What is chronic pain?
If you’ve ever lived in chronic pain, you know how difficult and debilitating it can be. Some days are good days, some days leave you in tears, some days even the sunlight hurts to behold. Coping with pain every day, it’s often a challenge to get out bed or perform daily tasks. Though friends and family may try to comfort you, you find it hard to connect with them, hard to believe in their hopeful sentiments. You feel as if you’re good for nothing, useless, hopeless, alone. You might even reject the comfort of family and friends for favor of silence and solitude, and simply put, this is no way to live.
On the other side of the spectrum, if you live with a person who suffers chronic pain or disability–it’s equally hard to cope. You tryto supportyour loved one, yet you can’t understand why they lash out at you, why their temper is like an unsteady compound in chemistry class. You don’t see why they want to push you away, and then cry because you’ve left. You feel as though there’s nothing you can do to help. Couple seeing someone you love in constant pain with the pressures of work, family, chores, and finances and you have, then, two explosive people — and arguments always make pain worse. Then follows the guilt, the remorse, the trying-to-make-amends. It’s a vicious circle.
I write this as a person who’s been on both sides. I grew upcaring for a mother who suffered every day from the pain of a multi-fractured spine and a broken neck. In my college years, I spent weekends commuting across Florida continuing to care for my mom, and adding to that the care of my grandmother who suffered from heart problems and my grandfather who ran into the worst of prostate cancer.From age 19I have suffered chronic migraines due to ammonia on my brain, a cracked vertebrae in my neck, and multiple untreated concussions. Only now can I reinterpretmy mother’sbehavior knowing fully the context of her sufferings. And now, I’m trying to teach my husband how to deal with my pain in my own darkest hours, and still learning myself how to reconcile the health I once knew with the pain I now continue to fight against. And for those loved ones whose heart breaks to see their wife or child or mother go through any kind of long-term pain, I am telling you from experience….
There IS something you can do about it.
Even if you can’t take their pain from them and no prescriptionwill offer relief, there is a wayto support them and maintain your own sanity and peace. When you’re anxious, it only makes your spouse or children more anxious. On the contrary, if you remain calm, composed, yet sensitive and empathetic, your example will be the example for your family and, if you can’t help the one you love physically, at least you can keep them from depression, feelings of uselessness, and the anger that so often prevails in those who suffer from high-level pain on a day to day basis. You CAN make a difference.
The “HAUL” method is an acronym I’ve created as a helpful, handy, and easy-to-remember guide for caregivers, spouses, family, and caring friends that will remind them of the steps they can take to ensure there are giving just the right kind of support to their loved ones who are in pain. I encourage you to read, remember, and give it a try.
H = “hold”
Human touch is a powerful force. Without it, children fail to establish secure attachments with their parents, fail to become high achievers later in life, and seem to lack an understand of love as a whole. Touch can heal. Being there to hold your loved one in their time of need, taking the time to caress them, grasp their hand, slowly rub their head, or just envelop them in a hug means everything to the person who is in pain. Across the “pain barrier,”touch translates into the security of knowing that someone cares enough for them that they will not be left alone. It creates a corner of peace through their pain. It shields them from the violence of what they suffer. It quiets their nerves, dries their tears, and conveys love in a tactile form that they can feel. It makes all the difference in the world to a wife in pain when her husband is there in the bedroom, cradling her, rather than yelling from the kitchen, “Oh, honey, don’t worry, you’ll be fine tomorrow.” Touch, holding, is critical.
A= “to attend, to anticipate”
The “A” in the “HAUL” method represents to two verbs, “to attend” and “to anticipate.” Understand that pain amplifies everything. The chemicals the brain omits that trigger pain signals are the same ones that can cause inflammation and anxiety. If you’re left alone for a moment, it seems like a lifetime. If the TV is on normal volume, it seems like it’s at the volume of Superbowl Sunday at the Ale House. To get up and climb that imposing set of stairs seems like a monument to tackle. A Brita water pitcher can seem heavy. In attending to the person in need and working to anticipate their needs, you eliminate not only the physical pain of doing normal tasks but you also alleviate the perceived anxiety within their mind. Anticipate the small things you, yourself, would ask for in pain– a glass of water,a blanket,turned-down covers, a book read aloud, a small bowl of soup,a prayer.If you wait to act until they ask, you reinforce their feelings of uselessness and dependency, making them feeling even more sad, and amplifying their pain level as well. Anticipate their needs and–stay with them–attend them. If they keep calling you from the other part of the house, you’re going to feel inconvenienced, and they’re going to feel an inconvenience for needing to call you in the first place. Simply staying in the same room as them, even doing separate things or working on upcoming projects for the job, greatly reduces their anxiety, and provides them with comfort, and security.
The “U” in the “HAUL” method signifies “understand.” Now, by understand I do not mean saying, “Oh, yes, dear I know it’s hard and I understand how you feel”–because, in actuality, you don’t! No person who has lived pain-free can possibly truly know the agony of chronic pain.Pain from abroken wristis not the same kind of pain asa broken spine.Instead, understand that the person you are dealing with in pain is NOT the same person you are dealing with out of pain. Your wife crumpled up in a nightgown in tremendous pain is not the same woman you married. She is trapped. She feels like the world is a dark place with no place to go, and you are her only life-raft. Under severe mental and physical stress, their sometimes clipped words and over exaggerations and misunderstandings arenot under their control. Never blame someone for being the cause of their own problem, especially while in pain, or you’ll find yourself out of the house quicker than you can say jack-rabbit. Sympathize with the person you’re dealing with and realize s(he) is a fragile being at the moment with needs like a child, no matter the age they are in fact.
L= “love and listen”
Lastly, the “L” in the “HAUL” method stands for “love” and “listen”. These last two parts of the method are straight forward enough, but critically important nonetheless. Let your loved one know that they are your priority, that you love them, that you won’t leave them, and then simply listen. On many occasions just having someone to talk to alleviates the pain, and knowing that you’re number one on a priority list gives no small amount of satisfaction and, across the “pain barrier,” it translates quite simply as love and hope, and a reason to fight one day longer.