“It’s about good communication.” How often have we heard this wisdom when it comes to personal or professional situations? We have all experienced how a failure to communicate can derail a situation or relationship because our messages were misunderstood or misspoken.
Many of us with ankylosing spondylitis (AS) have been forced to become strong communicators, using both verbal and non-verbal skills. We have spent years explaining our symptoms to doctors as we convey information about our various pains. Our friends and families have learned to interpret our wordless signals and body language.
Some people are natural-born communicators, but for others the skill must be learned and practiced. Conveying the depth of our discomfort or frustration or weariness is a communications challenge. Chronic pain sufferers are not adept at sharing information when it comes to expressing their physical distress. We try to soldier on with our daily lives without complaint; personally, I am tired of repeating my litany of aches and pains.
During a visit with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while, I noticed she was transmitting non-verbal messages about her state of mind and body. She repeatedly rubbed her shoulder and stretched her back, and then asked me to put away a heavy bowl in an upper cabinet (but she is taller than me). The body language couldn’t have been louder or clearer.
Over a cup of tea, I asked her about what I had observed. She explained that she had radiating pain from her shoulder (she demonstrated her limited range of motion) and her back was in spasm. She ‘fessed up that the pain was so debilitating that she couldn’t lift anything. So we chatted about her pain, assessed its severity (on a scale of 1-to-10), found some reasons for what may have triggered the problem, discussed whether over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication would give relief, and most importantly, scheduled a medical appointment.
At the end of our tea break, she thanked me for reaching out and helping her take action to resolve her difficulty. She knows about my AS, but because I had never communicated any of my needs to her, she thought I didn’t want to involve her or talk about my condition. When I provided her with advice and comfort, the pathways of communication were opened—for both of us. ~Fran