If you are going to get the most out of your social life, even if you suffer with chronic pain, you need to learn how to ask for what you need. Watchwords here are: ask clearly, ask kindly, ask firmly.
You need to be able to tell people your feelings and your needs in terms they can easily understand. Your family or friends deserve to know how you feel and what they can do to help you manage your chronic pain. In this blog, we are going to look at some communication skills to do this.
Make communication a habit
Practice makes perfect and there is nowherethis is truer than in communication. If you have been quiet about what you need for years, then you need to start with baby steps. Your friends and family are going to be thrown if you suddenly start making demands on them. They will think they are doing something wrong and may get defensive. This is not a good place to start.
The best thing to do is to build good habits over time. Start by communicating the fact that you need to communicate. Be open, explain your worries and your fears now the pandemic seems to be easing up.
Make a regular time to talk
Start by agreeing to set aside some regular time to talk about your pain, why and how it constrains what you can do and how you can best manage it. With a good friend, this might be a regular part of your established phone chats. With a partner perhaps set aside some quiet time every few days, say when you or they finish work. Little and often is a good way. That way your loved ones do not have to take in too much information at once, also those you are closest to will begin to understand that your pain goes up and down and this can affect your mood. You may even find they have insights into your pain, when you seem worse or when you seem better. Insights that you do not have.
Keep the conversation short
One more advantage of regular communication is you do not have to say everything at once. Work out what is important and how you can say it clearly. Here is an example. If you are planning for a social event, make a checklist of what is worrying you, what solutions you see as possible, what your limits are. Then you might decide you need a couple of sessions to explore this. Be honest with this and get agreement on how you are going to communicate. You are much more likely to have a free-flowing discussion.
Keep it balanced
Successful communication is not a moan-fest. Especially if you are just starting to go out again you may feel very worried and nervous and when you are feeling like this you can come across as very negative. In this circumstance, it can be very easy to offload all your worries at once and end up sounding as if life is terrible. This can upset your nearest and dearest, and then they will not be in the best place to listen to you and support you, and often it is not the whole picture anyway. You will also find if you practice balanced communication, you will improve your mental health.
Balance is a positive outlook, problem, possible solution, possible limitations.
Here is an example. You are worried about going to say a big wedding because you are concerned the seating will be uncomfortable and there will be nowhere for you to go if you need to stretch and relax. You want to talk to your partner, who is coming with you, about how best to manage. Start by saying, I am so looking forward to Maria’s wedding and that venue islovely. I am just a bit worried about those seats! Do you think they have any more comfortable ones for people who find it difficult to sit for a long time? Perhaps we could give the venue a ring ourselves so as not to bother Maria. You will get a much better result than if you just say: ’oh these chairs are going to be a problem, it will make my back terrible, perhaps we shouldn’t go at all’.
Be open about what your priorities are
I have noticed that a lot of people who suffer from chronic pain are feeling a bit overwhelmed at the moment. After so long of not having much opportunity to go out very much, now there seems too much to do or too many people to see. Here you need some good negotiation with your nearest and dearest. Be open about what you value most. Be prepared to compromise if those closest to you feel differently. Be open about your fears as well. They can often be resolved. For example, your partner may be desperate to see his favourite brother, but you find him very tiring as he always insists on going to big noisy places. Be open about what the solutions might be, a different venue, a short time, or perhaps your partner goes out alone with his brother and you join later somewhere more comfortable. Always think of solutions. It shows you are open and flexible and value the feelings of others.