Here are my top 3 social challenges of living with chronic pain:
1. The Flaky Factor
I can never, ever be relied upon for coming through on social plans. All of my friends know and accept this. Flexibility, compassion, and understanding are a prerequisite for anyone even considering hanging out with me.
Chronic pain constantly sucks on my energy reserves and can leave me depleted. I have to monitor how I’m feeling and make sure I’ve got enough “juice” to work, exercise, and take care of my basic living needs (cooking, running errands, cleaning laundry – fun fun fun!).
2. The Fear Factor
In my case, chronic pain was brought on by a series of physical traumas outside of my control, not the least of which was a hit & run, head-on car collision. These experiences left me shell-shocked and not quite able to trust people — most notably, other drivers — the way I used to.
As an upshot, whereas I once loved cruising across the country, today you will rarely find me driving to an event a mere 15 miles away. Given that public transportation can literally be a pain for me to take, and that not everything is accessible by bicycle (my commute vehicle of choice), I haven’t gotten out much — which in turn has cramped my ability to make new friends.
3. Strange Behavior
Too many times, a boisterous hug, a friendly pat on the shoulder, or an enthusiastic handshake has left me in terrible pain for days or weeks. That in turn has left me apprehensive of social contact with people who don’t already know about my condition and understand how to touch me without hurting me.
How can I safely get out into the world? Must I have a freaky chronic pain/sensitive body warning sign hanging from my neck at all times? (Note to fashion designers: Get cracking. And make it sexy.)
I have come to dread parties — where everyone is sticking their hand out at me, innocently expecting a handshake, which is never, ever forthcoming. (It took me years to stick to my guns, but I ain’t budging no more!)
Initially, I would explain, over and over and over, why I wasn’t shaking hands. I found, however, that doing so not only got extraordinarily tiring and boring, but also…
- pulled my focus onto wounding instead of healing, which in itself flared up my pain levels
- lead to a series of invasive questions about how I ended up in pain and what it all meant
After years of living as a social hermit, I have been making a point of getting the fuck out of my house and meeting new people. So I am now, by necessity, experimenting with humorous replies to why I don’t shake hands or engage in other social normalcy.
At a party a few weeks ago, for example, when asked why I wouldn’t shake a man’s hand, I replied that I was actively developing social quirks. “I’ve come to feel that my personality is too bland,” I explained, “so I’m trying on some anti-social behavior to spice it up.”
The man thought I was hilarious, and my anti–shaking tendencies became the joke of the evening — leading me to bond with a gaggle of musicians and artists with a flair for the absurd.
At a concert last week, a man reached out his hand to shake mine. I refused to comply. “I never shake hands,” I told him, “but I always shake my booty.”
He liked that.