Dear Carolyn: I’m 31, and I have chronic pain — every moment of every day. After many years of trial and error, my pain is relatively well managed. While I’d very much prefer to keep this private, there have been times when I had a noticeable limp or other physical symptoms, had to take time off work or been unable to travel, so co-workers and friends are generally aware.
Pain has taken a lot from my life that I’ve spent a lot of time mourning, and I find it hard to talk about in a matter-of-fact way.
I take narcotic pain medication every day. I hate feeling drugged so I’ve worked really hard to find meds and dosing that don’t impact my behavior or personality. Many people are judgmental about taking these drugs and think I’m headed straight to rehab or secretly wonder if I’m faking the pain just to get the drugs.
So how do I respond to questions about my treatment? (”How do you treat your pain?” “Have you tried massage/chiropractic/supplements/eliminating gluten … ?”)
I can’t find answers that don’t lead to follow-up questions, which leave me close to tears. What I want to say is, “That’s a really private topic to me, and while I know you are just trying to be helpful and caring, I’m grieving the loss of a life I loved, and dealing with this has been traumatic and painful. Thanks for your concern, but please don’t ask ever again.” But I don’t want to alienate the question-askers. This is a daily thing — please help.
I’m sorry for all you have lost.
You’ve got the right answer, and every right to say it. Any time you doubt that, remind yourself that your social obligation not to “alienate the question-askers” comes with a matching one: theirs not to alienate you.
I do suggest you streamline, though: “I appreciate your concern, but I prefer not to discuss it.” Not only is that better suited to daily use, but it also tracks more closely with the basic principle that you don’t owe the merely curious any details about your condition. Your version flirts with being both explanation and apology for not feeding them news, neither of which you owe. If they press: Smile, deep breath, change subject.