I am shocked that it has taken someone else to bring this subject to my attention as it is one of the most difficult aspects of chronic pain I have experienced. Over the years I have lost endless amounts of friends and loved ones due to my invisible illness. During my teen years and very early twenties I did not much isolate myself because of chronic pain. My journey with chronic pain did not get terrible until I was around the age of eighteen or so. This was a time in my life where my coping mechanism with chronic pain was going out with friends drinking and doing almost anything to numb the pain. I was still very much in search for a cure and throughout my early years of college was seeking help from different specialists weekly. As my hope for any help diminished I partied more and more. I did not isolate myself because my coping mechanism for pain was very similar to the college lifestyle I was a part of. Most of the time I was partying for much different reasons than my peers but on the surface we all seemed on the same “normal” path. It was not until I gave up on treatment, help, pain relief, and most importantly myself that I started to isolate. I did not want to be alone but I was exhausted and hurt too much physically and mentally to socialize. I hated being alone and missing out on things. The only activities I would engage in with friends were activities that involved drinking. Alcohol numbed my physical pain and I was able to “have fun” and “be normal.” I would be lying if I said once in and a while I did not have an awesome time partying with friends in my early twenties. Some of my memories are hilarious but most of my memories of this time are downright awful and depressing. I wanted to go to the movies with friends and family. I wanted to be able to enjoy walking around the lake or just swimming in the ocean. I wanted to go to a hockey game and cheer in the stands without having to be drinking at the same time. I didn’t want to party like I did, I just did not want to feel this never ending physical pain. Thinking back to this time in my life makes me want to cry. Chronic does not seem to be a strong enough word for the ongoing, never ending pain I felt. I know so many people reading this are where I was then and my heart literally hurts for you.
It is very difficult to find someone with chronic pain who has not also felt or been diagnosed with either depression or anxiety. In my career as a medical social worker I always had to go over my patient’s diagnoses. They were all different but at the end of each diagnoses was depression. Here is an example: Patient has COPD, Breast Cancer, TIA (minor stroke), forgetfulness, difficulty walking, and lastly depression. NO KIDDING! If I was living with all that I would most likely be depressed as well. Well living in constant pain visible or not would cause most of us to be depressed. Having our hopes for a cure go up and down like a never ending roller coaster causes massive anxiety and depression. People with chronic pain are so often times completely misunderstood. We end up saying no to almost any event people ask us to go to either because we physically think that we can not attend or we just do not want to be around people pretending to be happy when all we can think about is pain. Isolation starts to happen quite quickly for people living with chronic pain which only increases the pain, depression and anxiety. It is an awful cycle that never seems to end. It did not end for me until I learned to live with pain naturally.
Even at the Mayo Clinic where I was surrounded by others with chronic pain I isolated myself. I started to think that there was no way he or she could have pain like me. How are they smiling?? It took weeks for me to grasp that I was not the only person in severe pain with a total loss of hope for happiness and a life outside of my invisible illness. On the weekends we were encouraged to socialize with the people in our chronic pain groups as we did not have the program on weekends. I always stayed by myself. I practiced the program alone at my hotel room. I remember going out to eat once with two of my peers who would later become good friends. One was a boy my age who was wheel chair bound and the other was an older woman with Fibromyalgia. All we did was go out for a meal and I was in hell. I was back to pretending to be happy and pain free when all I could think about was getting back to my hotel room so I could be alone. Isolation is not always healthy but it was exactly what I wanted.
My journey with chronic pain has not come close to ending and probably never will. I no longer isolate or use any substances to numb my physical pain. I love walking around the lake. I love reading in bed. I love that I am able to enjoy life despite my chronic pain and can be myself. I do not need have alcohol to have a good time. In fact alcohol usually only causes problems, lets be honest. Now when I am alone (which is never because of my mini me, Kayci) I enjoy the time. I am able to read a book and exercise and sometimes I think about the pain and sometimes I do not. If you are at a point in your journey with chronic pain that you find yourself isolating yourself do not be too hard on yourself about it. It is a journey. It took me acceptance an learning to live with my pain naturally to not want to isolate but you may not be there yet. Take one day at a time. We overanalyze things so much that more problems start coming up in our lives. Do your best today and know that you are not alone. I started this blog because I never want anyone to feel the loneliness and hopelessness that I felt for so many years. I did not have anything to read such as this on the internet. I know what you are going through and keep reminding yourself that you are on a journey and if you do not give up you will find the place where I am now with this journey we call chronic pain.