|Cartoon by Natalie Dee|
Communicating about pain can be painful in itself. What we talk about and how we talk about it defines who we are, so not wanting to be defined by our health issues we may choose to put on a brave face. In very many cases I choose to not talk about it, and I was amazed to learn that the bad feeling I often get talking about our pain may be because talking about pain activates the pain centers in the brain, actually intensifying the nerve signals!
A Norwegian study published in 2005 showed that out of 74 patients suffering chronic pain because of a rheumatic condition "practically everyone said they «understated» their troubles and pains, because they did not want to be looked upon as a person always «complaining and whimpering» "
But there are several situations when talking about it is absolutely necessary. Until I learned how I could be friendly and positive while still talking seriously about pain, I used to believe that I should always be cheerful when seeing a doctor. I'm a cheerful and positive person! Of course they got a completely tilted images of how well I was functioning, and so for a long time my treatment was insufficient and largely unhelpful. Telling it like it is, without breaking down in tears in the doctor's office, takes some preparation and practice. But everyone can learn how to communicate constructively about pain, one of the best ways I've found is by keeping a pain journal.
Also to maintain good relationships with family and friends it's important to tell it like it is sometimes. It took me many years to understand that how much I was limited by pain was completely invisible to everyone else. I had to set aside time to explain, and I learned to tell my friends how I function at different stages of the pain scale - to allow them to know, communicate constructively and have understanding and sympathy without having to dwell on the negative aspects of pain constantly.
But you also need a safe place to be vent, and be absolutely honest about how awful you feel sometimes. The best place for this is with a counsellor or in a support group. I believe that if you have established routines and safe spaces that let you communicate openly about your pain, you don't have to share the sad stuff with everyone else and it's easier to focus on stuff that is more uplifting.... like.. ice cream!?