Chronic pain is not only awful for the person experiencing it, it can be hell for the person’s loved ones. Having to be around someone cranky and miserable due to their suffering is hardly a picnic, as many of us know. Health professional Karra Eloff (the managing director of two psychology clinics) knows all this first-hand; she’s spent the past decade in pain. It took its toll on her relationship with her hubby. But Karra learned how to deal with her pain and to improve their connection. She’s now written a book, The Chronic Pain Couple: how to have a remarkable relationship in spite of chronic pain.
Karra chats to The Starfish:
Why did you write this book?
It’s the book I wish I had 10 years ago when I was diagnosed with a chronic condition. It wasn’t only my body that was affected, my relationship was too. My husband and I were avid world travellers and loved all things fitness, and when my chronic pain came and changed what I could do, our life changed. There were very limited resources for couples to navigate these changes and the books I found were focused on ‘surviving.’ But I wanted to still live remarkably, have a passion-filled relationship and be a joyful partner. It took years of research to find the low-energy way to achieve those goals for my life in spite of chronic pain. When I did, I had to start sharing the solutions with others and so the book was birthed.
When we think of someone in chronic pain, we can forget the strain it places on that person’s nearest and dearest. How much of a burden can pain place on a relationship?
The stress of unpredictable pain and long-lasting illness is significant for millions of couples today. Chronic illness and pain impacts everything in a person’s life and what we often forget is that it also impacts the life of a supporting partner. Chronic illness and pain often affects a couple’s family planning, finances, social life, hobbies, day-to-day interactions and routines and of course intimacy. I meet couples walking through the challenges well but want to live like pain isn’t there, couples who are now stuck in a passionless, patient-carer dynamic and unfortunately some couples who can’t see a way forward when chronic illness and pain changes everything in their relationship.
How many Australians are in chronic pain right now?
There were 3.37 million Australians living with chronic pain in 2020. It is believed one in five adults suffer from chronic pain and when over 65 years, this increases to one in three.
What are the most common causes/conditions?
Common conditions associated with chronic pain include arthritis, cancer, injury, diabetes, headaches, neuropathic pain and of course chronic pain can also exist without injury or illness.
You yourself live daily with chronic pain; how did this come about?
At first, I thought pain in my hip was a running injury. I went to rehab for a number of years before pain started to spread to other joints and I was diagnosed with spondyloarthritis, a type of arthritis that affects joints, bones and the junctions where muscle attaches to bone. I’ve also been diagnosed with endometriosis. I was only 21 when I became unwell which is probably why I was determined to not let health hold me back.
How did you first arrive at a technique that made a lot of difference in managing your pain?
I chased a cure for years; nobody wants to live with chronic pain. I believed if I could take away the illness, I could go back to living remarkably. It was a research finding that pivoted my attention and put me on a new path. The research revealed it wasn’t only pain intensity that determined life satisfaction, but also mental health. With no progress on a cure, I switched my focus to my mental health. This opened a lot more avenues to living with more joy, and lifted my focus from the day-to-day struggle with a chronic illness.
And how much difference has that made to you, and your partner?
Pivoting my attention to other avenues to improve my life and our relationship changed everything. I then researched other ways to communicate better with my husband, to improve our sex life and to reach goals in spite of fatigue – which led us back to our joyful life together. And, even better, to a more meaningful and passion-filled life than we had before.
You founded an organisation called The Chronic Pain Couple; can you tell us a little about that?
The Chronic Pain Couple originally started as a simple way to bring awareness to an issue I felt wasn’t being spoken about enough. Through The Chronic Pain Couple I now offer online resources and consulting for individuals with pain and couples facing these issues looking for low-energy and practical steps to live life like pain isn’t there.
What are some easy practical tips for anyone reading this who’s suffering from chronic pain?
I want everyone with a chronic illness to know you don’t need to be well to be well. Keep chasing healing, but don’t believe it’s the only way to a remarkable life and a wonderful relationship. There are four areas that will change everything for you if you pivot your attention to them which are communication with your partner, mental health, intimacy and personal success. A key issue many of my clients have is accepting their condition and when we don’t accept our current circumstances, it’s hard to improve them. Accepting chronic illness or chronic pain is not giving up. Accepting your situation right as it is in this moment, gives you relief and opens the door to progress and change.
And what’s your best advice for someone who’s living with someone with chronic pain?
Buy The Chronic Pain Couple book (is that cheeky?). Seriously, there is an entire section in the book dedicated to the unique challenges chronic pain brings to supporting loved ones. I always encourage supporting partners to be conscious of compassion fatigue and make sure you take time to care for yourself and stay connected with others.
This book is for people with chronic pain, their chosen human and health professionals who support those with chronic pain. It’s definitely for anyone who wants to steal back what pain has taken and live the life they want.
More information about The Chronic Pain Couple visit https://exislepublishing.com/product/the-chronic-pain-couple/
Photographs: Maryanne Lister