15 Simple and Inexpensive Things You Can Do For Friends With Chronic Pain
Managing chronic illnesses and chronic pain from injuries is overwhelming. While I am fortunate enough to have no standalone mental health issues, longstanding chronic pain brings with it all sorts of difficulties, a lot of them small and practical.
You know how it can help to tackle a larger, seemingly impossible task by starting with the small bits? It’s even easier when you have a friend to help.
Health is kind of like that, and when a bunch of people do small things, it can add up and make a real difference in the quality of life of someone with chronic pain.
Here are some simple things people have done for me. These small acts have made a tremendous difference.
1. Make Accessible Spaces
Feeling isolated as a person with chronic pain is the worst. Being alone all the time isn’t good for anyone. I love going out to all sorts of events just like I did before I got into a car accident and received an RA (rheumatoid arthritis) diagnosis.
I used to do boffer combat in LARP, or live action role playing, but eventually realized that wasn’t really possible for me to do anymore. I wanted to fully participate, but didn’t feel that I could really do that at an action-heavy game. I can still sing, play politics and negotiate, and navigate a game, but sometimes brain fog (thanks, underactive thyroid!) makes it a little tough for me to remember rules and large amounts of information.
Fortunately, I found another segment of LARPs that do not involve combat, and this allows me to remain heavily involved. Not only do I participate, I now design games with accessibility in mind. I found myself welcome at these events because they are:
- Physically accessible to people with mobility devices and service animals
- Financially accessible to those who spend an inordinate amount of money on healthcare
- Mentally friendly towards those who need a break, rest, or quiet space during an event
While this helps me at LARPs, it’s something you could apply to any type of event or gathering.
2. Allow Remote Event Participation
You know what’s the worst? FOMO, or fear of missing out, because you can’t get to an event but want to. This is especially true for conferences, and as a professional with one foot in gaming and another in marketing, I’m always missing out on something.
Remote event participation mitigates this problem. While it might be time-consuming to stream events, they can be filmed.
I’m very grateful to the Nordic Larp Talks, for example, which are recorded. It’s not feasible for me to get to these talks since they take place in Europe (I’m based in the US), but thanks to the recordings, I’m able to access them at work. These directly impact the LARPs I design, which I hope are as inclusive and accessible as I can make them.
3. Give a Massage
For some folks with chronic pain, massage is a must. That’s the case for me, since a lot of it stems from arthritic pain in my hands and a specific injury in my shoulder. My partner and my best friend help me tackle this one, and I don’t even need long massages — just a few minutes is usually enough to loosen some tension.
It also helps to have human touch and contact when I haven’t in a few days, which is a problem for a lot of chronic pain sufferers who don’t get out of the house. I do a lot of work at home, which is easier on my body, but it means I’m isolated sometimes.
Note: Not everyone likes to be touched, and this isn’t something I’d ask of someone I wasn’t close to, but it is a thing that can help.
4. Give Over the Counter Medications
You know what stinks after dropping a few hundred on prescription medications? That sinking feeling that I just don’t deserve anything more, because otherwise, I’d be able to afford it, wouldn’t I?
Logically, I get it. The system’s broken and I happen to live in a country with awful healthcare costs and coverage issues. It’s kinda like…
But in my mind, it’s tough. One thing that helps is someone else covering the costs and/or logistics of those small over the counter meds. For me, that means Icy Hot products, Tiger Balm, and vitamins.
- My friend Michele has a Costco membership (and I don’t), which means she’s able to get these things at a discount.
- My friend Deb helped me out by ordering Tiger Balm on Amazon and having it shipped right to my door. It arrived just before I made a long trip in a car, and it was a lifesaver.
- My friend Alex gave me some Polysporin.
Stuff like that adds up, and instead of money, I find that what I really need is for someone to just show me I deserve these things by giving them to me.
5. Provide Solutions — When Asked
Solutions are important, and the only way to really move forward.
Sometimes I need to vent.
Sometimes I’m ready to take action and want solutions.
My favorite people know how to either differentiate between the two, or ask for what I need.
6. Provide Comfortable Materials
Ever notice how most chairs are made for tall people, especially on public transit and airplanes? You’ll notice if you’re short, especially if you also have pain issues. Cushions and shoulders are inexpensive (or free) comforts that friends can provide.
My mom, for example, made me a blanket. If you’re crafty, you could whip up something that would really help, like a neck pillow.
7. Research Affordable Health Care Options
Research takes a long time, especially if it involves phone calls. I work a full time job and develop my own business at night and on the weekends. The full time job alone demands recovery time thanks to chronic illness issues, so guess what it’s hard for me to find time for? Navigating the health care system with my crappy insurance, comparing prices, and finding options.
It’s a simple thing many people have done to help me — they look up the info I need.
8. Organize Information
Eight medications, seven freelance clients, six bills, a personal calendar, and a full-time job — plus a social life and illnesses that make me just want to sleep. Guess what I need help with sometimes? Organizing all this info.
A few friends have helped me budget (especially when my income changed). It comes easy to them, but it’s a big challenge to me, so this is a big help. It takes a lot of patience — for example, for my friend Adam to listen to me explain that I don’t want to reduce my cell phone plan, because I need the GPS on constantly since I’ll drive past my exit even though I know where I’m going.
It took TWENTY DOCTORS and thousands of dollars (goodbye, savings account and 401K!) for me to receive a diagnosis.
This is especially important if your friend happens to be a woman, especially a younger one, because our pain is disproportionately dismissed by doctors. Add other marginalizations, and it it gets even worse.
One of the most valuable ways someone can help me is to function as an advocate for my health. This means showing up to an appointment or writing down an action plan. This looks like role playing a scenario repeatedly, in which I advocate for myself at the doctor when the doctor isn’t believing me.
10. Bring Food (or Other Necessity)
People in chronic pain often have complicated relationships with food. When pain gets out of control, guess what is difficult? Eating. And not eating usually just makes pain worse. As long as I’m not in extreme pain, I need to keep eating, and sometimes that means I need help.
My partner sometimes brings me food from a favorite takeout place. Sometimes he will bring me something new. This shows me he’s taking care of me and prioritizing my health, which helps me do the same — and it keeps me on track.
11. Offer a Ride
Sometimes it’s just not fun to drive. On low pain days, I love driving. On high pain days? No thanks — it hurts to grip the steering wheel. Not having to worry about driving is a big help, especially if we’re going somewhere together.
I live with amazing roommates. Some days, I have time and energy to do two things: work and sleep. That means I don’t have time to cook, especially after two hours of commuting. Healthy food is really important to everyone, but especially for people with health issues.
13. Help Them Sleep
Can I afford that medical bill? Will I wake up in pain? Maybe. Maybe I shouldn’t sleep, so if I end up stiffening up, I can take meds and catch it, and then I can work tomorrow, but I won’t have slept. I miss my dog; my dog helped me sleep, so now I’m awake.
These are the thoughts I have regularly, and lack of sleep isn’t good when there are other chronic illnesses and pain issues present, especially the exhausting ones.
Helping me sleep doesn’t always mean being there with me and watching me drift off, nor does it mean counting sheep (those things are nice too, though). It can mean helping me stick to a night time routine or reminding me to take my night time meds, which include medicine that helps me relax and sleep.
14. Take Them Somewhere, Like for Coffee or to the Park
I’m luckier than some chronic pain sufferers: most days, I can go somewhere. I can’t always be active, but I can usually get out of the house or at least walk around the block.
My partner and I have taken to making active plans with backup plans. For example: let’s plan to go hiking, but if not, we can always go to the bookstore. That way, if my health issues act up, I don’t feel like I’m letting him down. This is on him to be open to the possibility of plans falling through, but it’s also my responsibility to communicate.
15. Just Listen and Believe Them
Although I’ve listed it last, it’s the most important thing.
Listen to me when no one else will believe me. Look at the pictures that prove my hands are swelling. Validate my experiences after doctors dismiss them.
This is the hardest thing on this list. It’s free of cost, but it’s emotionally taxing. I get that. I’m grateful.
But it is the most important thing, and without that — all the medicine in the world can’t help.
This can vary from person to person, day to day. I find that when someone helps me organize something personal — for example, my medications — I’m able to focus on keeping my professional life very organized. It really controls the overwhelm. Other chronic illness sufferers may not want help there, so ask and realize that needs change often.
If you have chronic illnesses, hopefully this list can provide some ideas for you. Helpers want to help, and get frustrated when they can’t. Try to give them small, actionable tasks that will really make a difference, and you might gain some more empathy from them in the long run.
Do you have other helpful tips? Please leave them in the comments.