How Do I Talk to My Parents About My Chronic Pain?

Feb 19, 2019

Anonymous asks, quote:

Hello! I’m a teen in constant pain. I’ve done physical therapy in the past, and after 6 months with two different physical therapists, my pain only got worse. It’s really bad and I need to do something about it, but anytime I’ve mentioned it to my mom she suggests going back to physical therapy. I’ve learned to stay quiet about it and pretend I’m not in pain when I’m at home, but my friends are encouraging me to try to talk to my parents again. How do I go about this?

end quote.

Get a Diagnosis

This is step one and will always be step one: get a diagnosis. Not only will it help you develop a plan of action, but it will give you and your parents a common set of vocabulary to work from when talking about your experience.

Understand Your Pain and Your Body

Study your pain. What makes it worse? What helps? Does it ebb and flow throughout the day or is it at a constant level? Does a particular activity, food, or environment make it worse? Figuring these things out will help you better explain your situation to your parents.

Speak Concretely

Study your pain and any related symptoms. Practice describing your physical condition in clear, concise, and concrete terms. For example, describing something as “an extreme burning sensation” instead of “it’s like my arm is on fire”. I’m not policing your language or diminish the level of pain you’re in. I’m saying it’s much easier to dismiss someone’s argument when it’s presented with colorful or figurative language. So, speak clearly and concisely when talking about your pain.

Ask Honest Questions

As your parents why they think that more physical therapy would help your pain. Ask this question honestly. Explain why you feel that more physical therapy may not help. Listen to the questions they ask in response.

The important thing here is intellectual honesty. If they suggest a course of action that you don’t necessarily agree with, say “how do you think [thing] would help?” and listen to their response. Not only will this give you better insight into what your parents are thinking, but it’ll make them explain their reasoning clearly (and might even cause them to notice a flaw or two in their thinking).

Come Up With a Plan

Your parents want you to go back to physical therapy. Okay, for how long? “As long as it takes” is not a unit of time that I’m aware of. What would success look like? Zero pain? Better mobility? At what point do you decide that physical therapy isn’t working? What’s the plan then? Is one or more of them willing to go with you to therapy for emotional support?

Create a plan together and stick to it. Emotional support is just as important as any kind of physical or medicinal remedy. Plan out the next 30, 60, 90, and 180 days. Have a goal or condition that you both agree and that defines what “working” and “not working is”.

For example, if after 90 days your pain levels aren’t improving, what’s the next step? Figure it out and make sure you write everything down.

See a Licensed, Certified, Mental Health Professional

You’ve been in constant pain for six months. That kind of trauma absolutely wrecks your mental health. In addition to any therapists or specialists you might be seeing about your chronic pain, you should be seeing a licensed, certified mental health professional to talk about your current situation and how it is affecting you. Don’t fuck with me on this one: see a goddamn therapist. Not some religious leader, not a guidance counselor provided by your school: a real fucking professional with a license and (possibly) a prescription pad. And no, I’m not saying this is “all in your head”. I’m saying that chronic pain is damaging your mind and body so you need to take care of your mind and body.