Ask the Expert: Managing a Loved One’s Chronic Pain
Ashley Seace, Care Management Associate – firstname.lastname@example.org
My mom is in her mid-60s and lives with my husband and me. She suffers with fibromyalgia, which she’s had most of her life. She is sometimes very cranky and tired. It’s hard for us to be around someone who is so often in a bad mood, but then we also feel guilty. We know she’s in pain. How can we help her without adding more stress for us? We just want everyone to be happy.
This a good question. And it’s great that you are willing to find ways to support your mom in her pain. Fibromyalgia is what we call an invisible illness. This is a condition that causes pain all over the body, sleep problems, fatigue, anxiety and depression, cognitive issues such as memory or thinking problems, and migraines. If we do not have it, then we find it hard to understand what someone is going through.
People with fibromyalgia often feel as though their struggles aren’t valid or that nobody believes them because this is not a physical illness that we can see. The first step to being able to support your mom is by educating yourself on this condition and learning what symptoms she is experiencing regularly. If you understand what her symptoms maybe then you can understand what she experiencing in the midst of the pain. This will allow you to be more sympathetic towards her.
Knowing what can cause a flare-up is another way to support your mom. What in her daily routine causes her pain to increase? Are there ways she can remain active but not overdo it? As she goes through her daily routines, you can be there to help relieve some of the extra work she may have to do. You can assist your mom around the house or with tasks that will lead to a flare-up of the pain. If she cannot do a task in that moment, remind her that it’s okay to stop and take a break. Encourage your mom to listen to her body and then support her in those decisions. She might feel guilt or shame because she cannot do something, but rather than shaming her or getting frustrated, remind your mom everyone has limitations. It’s okay to ask for help or take a break.
Your mom wants to know that you believe her when she is struggling with the pain. It will be important for her to know that if she needs you, you will help her. Loved ones with chronic pain want you to know that they are trying their best. That they are still important.
It is possible that your mom is struggling emotionally in addition to her physical pain which makes her seem irritable. Try finding ways to ease some of the burdens your mom is feeling. You might have her help you cook dinner rather than try to cook the whole meal herself. Her condition may require she rests more, but she can still help and contribute. Honor how her body feels in the moment, day by day and validate her feelings even if you can’t understand exactly what they are. Just acknowledging that your mom is tired or cranky or sad can be helpful, especially because her illness is invisible. Your awareness and validation can help her feel seen and heard.
The best thing that you can do in this situation is to let your mom know she’s not a burden, is important to you, and that you believe her when she expresses pain and discomfort. This emotional support can go a long way in helping her feel less shame about her condition and more compassion for herself, which can help everyone relax and enjoy each other more. Finally, do the same for yourself. Acknowledge your own frustration, bad moods and discomfort related to your mom’s condition. It can be overwhelming and frustrating. Find someone you can talk with who can understand the pressure of caring for a loved one with chronic pain. Everyone needs validation, acknowledgement and support. When you can get this for yourself, you’ll have more to give to your mom!