By Wendy Johnstone
Chronic pain can be overwhelming. Chronic pain is different for everyone and finding out what works to help manage it might take some trial and error. Caring for someone else while in pain adds an extra layer of complexity. Sarah, 55, lives with fibromyalgia and is a caregiver to her spouse who is recovering from a stroke. She is in pain most of the day and fights her fatigue. Sarah feels frustrated because her husband can’t see her pain and often forgets about her disease. She often feels anxious about the future and overwhelmed with her life. Given her circumstances, it’s a normal response. However, there are things Sarah and other family caregivers in pain can do to ease their struggle.
Put yourself first: Prioritizing self-care isn’t easy. Caregivers can especially feel they need to do it all or feel guilty about taking time for themselves. One of the best places to start is simply being kinder to ourselves with the same understanding and care we’d give to a friend, a stranger or the person for whom we are caring. Doing this one thing can lead to increased resiliency and better coping.
Pause before saying yes. Sometimes we just say yes automatically. We feel emotionally tied to a situation or we feel an enormous amount of guilt, and before we think about what saying yes may involve, the word slips out of our mouths. Sometimes, this ends up following us and becomes a standard we try to attain or maintain long term.
Draw the line: Setting boundaries and being a resilient family caregiver is about recognizing the importance of our own life, especially if trying to manage chronic pain. Striving towards caregiving within our limits isn’t easy, but it is necessary. It doesn’t mean we aren’t dedicated to caring. Quite the opposite. Setting boundaries allows caregivers to continue caring with compassion and devotion, instead of feeling lost or consumed by their caregiving role.
Watch your language: Dealing with chronic pain brings up a range of emotions. Sarah expressed her tendency towards negatives feelings. Acknowledging that life is imperfect and holding space and comfort for ourselves in the face of difficult times is a fine balance. Research shows that dwelling too long on negative thoughts can make it more challenging to move forward.
Unplug from being a caregiver: It may start with 10 minutes a day and could be as simple as having a cup of coffee or tea to create a pause in the day. The key is plugging into something that provides pleasure and peace and a chance to step away from your responsibilities amid your own pain.
Live Plan Be offers free online self-management tools for people living with chronic pain. Find out more at www.liveplanbe.ca