How to Communicate with Your Family and Friends About Your Pain

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I wish you’d have given me this written question ahead of time so I could plan for it…I’m sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with [an] answer, but it hadn’t yet…I don’t want to sound like I have made no mistakes. I’m confident I have. I just haven’t–you just put me under the spot here, and maybe I’m not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one. – George W Bush

Well, all of us can not be as eloquent, erudite and cogent as George W. Bush was in this press conference on April 3, 2004.

In many ways, the family is a mini-government, and the mother and father are the political rulers. What do political rulers do when they want to communicate their ideas and plans, and to allay fears and address concerns? They hold press conferences.

There is a WikiHow page about holding a press conference which, in my mind, seems truncated and most of which does not apply here. The steps that do apply refer to inviting the press (your family) and choosing a venue. Theoretically, you can invite your friends at this time but there could be resentment as this could be a very personal matter and family members rightly feel that they should know things before “outsiders” do.

If you are mobile then a place such as the family room, dining room or other named room in which everybody feels comfortable should be the venue. For friends, a good recommendation is to invite them for lunch at a pleasing restaurant. If you are immobile then it could be more appropriate to invite everyone (family and friends, together) to your room.

Again, the “press conference” is where you will tell them what you want to tell them. What will you tell them? The specifics are things that you will have formulated in your mind but some good general tips are to educate them and to share your knowledge. Even though they are your family and they can sense that you are suffering, they can not see your pain (well, not all of us can be Bill Clinton), especially if you have the chronic pain of fibromyalgia.

Explain why you can no longer do the things that you used to do, but tell them that you will join them in their activities (especially family vacations) if and when you can. Tell them that you will need their help more often, but that you also do not want to be (or be seen as) a burden.

Tell them about chronic pain, the cause of it in your case (if there is a known cause), the treatment(s) that you are following, and alternative treatments (and the reasons why you are not taking them). This can be important information to impart, but it can also be technical, and even though you may understand such causes and reasons you may not have mastered the information enough to adequately explain it to someone else. If this situation exists and if it is pertinent in your present condition then you may want to have the “press conference” at your next visit to your doctor, who will be more adept at explaining these concepts and practices.

Perhaps family members have moved far away and/or perhaps you do not feel up to the possible emotions raised in such a family meeting or get-together. Then, and in this day-and-age, you can send emails or messages through Google+ or Facebook. However, this can be a somewhat cold medium and it can even more adversely affect the family members. I know that I was greatly taken aback when I was told (via an email) that my elderly mother had breast cancer. Even (or perhaps especially) in this day-and-age, the personal touch is better.

How will you allay their fears and answer their questions? Well, when you are not talking about your condition then you can listen to their concerns.

There are a few good WikiHow pages about listening. Because they are good, they are consistent. These things are often repeated:

1) Body language: Make eye contact (but do not stare); maintain an open and welcoming posture–keep your arms at your sides, rather than crossing them in front of you; nod your head in acknowledgement; use a comparable facial expression–learn empathy and to mirror or build rapport.

2) Pay attention: Stay focused, and do not interrupt

3) Avoid formulating a response during this time, and when you do respond then do so without judgement; do not be critical. Let people say “no” and to raise objections or to voice concerns. Because they are your family and friends, there will soon be consensus around you and your situation.

4) When I first learned the knack of selling, I learned about the importance of warm words and cold words. Try incorporating them into your response.

Do

Don’t

Eliminate distractions and make eye contact with the speaker. Stare so intently that you make the speaker uncomfortable.
Nod or use other cues to show you’re listening. Interrupt or change the subject.
Show empathy. Share your own related stories unless you’re asked.
Listen objectively while the person is speaking. Plan your own response while they are speaking and fail to hear everything.
Follow the speaker’s lead regarding how much they wish to reveal. Pry, or try to get the speaker to divulge things that are too personal.
Restate the speaker’s points, if needed, to make sure you understood correctly. Continuously repeat the speaker word-for-word.
Ask questions to prompt the speaker to think about possible alternatives. Offer your own opinions, unless you have expertise that will help provide a solution.
Encourage the speaker and be optimistic. Be unrealistic or offer false enthusiasm.
Ensure confidentiality. Repeat to anyone what you were told in secrecy.

 

Perhaps this “press conference” did not go as planned, or perhaps the information you provided was too sudden or too overwhelming for some family members. Becoming more aware (or even just aware) of someone’s debilitating, life-changing pain can be a difficult thing for anyone to adjust to. You may want to consider counseling or family therapy. This may be a good option even if things did go according to your hopes and wishes.