Are you the spouse or primary caregiver of someone living with chronic pain? If you are, you're in good company. According to Family Caregiver Alliance, more than 34 million Americans provided unpaid care to a loved one last year.1
Taking care of, or even just living with, a loved one with chronic hip pain, knee pain, or other types of joint pain can be incredibly rewarding yet at the same time demanding and stressful. It can be tough to put ourselves in our loved one's shoes if he or she struggles with joint pain caused by arthritis or some other chronic condition.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), pain is a personal and subjective experience. There isn’t a test that can measure pain accurately.2 Can you imagine how frustrating it’d be to have chronic pain that you couldn’t ever really describe?
The following issues are common effects of chronic pain. Being aware of them might be all it takes to better understand and provide support to your loved one.
1. Physical disability. People with joint pain often need more time to do basic activities. Even the simplest tasks can become more difficult. They may require more breaks and a slower pace in general. This can easily prevent them from participating in activities they used to enjoy.
What would it feel like to struggle to get out of bed or simply rise from a chair? What would it be like to have no, or little, relief from your pain? How would you balance the memory of the person you were with the person you’ve become?
Stop and really try to imagine that…
What if your whole life was different because of your pain?
You were the one leading the gals shopping on Black Friday. Now you struggle to keep up with your friends and have to take frequent breaks. You tell them to go ahead without you and pretend you don’t see the disappointment in their eyes. You wonder what they must be thinking about you?
Maybe you were an avid runner. Every spring the cool breeze wisps across your cheeks, beckoning you to the open road. You’d give anything to feel that runners high one more time. But you can’t.
As a caregiver, it’s so easy to default to the routine of dealing with all the ways these changes impact our own lives. But stopping to really think about what our loved one is experiencing, and the mental war they’re facing, could go a long way in our own ability to handle the situation.
2. Social isolation. Physical disability and pain can make it hard for people to keep up with their friends and family. Not being able to go out and participate with loved ones can leave them feeling incredibly isolated, which may further exacerbate their symptoms.
Let’s face it, nobody wants to be a burden on their loved ones. It’s a natural defense to withdraw. But as a caregiver, having a tenderness to this might help us figure out how to get our loved ones to interact again. If we let them know that they aren’t a burden, or that their slower pace is a welcome change for the entire group, maybe they’ll feel more comfortable rejoining some of their social engagements.
3. A great deal of emotion. The combination of pain, physical disability, and social isolation is a lot for someone to handle. This could conjure up all kinds of emotions… even more so if they’re having trouble sleeping due to the pain.
They could be struggling with grief and a sense of loss over the life they used to live. They could be struggling to accept their new life and identity. Their relationship dynamics have likely changed as well, making them, and you, navigate new roles and norms. Talk about a whirlwind of emotion going on!
While your loved one may seem emotionally hijacked at times, it could be due to this storm of emotion happening within. They might seem fine one minute, angry another, then sad. As a caregiver, a simple understanding of this can go a long way. If you’re aware of what’s going on, you might be able to help talk through their emotions and find resolutions.
While definitely not exhaustive, the following emotions are common among people suffering from joint pain:3
It’s important to note that the purpose of this article is not to ignore the emotion and change that you, the caregiver, may be experiencing as well. Living with, or caring for, someone with chronic pain can drastically change your life, which can come with many emotions.
You might experience a sense of loss4 due to a required lifestyle change. You may become resentful4 because you no longer have a social partner, driver, or activity planner. And, you might feel guilty4 for continuing to engage in activities in which your loved one can no longer participate. It can also become extremely stressful for couples who are no longer able to enjoy certain activities together.
As with the emotions common to those suffering from pain, here are a few emotions common among caregivers:4
Regardless of which emotions you’re feeling, remember you’re not alone. You’re dealing with a lot too, so show yourself some grace during this time. Have open conversations with your loved one about how they’re feeling, but also express how you are feeling. A little understanding on both your parts can go a long way in navigating the situation.