Dear Annie: I have chronic back pain thanks to sciatica. I chose to treat it with physical therapy and exercise, and I take muscle relaxers and or anti-inflammatory drugs when the pain really flares up. I chose to forego all painkillers, be they opium-based or synthetic. The problem is that the pain can make me very impatient and snappy. I have to put up with a lot at work, and on the street and with my neighbors. But my mother and father's behavior makes it difficult for me to be patient. They both talk down to me, interrupt me constantly, question and criticize personal decisions, can't wait their turn, etc. They don't do this to my siblings, only to me.
During time when the pain is flaring up, I avoid them because I don't have the strength or patience to deal with them. I make up an excuse, usually that I'm working, although that isn't always enough. My father will continue arguing over the phone long after I've made it clear that I'm not coming. I don't see them much because of this (not to mention other relatives at family occasions), but I don't lose much. Nobody in my family does anything for me. My folks paid for my siblings' weddings, law school, child care for the grandchildren, but since I ask for nothing, I owe nothing. I might also mention that my mother was always angry at me when I was a kid, which I later found out was from a back injury she never mentioned.
Have any of your other readers had this problem? I wonder how people with chronic pain, drugless by choice, deal with impossible relatives. How do they deal with relatives who test their patience? — Pained by Parents
Dear Pained: It's interesting that your mother never opened up about her back injury, and you are reluctant to open up to others about your chronic pain. The problem with suffering in silence is that we begin to resent those around us for not hearing, forgetting that we haven't voiced our pain. While you're not required to open up to anyone, it does sound as though you could stand to benefit from doing so -- whether it's reaching out to a friend and sharing with her how frustrating it is to live with sciatica, or being more transparent with siblings and parents about your needs.
I commend you for carving your own path and deciding what's right for you, such as not taking opioids and not talking to your parents when you need breathing room to be well. Trust that you are making the right decisions, and show yourself the respect and kindness you feel that your parents aren't giving you. And contradictory as it might sound, be gentle on yourself for being harsh. Chronic pain is enough to shorten even the lengthiest temper. Lastly, if I hear any helpful insights from readers who have lived through this issue, I'll share them here.
Dear Annie: I've noticed that many people complain about others' talking too much. I taught my children that there's a connection between your mouth and your brain. When you speak, you're repeating things you already know and so you can't learn anything because you already know what you're saying. You have to shut up and listen in order to learn something new. — Educated by Others
Dear Educated: I love this letter. I'll also add this quote from Alfred Brendel: "The word listen contains the same letters as the word silent."