited me in my pain psychology clinic, currently online last week, voiced her concerns to me. She said most of her family are ‘crazy with excitement’. Her sister has ordered no less than five new summer dresses. Her husband is ringing around his mates planning meet-ups in parks and garden visits. Her children are looking forward to getting back to school.
She loves all this. She told me that she had been worried about the level of anxiety in her home-schooled children and she feared her sister, isolated in her single flat, was falling prey to depression. She can see that their lives will shortly feel better.
But for herself? She has suffered from chronic pain, linked to Functional Neurological Disorder or FND, for years. With my help, she has managed to control her pain and she lives a full and happy life. Now she is worried that she will come under pressure to do more than she can manage and end up spoiling the fun for everyone.
And she is not the only client I have seen with these feelings. Most of the people I see with chronic pain have some level of concern. Because of this, it feels the right time to re-state some advice about how to get back into a social swing if you suffer from chronic pain.
This is old territory for me. I wrote about just this situation in my book Managing Chronic Pain in the Family
The advice is still valuable and true, but it may well be that we need to be even more careful as we begin to go out again. So, I am going to look at the advice in the light of our new circumstances.
PACRAM – a way to enjoy your social life and manage your pain as well.
I devised the acronym PACRAM to help youcope with social situations. I am going to adapt and update it here for our strange times in the Coronavirus pandemic.
I always advise anyone who suffers from chronic pain to plan out any social event. Of course, that is going to be more difficult is you have hardly left the house for a year!
For example, it is hard to know how crowded a favourite venue will be in the days after things ease up. Even though it might feel hard when you have waited so long, the best thing to do might be to wait a little bit longer before rushing out to commercial venues. Consider if the best first trip out is to somewhere you can control, an understanding friend’s garden for example.
A shorter time can be better.
A long time out in a social situation can be very tiring and that can trigger a chronic pain episode. Make the first few outings you take short and sweet if you can. An hour that you really enjoy and leaves you feeling happy the next day is worth more than a day that tires you and results in you waking up with chronic pain the next day.
Choose your best time of day.
Many people who suffer from chronic pain are better at a certain time of day. This is to do with our personal bio rhythms and circadian rhythms. Most experts reckon these are hard-wired and we just need to go with who we are. If you are a morning person that is just who you are, so plan your social time around that. The same if your best times are in the evening.
I am going to add something to that because of the pandemic. Your best time, when you are out and about, is likely to be a quieter time. Then you will have more space, you are more likely to get a seat, and places will not be so noisy (noise can often trigger pain).
Think about when these times are likely to before you make arrangements. Ring up the venue you are planning to visit and get their advice. Phone around your friends and family and explain the situation so you don’t get any nasty surprises.
Rest is your friend.
Make sure you get a good night’s sleep before you venture out. For many of us, a good sleep routine has slipped in the lockdown. Take the time before more things open up and you are out and about to re-establish a good routine. I would recommend my book Sleeping with Painto help you with this.
Build in rest times if they are necessary. If you are going to be out for some time, perhaps, for example, you are visiting a relative who lives at some distance then see if you can take a few minutes out to really relax. You can try some techniques I recommend here https://www.apaininthemind.co.uk/sos-pain-relief-download/
Ask for a comfortable seat.
Many types of chronic pain are made worse by uncomfortable seating. Plan here and remember that a venue which you used to trust might have changed, so double check before rushing out. Getting decent seating is another reason to think about when you are going to visit your favourite cafe or pub, for example, Saturday might not be the best idea. Tuesday afternoon, if that fits with your work schedule, might be much better.
For many people with chronic pain sitting still for a long time stiffens up the muscles and makes the pain feel worse. If you can, build in time to move around when you go out to socialise.
The next piece of the jigsaw – communicate what you need.
I hope you find these ideas a help. There is another important part of the jigsaw though, and that is how you communicate your needs to those around you.
It might be that you were very good at this before the pandemic hit and now is the time to polish up those skills. Here is my advice on how to do this well, get your message across, and avoid conflict where that is possible.
Start talking now.
As we enter a period where things are going to ease up gradually, you have some preparation time. Lay the groundwork now. If you leave it until the evening before your loved ones have planned something then it will be harder to make any changes.
Be clear about what you need.
Make some notes of what you feel you need and explain clearly. Do not try to do everything at once. It can be better to plan five minutes a day to discuss what you need and how that can fit in with other people’s plans. Make sure this time is dedicated to the task at hand. Choose somewhere pleasant to sit and keep this time free from distractions, phones off for example.
Listen to other ideas.
Keep an open mind. Come to these chats with a spirit of inquiry and be prepared to listen to solutions you might not have expected.
For you, as a person with chronic pain, it might feel a bit challenging at the moment. There can be very good things around the corner though. This can be a time to establish good new healthy routines for yourself and those around you. We are all starting with a bit of a blank slate at the moment so take advantage of it.