Chronic pain is defined as pain that lasts for more than twelve weeks. Twelve weeks worth of pain sounds horrendous to most people. Unthinkable to others.
But what if that pain goes on for twelve months? Twelve years? What if that pain just goes on and on and on with no end in sight?
That's what life is like for millions of people worldwide. Pain every single day.
It's not pleasant. It's not pretty. But it's life. And for many people, it's really quite a difficult, ugly kind of life.
When someone has chronic pain, their pain dictates what they can and, more often, can't do. They can't always go for that coffee when a friend asks. They aren't always able to go to a family wedding. They may not manage to go to their own mother's birthday party.
Friends sometimes drift away. They want a more 'reliable' friend. One who will be there, not one who cancels at the last minute because of that pain time after time.
Families can become frustrated. Sometimes they can't understand why the pain can't be cured with some extra strong headache pills. Sometimes they can't cope with seeing them in pain. Sometimes they might not believe that the pain can be so controlling. And sometimes they want a more 'reliable' relative. Sometimes they too just drift away.
Close, intimate relationships are affected too. It takes an understanding person to cope with their partner's chronic pain. They often need to accept nothing more than a gentle hug, put up with the days when showering is impossible and give help to do simple daily tasks including washing and dressing. They see the moods, the frustration and the tears. Their partner's pain affects them so much, that it actually becomes their pain too. The couple needs to share it. They need to endure it together. But sadly, for some couples, that becomes too difficult.
A person with chronic pain often needs to justify themselves to other people. Their pain might not be visible. People might not believe them. Family. Friends. Colleagues. Benefit agencies. Insurance companies. Even doctors. They are living a daily nightmare and people don't believe them. A horrible thought? But it happens over and over. They're told the pain can't be that bad; that there's nothing wrong with them; that they're just lazy. How low could that make someone feel? How demoralising?
To wake up (if they've even slept) knowing that the day ahead is simply going to be full of the same pain, can be grim and dire. No matter what the cause is, it normally means a day of agonising pain and a day of popping pills.
But chronic pain is more than that. It's more than the pain itself and it's more than taking medication four times a day.
There are so many other symptoms which can accompany chronic pain.
Symptoms such as :
Fatigue; tiredness; insomnia; confusion and concentration problems
Self-loathing; low self-esteem and low self-confidence
Depression; fear; anxiety; stress and tension
Guilt; frustration; bitterness and anger
Yes, loneliness is a symptom.
Prescriptions are dished out for the pain, but those symptoms above need to be addressed and treated too. Those symptoms can often be conditions in their own right.
But there is help. Finding that help is so important. Accepting the help even more so.
Chronic pain has such a huge impact on people's lives. It can sneak in and it can snatch away so much. Careers. Plans. Dreams. Friends. Families. But it can't be allowed to take everything.
Hopefully one day, better solutions will be found, but until then, let's hope that medical professionals will recognise that there is more to chronic pain than just the pain.