Living with the Chronically Pained, Part 2: A Conversational Starter Kit

If you're going to be friends with someone who suffers with chronic pain, the first thing you need to know is that the Chronically Pained don't have the luxury of forgetting that they suffer. 

The second thing you need to know is that they deal with a lot of advice, most of it unsolicited and contradictory. 

For proof of this, we need only look as far as last week's post, in which I mentioned that like one third of all Americans, I deal with chronic pain. People instantly began chiming in with all sorts of good advice, posting comments on Facebook and sending texts and messages recommending that I take water aerobics; that I meditate; that I stretch more; that I keep a pain journal; that I stop eating gluten, wheat, rye, white sugar, caffeine, dairy, red meats, soy, night shade vegetables, and library paste; that I use heating pads and/or ice packs; that I bathe in essential oils; that I sleep more, sleep less, try acupuncture, start running, stop running, and take herbal supplements. 

Okay. Perhaps I hyperbolize. 

But I have received a lot of advice, mostly contradictory, and much of it offered without knowing the nature of my pain, how long I've been dealing with it, what I've already tried, the treatment plan I'm currently on, whether I've been following my doctor's advice, and how it's all working. 

Now, I'm not going to say that I don't appreciate the care of others, because that would just make me seem like a jerk. It also wouldn't be true! Contrary to how this blog post may or may not be coming across, I do recognize advice for what it is: a sincere expression of concern and an open-hearted willingness to share helpful information.  

I'm also not going to say that you should never offer advice to the Chronically Pained, because what sort of world would this be if we didn't do what we could to ease each other's suffering? Besides, some of the best advice I've gotten on pain management has been unsolicited.

All I'm saying is that if there's any sort of process for these things, step one should always be to ask questions before offering advice. (Actually, that's good advice for all areas of life, but let's stay focused.)

A Conversational Starter Kit:

1. Do you know what's causing your pain?
2. How long have you had this condition?
3. Is it getting better or worse?
5. What have you already tried?
6. Are you being treated by a health care professional? (If not, why?)
5. What treatment plan has been recommended?
7. Are you following the plan? (If not, why? If so, is it working?)
8. Have you tried anything to help supplement or enhance the plan? 
9. What other plans have you tried in the past? Why did you stop?

Asking questions will do more than just keep you from offering unrelated advice. It will establish a foundation of personal understanding that will lend credence to any suggestions that you might offer. 

There's one more question to add to the list, but we're going to tackle it next week in Part 3: "What Can I Do to Help?"

* * * *

Personal Note: Just as with last week's post, I spent quite a bit of time waffling about whether or not I actually wanted to write this, knowing that no matter how I worded it, someone would probably end up being offended; but because dealing with advice is such a big part of living with chronic pain, I decided that I couldn't go without posting it. 

Please know that these comments aren't directed toward anybody in particular and that I do love you all and appreciate your care and concern so much.

I even took one piece of advice offered last week--and I'm glad I did! 

It's been helpful, and I'm thankful. 


  1. I'm sitting here grinning, knowing that I'm one of those who gave you unrequested advice, and I know you love me anyway. I understand what you're saying from both sides of the issue. When our daughter was going through so many health problems, we were working with several clinics and hospitals on her behalf. She even had an entire team of professionals assigned to her at Children's Mercy. So, yes, we'd tried everything, and it was frustrating and disheartening when people who didn't know our struggles would suggest easy fixes. Didn't they think we would have tried that? But I had to remind myself that their hearts were in the right place, and they were simply trying to help.

    I see so many articles on the Internet about what not to say to people in trying circumstances that it seems there really isn't anything left to say that isn't offensive to someone. I'd rather a friend speak up with the right intentions though clumsy words than to not show any interest or care at all.

    We don't want to burden our friends with trite platitudes or worthless advice, but we don't want them to think they are suffering alone, either. As with everything in life, it takes discernment.

    (I'd try the library paste, but I'm afraid I'd get attached to it.)

    1. Haha, yours is the advice I took, too! :)

      I know what you're saying about all those articles about what not to say, which is why I tried to phrase this one not really in terms or what not to say, but of how to approach saying it in the best way. And hopefully bookending this mini series with something positive next week will help.


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