Welcome to the second post in my series Explain Your Pain, in which I attempt to address the difficulty of explaining our chronic pain to our family friends, and others who need to be in the know.
Explaining our pain takes hard work, dedicated time, and great effort. If you read my first post in the series, The Communication Dilemma, you now know my thoughts on why explaining our pain is so difficult, but knowing the reasons does not immediately make these conversations easier.
When we are prepared for these conversations ahead of time, we will be much more effective in our efforts. But in the end, it doesn’t matter how prepared we are; these conversations still require hard work and energy we are hesitant to waste.
If we are going to expend such great effort, we have to believe these conversations are worth it. We must believe there is a great enough purpose in explaining our pain to justify the amount of energy and emotional effort we must expend to do so. We must believe that explaining our pain is an important and worthy endeavor.
- Explaining our pain is an important and worthy endeavor because we need practical help.
Chronic pain comes with obvious limitations and challenges. Unfortunately, the people around us are largely unaware of the nature and extent of these limitations. They have never experienced chronic pain and therefore are largely unaware of the help and accommodations we need to make it through each day.
I am stating this obvious fact because we often live as though this reality does not exist. We need practical help, but people cannot know this if we do not tell them. Our loved ones cannot understand what we need by looking at us, no matter how much we wish this to be the case. They cannot understand by our hints, our nonverbal grimaces, or our wishing they could just understand what is going on. The help that we need seems so obvious to us, and we hope people will intuitively anticipate our needs, but they will not and cannot know until we spell it out for them clearly.
We will not get the help that we need if we do not ask for it. We will not get accurate help if we are unable to accurately explain the nature of our chronic pain and subsequent limitations.
- Explaining our pain is an important and worthy endeavor because everyone has the right to be known.
We need far more than practical help. All who walk this earth – both those of us who live in constant pain and those who do not – crave and desire to be known. We explain our pain, not just because we need practical help, but because it is a way for us to share our burdens with one another.
At times, we remain silent because it feels as though chronic pain is our burden to bear, and we want to protect others from the weight of our suffering. We believe it would be unfair to burden others with what we are experiencing and so we clutch our suffering tightly to our chests, pretending it does not exist when others are around. But there is a different and better way, an exchange of being known, in which we express who we are and allow others to express who they are in return.
When we are prepared to accurately and effectively explain our chronic pain in a way that allows other to know us better, we will experience great relief and comfort that our pain has been heard. And far from being a selfish act, when we are vulnerable in sharing our own stories, we create space for others to share their lives and experience the comfort of being known in return.
- Explaining our pain is an important worthy endeavor because it can build greater closeness and deeper intimacy in our relationships.
Perhaps the most important reason we must take time to explain our pain is because it can be the process that leads to a greater closeness and deeper intimacy in our relationships. Although many remain silent thinking this is more loving, choosing to remain silent can become a selfish practice as we close ourselves off from those who love us most.
We cannot remain silent because it is impossible to build real relationships on false versions of ourselves. Remaining silent only leads to losing the relationships we already have and hinders us from forming new relationships with people we may meet in the future. We lose relationships because of our chronic pain for many reasons that are out of our control, but one reason that we do have control over is seeking to accurately explain what we experience and how our experience of chronic pain affects our ability to build relationships.
Hard conversations like these are how relationships become deeper and more intimate. Silence hinders relationship, but explaining our chronic pain can do just the opposite. In trying times, relationships will inevitable change. Chronic pain will inevitably change our relationships, but it must not inevitably change our relationships in ways that are bad. The strongest relationships are those that have been built on and sustained over rocky roads. The strongest relationships are the ones that have looked trial in the face and walked through hand in hand. The suffering and trial of chronic pain can be the force that leads to strong relationships that have stood the test of time, but this will only be the case when honest and open communication happens along the way.
Explaining our chronic pain is not just about us. We explain for ourselves that we might receive the help that we need and be known in the ways that we desire, but at its core, explaining our chronic pain is about relationship. Explaining our pain is about loving the people around us enough to let them into our lives that our relationships can grow and flourish.
Many of us need to redefine our reasons and purposes for explaining our chronic pain. We must have reasonable expectations as we enter into these conversations. We cannot go into these conversations with the purpose of being 100% understood, because this is unreasonable, and we will be disappointed.
We also cannot go into these conversations seeking to prove ourselves to people who have already decided to disbelieve us. We will rarely, perhaps never, be successful if we seek to prove ourselves to skeptics, doubters, and unkind individuals. The purpose of our explaining ourselves is not to prove ourselves to those who don’t believe, but to explain ourselves to those who are open and willing.
We explain to voice our needs.
We explain to be known.
We explain that our relationships might grow into deeper places that would never have been possible otherwise.