The Chronic Pain Experience – Support
Building Your Community – The Alone-ness of Chronic Pain
There is nothing quite like being alone and isolated because of chronic pain. Many self-care tasks that we take for granted, such as showering, or getting dressed, can be quite laborious when you are affected by chronic pain. Rather than going through the process of getting ready to leave the house, many people suffering from chronic pain find it easier just to stay home.
In addition, there is the sigma, of you being “that person” who slows everyone else down. I know it may take a lot of work for you to leave your home, but your health, and even your life, may depend on it. If you don’t believe me, search the words “chronic pain and isolation” in Google Scholar.
You will see about 753,000 results (Dec 2022). Many professional articles discuss how isolation negatively affects chronic pain. According to the research, getting out and being social will have a direct positive impact on your mental and physical health.
The Importance of Community
The first place we find community in the Bible is Genesis 1:26
“Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (NASB)
Notice all the plural pronouns used in this verse. In the beginning, God was in a community with himself – the Trinity. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all in perfect community. Also, as we look at what He created He made many animals of each type.
Not just one but many. He then created one single man. It wasn’t long after, God uttered the words,
“It is not good for man to be alone:” (Gen2:28 NASB)
An Overview of a Healthy Social Life
Modern research and theology agree that we are wired to be socially involved with other people. When studying history, it seems that social interactions and community involvement was hard-wired into our culture.
With the prevalence of the internet and automation becoming the normal practice in business, many of the acquaintances that we made through just “taking care of business” have disappeared. The result is that our social interactions and feeling of what community is have dramatically been reduced.
When I was growing up, our family doctor lived at the beach. When I say family doctor, I mean that he was my grandparent’s doctor, my mother’s doctor, and he delivered me when I was born.
As a youth, I spent a lot of time at the beach, and I often ran into my doctor (once literally, because I was learning how to roller skate). It was easy to feel that we were part of a community because of the number of people we personally engaged with just going through our day.
As our society increases reliance on computers, our in-person interactions decrease, and we can easily feel marginalized and isolated. Living in our modern culture full of technology gives us the opportunity to explore how friendships are formed and maintained.
The Social Triangle
Small Group Large Group
(This may be an oversimplified explanation of friendship, but I think it gives us a good starting point for the conversation.)
If you look at the diagram, each point of the triangle represents a different type of opportunity for social interaction and the development of a community. It is important to have each group healthy and active to maintain a good social life.
Yes, developing and maintaining a healthy social life takes effort. However, the reward of friendship is priceless.
“Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family.” – Proverbs 18:24 (MSG)
Let’s Take a Look at Some Types of Groups in our Life
The large group
Looking at the right point of the triangle you see the large group.
This point represents those groups that are around 70 to 100 people. This could be your church, Sunday school class, or a workgroup you are in… Maybe it represents the group of people with whom you volunteer. It is the largest social group we have in-person face-to-face contact with. The larger group may feel more enthusiastic as opposed to the smaller groups, however, much less intimate. This group may not take notice if you miss an activity or two.
Social media is not part of this diagram and is purposely left out of this discussion. I am strongly encouraging you to get out and go to church, volunteer, or join a meetup.
Involving ourselves with larger groups of people is part of our mental health and more important than you may realize… Engaging regularly with enthusiastic volunteers or interest groups will help you develop and maintain the social skills you need to develop and nurture friendships.
The small group
This is on the left side of the triangle. This point represents groups of people who are about a dozen or so.
The smaller size group gives it the opportunity to be a little more intimate. An example of a small group may be a home Bible study, support, or bunco club. It is an opportunity for people to converse and get to know each other a little bit better.
It is where it will be noticed if you do not show up. Just missing one or two meetings will start concerns with the other members and they will reach out. In addition, this is a good group for accountability. It shows you matter.
The close friends
The top of the triangle represents those two or three people you call close friends.
Let’s look at Tamora as an example:
Tamora lived in Seattle just a few blocks away from her oldest daughter They both attended the same church on Sundays, went to the same woman’s Bible study on Wednesday mornings, and, as you can guess, talked on the phone at least once a day.
If you were to ask Tamora about her friendships, she would say, without hesitation, my daughter is my best friend. Tamora’s relationship with her oldest daughter Sarah was so fulfilling that Tamora saw no need for friendship other than the one she had cultivated with her daughter.
When the other women from Bible study invited Tamora to meet for coffee or attend an open house, Tamora would decline the offer, thinking to herself she didn’t need other friends, family was enough.
When Tamora was in her mid-sixties she had undergone back surgery. Sarah was able to take time off of work to ensure Tamora’s recovery went well. It did for the most part, there was some lingering pain, but it seemed manageable at the time. However, as time passed Tamora was diagnosed with osteoporosis and her lingering back pain became worse. It was getting harder for Tamora to leave the house and attend events with Sarah. Tamora was losing her independence.
The time that Tamora had with Sarah was reduced to the occasions when Sarah could come over and visit or when Tamora needed to see a doctor. Sarah approached the issue of having her mother come live with her so Sarah could keep a closer eye on her.
Sarah watched her mother become even more isolated because of the chronic pain and was concerned about her mother’s physical and social needs. Because Tamora didn’t foster relationships other than her daughter, all of the responsibility for Tamora’s well-being fell on Sarah. Her mother didn’t realize that only relying on her daughter for social interaction was not good for her own social/emotional health. And in the long run even her physical health.
Tamora did eventually move in with Sarah, with the condition that she would begin psychotherapy and learn how to foster other friendships in the community. It was difficult for Tamora at first, but eventually, she found friends in Bible study and was able to maintain those relationships.
Tamora was amazed how, through fostering new friendships, the strong relationship she had with her daughter improved! Sarah felt less burdened by her mother’s care and Sarah actually enjoyed the time she spent with her mom even more.
Tamora will still tell you that her daughter is her best friend, and she will also tell you about all the other lovely people that she can now call friends.
So, your friendships can be a combination of your blood relatives and close acquaintances. This group should not be exclusive to just your grown children. You need to develop friendships with people you did not give birth to. It may seem challenging at first, but over time you will see your relationship with your adult sons and daughters improve as you develop outside friendships
Jesus had three very distinct groups of disciples during His ministry on earth. In Luke 10:1-23, we find Jesus sending out 72 disciples to cast out demons, heal the sick and tell of Jesus. That was His large Group.
Jesus also spent time with the 12 disciples and as we look through the gospels, we can see why and how He called each of them. This was His small group. Accompanying Him to the garden of Gethsemane the night of His betrayal, there were only three that showed up. Peter, James, and John represented His close friend group. (Luke 22)
Building Blocks of a Healthy Community
Building a healthy community is an essential part of self-care. It is vital to develop and surround yourself with a caring tribe of health professionals in addition to your friends and family.
Example: In addition to your therapist, you may need to have a health coach, acupuncturist, natural practitioner, and/or personal trainer. You may need one or all. Several areas of support are what will keep you moving forward.
Having a routine of meeting with your support system is the key to managing chronic pain in order to live the lifestyle you deserve and desire. It is critical to understand this will not be a one-and-done solution. It’s about making life changes.
The idea of self-care might be new to you, or maybe you are a self-care veteran who needs to adjust to what you are already doing. Listed below are a few suggestions of “tribe members” to support all the aspects of a healthy whole you.
Mental Health – Psychotherapist
A therapist such as a Mariage and Family Therapist (MFT), Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D), or Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) can help you explore and strengthen your relationship with yourself and others. If you are having trouble finding and maintaining relationships, this professional will be able to help you in this part of your journey.
Emotional Health – Support Groups
Finding support groups can offer you skills to manage your specific type of chronic pain and help you realize you are not alone. If you are feeling you are the only person who has had this type of pain, this is a good start for you. Seeing how others living with chronic pain can give you the encouragement you need to move forward. It also helps to build and establish new relationships. 😉
Spiritual Health – Other Believers
Being in a small Bible study is a very valuable place to bring your spiritual understanding of God and purpose into your chronic pain experience. I have heard it said, “good theology can change your life”. It has changed mine. If you are questioning your faith or desire fellowship with your family in Christ, this is your starting place.
Physical Health – Medical, Nutritional, and other Professionals
The following are the different areas of help you can reach out to…
…did I miss anybody
These and others have patiently spent many long hours working through your chronic pain issues with you.
They have worked tirelessly to find solutions to reduce your chronic pain symptoms and enhance your life.
They say “ it takes a village to raise a child,” I say
It takes a tribe to manage chronic pain
If you are interested in learning more about using clinical hypnosis to gain the skills to manage chronic pain, contact me here and we will strategize together to help you plan your path of pain management.
pic source: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/media/collection/come-follow-me-learning-and-teaching-resources-images?lang=eng&collectionId=9469dcd2e95b0f73fd237301b21fecbd372d2e60