How to Ask for Help When Chronic Pain or Illness Strikes


There are many things that loved ones and caregivers should not say or ask when you have chronic pain or illness. There are many things that loved ones and caregivers should say, ask or understand when you have that. There are many things that loved ones and caregivers should say or ask others when they are seeking assistance themselves, while caring for you.

There are many things that you should ask a doctor, physical therapist, caregiver or long-term care facility when interviewing him or her. However, nowhere can you find things that you should say or ask a loved one or caregiver when you actually need help. This article is an attempt to fill that void.

Accept that you need help

This section could be obvious and unnecessary but it is important for the psychology of your requesting physical help, to make it more easy and comfortable for you to do, and to have you “don’t sweat the small stuff…and it’s all small stuff”.

1) Tell yourself that you need help. Well, yes and no. If you are experiencing chronic pain or illness then your long-term and on-going needs (such as treatment, meals, travel and other things) have most likely been addressed by the doctor, physical therapist, caregiver or facility. Thus, you need help and assistance only in your short-term and immediate needs. This realization makes it easier for you to ask and easier for others to accomplish.

2) Figure out what exactly you need help with. What exactly do you need help with right now? Perhaps you want to watch television and need to have the remote control. Perhaps it is not within your reach and it is too difficult for you to move to get it. Perhaps it is not within your reach and you are able to get up and get it but it may be closer to someone else. In either case, you can simply ask someone to get the remote for you.

Sometimes you need help with a combination of short-term and long-term needs. For example, you may want to make a meal for yourself–and are capable of doing so–but realize that you do not have all the ingredients. Thus, you may need help in shopping for that. A better(?) solution is to decide what you will want to eat the next day and ensure that you have everything required for that. The next day, however, you may be in too much pain or illness, or your mood may have changed, so it may have become irrelevant. Realize that not every day will be better than the next, but that not every day will be worse than the previous.

3) Look for someone who can help. Who is with you right now? If you are in chronic pain or have a chronic illness then you should always be with a doctor, physical therapist, loved one, caregiver or in a facility. If you are at home but your family is gone then the only option you have is to telephone someone.

One medical doctor who, himself, became chronically ill found that friends and relatives who had offered to help usually meant it, even if they did not reiterate their offers recently. You may ask your friends and relatives who expressed a similar desire first; they are the most likely people who will help you now.

If you are alone in public then you will have to ask a stranger. This is, or can be, quite difficult for anyone in any situation. Many years ago, I was walking in the city and someone in a wheelchair asked me to push him across the street. Since I was about to cross the street anyway, I did so. He then asked me to take him to the right. Since I was going to the left, I was slightly disgruntled, but I continued to assist him. I took him to the spot that I thought that he had indicated, but he then requested me to go even further. Since I was getting further from where I wanted to be, I left him. The lesson here is that you can ask strangers, but do not ask them to do too much, or describe accurately beforehand what and how much you want.

4) Maintain a positive self-image. Reread the first paragraph of this section. And as I wrote in #2, you may need help in getting a remote. This does not mean that you are too ignorant in knowing how to get a remote or too incapable of getting it; it just means that you may find it difficult right now. It does not necessarily mean that it will always be too difficult for you; it does not mean that your worth as a human being is diminished because of this one small thing at one small time.


Reaching out for help

1) Swallow your pride (or not). If you are with a doctor, physical therapist, etc. then that person already knows that you need help and already is willing to provide it.

If you are alone in public then you may think that strangers may not help, but an article showed that large numbers of people are willing to help the blind, someone with a hurt leg, or even someone who has merely dropped a pen. Furthermore, there are continuous and innumerable studies of strangers returning lost wallets. A very recent article showed that 80% of wallets, with cash intact, were returned in Toronto.

On the other hand, if you have been horrifically and brutally raped and beaten for many hours in Delhi then maybe even the police will not help you. You may not always be able to receive the help you want and need anywhere and at anytime, but chances are usually better than even that you can.

2) Ask someone for help. You now know what to ask (for a remote, for shopping, to be assisted in crossing the street, and others) and whom to ask (family, caregiver, doctor, physical therapist, or facility); now, it is just a matter of simply asking.

At this point, I think that it is a good idea for me to provide specific questions to ask your doctor and which can be adapted to ask a physical therapist, facility or other person helping you in your long-term needs. These are designed to maximize your options which are better for you and which can make things easier for your caregiver and/or loved ones.

Are you the right person for me? What is the cause of my pain/illness and are there other possible causes? What treatments can help me with my pain/illness, and what do you think of alternate treatments? What is the best outcome I can expect, and what should I do if the pain returns? What can I do to help with my care and where can I turn for support?

3) Go somewhere else to talk. In normal office work, and in family life, it is sometimes necessary to go somewhere else to speak to someone privately. If you have a chronic condition then it may not be applicable. If you are in a room with five other people and you want to speak to one of them alone then, theoretically, you can go somewhere else to talk but it may just be easier to ask the four others to leave.

4) Watch and listen to your helper. For very many years, I worked in a sales environment in which I was taught to CARE: to provide a Choice, to Ask, to Recommend, and to Encourage (the customer in continuing to benefit from the service or product). In this case, your helper ought to be the “salesperson” and to provide you choices, to ask about your needs, etc. Listen to your helper so that you can be the one to benefit from the selection.


Taking help graciously

1) Thank your helper. My wife does, and does not, do this. She does not have chronic pain nor chronic illness (other than arthritis in her knee which sometimes flares up) but she sometimes asks for help in other regards. For example, she may ask someone to look for employment for her. She will then thank him, but often will later find reasons not to take advantage of what he has done or was willing to do. It is better to be genuine, and to find reasons for doing something rather than making up excuses not to do something.

Other, similar tips are to be polite, avoid being annoying, and apologize if the assistance was a burden or an inconvenience to your helper. Realize that everybody has problems and burdens, that you need help with yours, and offer to help the other person if and when you can. It is not necessarily bad or burdensome to others when you ask for help because when others ask you for help then you may even feel eager to do so (assuming that you are capable of doing so, and are not encumbered by pain or illness).

2) Internalize your helper’s advice. In a way, the “R” in CARE–the Recommendation’’–was the externalization of the questions asked. After asking our customers various questions, we then provided a recommendation based on their answers. If the questions and answers were appropriate, accurate and correct then the recommendation should be reasonable and readily accepted. In the same way, your helper’s advice should be good for you and should be followed-up, or perhaps you should “sleep on it” to give it further thought.

3) Try to solve the problem yourself. If you do not have chronic pain or illness then this is best, and even if you do have it then this is best. It is better for you to do the things that you can do (so that you do not think and be helpless), and it is better for your helpers.

In a way, this is the “E” in CARE–the Encouragement–or the actual benefit and use of the recommendation. (Again, you are the customer in this scenario.)

There may be some things that you can not do for the long-term; there may be hurdles in doing short-term things. You may not be able to run a marathon, but you may still be able to walk around the block. Do what you can do, within reason, and without overextending yourself.

4) Do not be afraid to ask for help again. The above-mentioned chronically-ill doctor found out that there were many people who were willing to help, even though it may have required a follow-up request. Your doctor, physical therapist, loved ones, caregiver or facility exist to help you.

Granted, it may be peculiar, inappropriate and even difficult or impossible to ask the same stranger to help you again, but if you can find one stranger to help you in one of your needs then you can find another stranger to help you.

In any case, ask!