Annual Women in Pain Conference Focuses on Relationships


She had been working a desk job since 1995, and got an MRI in 2002 for her pain. The news wasn't good. It showed a disc in her spine near the base of her neck was out of place. But getting worker's compensation to pay for it was a battle, and it took until 2007 to get her spine fixed. By then, Jeff was long gone, her employer had laid her off and another spinal disc had shifted out of place.

Soon after the pain started, Grace noticed Jeff would find excuses to stay away from her, and she had a hunch her pain was stressing him out. He eventually went to see a therapist for antidepressant medication, even though it was out of character for him, and he became so stressed that he would cause a fight just to push himself farther away.

When Grace confronted Jeff about whether her pain was hurting him, he refused to admit it, she said. She realized their relationship wasn't healthy, and told him it was OK that he wasn't OK with it. Even when they tried to be friends, Jeff was "tortured" by the fact that he walked away from Grace while she suffered.

"You think you have this person that's going to be there for you at the worst time, and you can't depend on that," she said.

Gail Williamson is another woman with chronic pain, but she first began experiencing fibromyalgia symptoms when she was 7 years old, long before she met her husband. Back then, when doctors told her she was making it up, her mother would validate her pain and rub her aching legs at night.

Doctors told Williamson she was a "princess," a "blueblood" and that she "should sit on a pillow and not lift groceries or babies." When she broke her finger as a child, she once told her mother she didn't want to go to the doctor, fearing they wouldn't believe her. In junior high school, a doctor told her she was growing too fast. As an adult, Williamson worried her husband by sleeping every second she wasn't at work.

Williamson finally got her fibromyalgia diagnosis about 15 years ago, and her pain has become significantly more manageable. Like CPRS, fibromyalgia has no known cause, but it results in long-term, body-wide pain. It affects soft tissues like tendons, joints and muscles, according to the National Institutes for Health.

Now, Williamson cares for her 87-year-old mother, who is due for cataract surgery this month, but also has a pain condition called spinal stenosis, which puts pressure on her nerves.

She said the role reversal helps her to ask the right questions so her mother is on the right medications and isn't underreporting her pain to the doctors.

"It's very comfortable," Williamson said. "She cared so much for me that it's really easy to care for her at this point."

It's important for the caregiver to take care of himself or herself, too, said Donna Benton, a psychologist who directs the Los Angeles Caregiver Resource Center at the University of Southern California. Often, people don't realize their role as caregivers, and don't seek help from other people when they feel overwhelmed or isolated.

Benton likes to tell caregivers to remember the acronym CARE: Communicate, Advocate, Relax and Engage. It's also important for them to talk to other caregivers from time to time.

"Really, the hard part is for caregivers to realize they have to establish a balance between their care-giving responsibilities and doing other things," she said, adding that Garrett didn't realize he was a caregiver for years.

When it comes to relationships, she said people often think their lives will somehow get back to normal, but instead they'll have to adapt.

"You have to except that there's a new normal," she said.

-- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 17221750.
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...