Peer to Peer: Talking to Friends about Pain

If you are reading this, then you probably are a person with chronic pain or functional symptoms. As a group of teens and young adults who have been down this road, we took a look back at our own personal experiences. We remember how hard it was (and sometimes still is!) to talk to friends about our symptoms. So, we set out to answer the simple question:

How can you talk to your friends about your pain/functional symptoms?

While not all our tips will work for everyone, we hope you find some friendly responses here that will help to make your own journey a little easier. We’ve all been there and it’s not easy. Remember, you are not alone!

~The Comfort Ability® Peer Advisory Board

General Tips:

  • You don’t need to justify your symptoms to your friends or family, but trying to explain it can be helpful.
  • Be patient with your friends; a lot of people don’t understand chronic symptoms, but they probably don’t mean to upset you by asking questions.
  • Using examples that a friend can easily relate to can help to improve understanding.
  • You’ll probably need several different kinds of responses depending on who you are talking to and the situation.
  • Take a moment to consider what you hope to get out of the discussion before you decide how you want to respond to a question.
  • These answers are meant to be flexible! Combine these with your own ideas until you find some answers that work well for you!
Chronic Pain in General:

What is chronic pain?

  • It’s a persisting long-lasting pain.
  • It’s when your nerves are overactive.
  • It’s just like regular pain, only it takes longer to go away.
  • Having chronic pain means I have pain like (insert example for pain comparison--sprained ankle, flu, broken bone, etc.) but it doesn’t go away, and I can’t put a brace or cast on it.

What’s the matter with you?

  • Thanks for asking. I have ongoing (or chronic) (pain or add in other symptoms).
  • I have a nervous system condition that creates (pain or add in other symptoms)

How did you get sick?

  • Well, it started with (insert… injury, virus, surgery, etc.) and then it set off a reaction in my nervous system.
  • My doctors actually aren’t quite sure why I have this, but it’s not something you can catch and it’s going to improve with time.
My Recovery – Timeline & Strategies:

When are you going to be better?

  • It’s hard to know; there isn’t a specific timeline for recovery.
  • I’m not sure, but I’m hopeful I’ll be feeling better sooner rather than later.
  • My symptoms aren’t something that will necessarily go away for me, but I am finding ways to deal with it better. 

What are you doing?

  • I have lots of tricks I’ve learned to help me manage my symptoms. Right now I’m (insert  the relevant coping tool: playing with putty, stretching, etc.) so I don’t focus on the symptoms.
  • Sometimes I need a break to help me get back on track. I’m just doing some (insert  the relevant coping tool: deep breathing, mindfulness, etc.).

Can you come to (insert… my party, the movies, etc.)?

  • Yes, I’m planning to come, but might have to take it easy that day. I’m looking forward to it.
  • I’d like to come, but may have to leave early. Would that be OK with you?
  • I can’t go, but will look forward to seeing your pics-- I hope it’s a great time!
  • Unfortunately, I can’t. But, I was wondering if you want to hang out (insert…later, tomorrow, next week)?

How are you feeling today?

  • I’m okay, how are you?
  • Thanks for checking in. I’m meh. How are you?
  • Not so great right now, but hoping to feel better soon.
Managing Doubt and Concern and Sympathy:

It doesn’t look like there’s anything wrong with you…

  • Yeah, I hear that a lot. My symptoms are kind of like a headache, you can’t see it, but it’s there.
  • I know. Even though I look fine, I’m still dealing with the symptoms.
  • Thanks – that’s kind of my goal. I’m working really hard not to let the symptoms get in the way.

I feel so bad for you! I’m so sorry!

  • Thank you. I really appreciate your concern and support!
  • Yeah, it’s hard sometimes.
  • This is definitely a challenge, but I’m getting through it.
© The Comfort Ability®, 2018 All rights reserved. Publication Date 12/14/2018. Revised 8/30/2023. For more information about the Peer Advisory Board, click here.

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