Chair, PAIN UK
As lockdown is eased for some, those with chronic pain continue to face isolation and anxiety. Will the experience help us to be more open minded and compassionate?
Over the past few months, we’ve all experienced restrictions on our lives and the subsequent feelings of isolation, disconnect and anxiety.
But these experiences were a daily reality for many with chronic pain long before the word ‘lockdown’ entered common vocabulary.
Some may argue that those who are used to living with such restrictions are better placed to cope. However, as Antony Chuter, Chair of Pain UK, explains, the reality is very different.
More than 50% of those who are homeless live with chronic pain.
“For people who are barely surviving – things have been ten times worse. They have been plunged into further isolation,” he explains.
Those living with chronic pain are far more likely to be shielding from COVID-19 and are denied opportunities for interaction – even their regular GP checks are now devoid of human connection.
Chuter himself has lived with chronic pain for years and knows all too well the link between mental and physical wellbeing.
“Stress and anxiety make pain worse. In the first few weeks of lockdown I really struggled,” he confesses. A supportive partner, regular video calls with the family, time in the garden and a weekly fish and chips all help him to stay positive.
But others are much more vulnerable. “Mental health problems are really building up for some people,” he continues. “Whatever the GP can give to them, they’re still at home on their own and haven’t seen a living soul for days on end.”
Some, however, are marginalised to the point of invisibility. More than 50% of those who are homeless live with chronic pain1, according to research by the charity, Groundswell. Furthermore, 39% felt that physical pain had contributed to them becoming homeless.
While thousands of rough sleepers have been housed in hotels during the COVID-19 crisis, Chuter is concerned that their underlying issues of pain are not being addressed.
“They have complex issues and addictions, often developed through attempts to self-medicate their pain,” he explains. “It’s a big problem.”
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Rethinking the future
In the midst of these fresh challenges, there is a glimmer of hope. The world of work has changed beyond recognition and that has opened up new opportunities for those who live with chronic pain.
“Business is going to change drastically. A lot of things that make work hard for people – like commuting – have gone away,” he explains. “I’m hopeful that businesses will be more open minded in the future.”
But when that future will start is anyone’s guess; in the autumn; next summer; when there’s a vaccine? One thing is certain, while lockdown may be easing for some of us, there is no end in sight for others.
Chronic pain remains a terminal, isolating condition for too many people. If our own taste of lockdown makes us more compassionate, that can only be a good thing.
1Groundswell, ‘Report’, Out of Pain, (2018), (p. 26), in <https://groundswell.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Groundswell-Out-of-Pain-Report-Final-2018.pdf>