Andrew L. Martin, PsyD
As a Pain Psychologist, I treat individuals every day who suffer from chronic pain caused by injuries, illnesses and conditions. These folks have lives that often center around their pain, accommodating and scheduling around it, depending on their pain severity for the day. But so do those persons who live with chronic pain sufferers, whose lives are greatly impacted by the chronic pain of those they love. If you are that person, this article is for you.
Chronic pain is difficult, exhausting and depressing, not only for the sufferer, but for those who love and live with them. Having to modify your life according to someone’s pain level every day takes a great deal of patience and understanding. Doing so for long periods, without respite or refreshment, can easily result in caregiver and compassion fatigue and eventually, caregiver burnout. Let’s discuss how to recognize the signs and manage the normal frustrations and emotions of caregiving to head off fatigue and burnout before they start.
First of all, remember the person you care for didn’t choose chronic pain as a lifestyle or as a punishment for you. They rely on your help and care, not because they want to, but because they have to do so. They most likely deal with a great deal of guilt over being what they consider “a burden” to you and others because of their chronic pain. Being human, they may forget to say “thank you” enough or may get grumpy with you because they are in pain. You, also being human, can feel used or unappreciated for the efforts you make on their behalf. This can lead to anger and frustration, resentment and blowups. It is important to keep the lines of communication open, talk candidly about your feelings, draw boundaries when necessary, and seek professional help if one or both of you need counseling.
Self-care is so important for caregivers, who typically spend much of their time caring for someone else. The advice of “Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others” applies here. You should be getting enough sleep, eating nutritiously, making time for exercise, relaxing, enjoying yourself with friends and doing things you want to do, NOT spending 24/7 as a caregiver. In other words, you should have a life. If you don’t, you should get one now.
If your loved one needs someone with them all the time, call on your family, friends, church, Social Services, etc., to give you a break. If not, simply make the time for yourself. If your loved one resents you taking care of yourself and having a life, see the aforementioned boundary setting and counseling references. It will do you and the person for whom you care a world of good!
Even in this connected world in which we live, it is easy to find ourselves isolated and out-of-touch, especially when we are dedicated to taking care of someone. That’s why it is so important to find community in an on-line support group for caregivers. You can attend Zoom meetings, listen to inspirational speakers, get uplifted and restored, make new friends, and learn tips for caregiving. It also helps to learn that you are not alone in caring for someone with chronic pain and that others share your emotions and concerns. It is a wonderful way to stay focused on the positives of your efforts for your loved one, and to remind you of the many benefits and rewards of caregiving.
It’s difficult watching someone that we love hurt, cry or writhe in pain, and we may feel helpless when we can’t do anything to make the pain stop or to even make it lessen. What you are doing is being there for your loved one, offering invaluable emotional support and letting them know that they aren’t alone on this journey. What a noble and empathetic way of giving, to share someone’s suffering, right by their side.
Make an appointment with Dr. Martin or another OSC provider by clicking the “Request Appointment” button below or by calling (757) 596-1900.