The transition into mature adulthood can be a confusing time. We find out who we are, what we like, and how we enjoy spending our time. We explore our limitations and solidify our values and beliefs, and have life experiences that challenge what we think we know about the world and ourselves. It’s also an exciting time, where we harness our passions and hopefully turn them into hobbies or careers, engage in life-altering relationships, and learn more than we could ever imagine.
Figuring out who we are and what we want out of life seems like enough work, but what if this early adulthood was made more difficult by an invisible burden? Chronic pain is one of those burdens. While we typically associate chronic pain, like other chronic illnesses, with older adults, it affects many young adults as well. It adds one more issue to consider when making important life decisions.
This writer details many of the challenges of chronic pain for young adults. Building a career can be challenged by the type of pain a young person experiences. It may require more flexibility in finding a job that fulfills you but that doesn’t make your condition worse. The same is true for relationships. Having an unpredictable schedule that includes frequent medical appointments and the risk of a pain flair up can make it harder to form new relationships. Pain can also create a financial burden for people who haven’t had enough time to build up a financial cushion. Finally, chronic pain can result in feeling stigmatized: there is a general expectation that young adults should have boundless energy and I’m sure every 20-something year old has heard the line, “How can you be tired? You’re so young!” at least once. A 20-something with chronic pain likely gets a similar variation of “Your back hurts already? Wait until you hit 50!”. So if you’re a young adult, what can you do? It’s not easy, but it is possible to take steps to reduce how much pain interferes with your life, work, and relationships.
First, remember that you are your best advocate. Even when it comes to your family, physicians, and friends, remember that you understand how your pain affects you more than anyone else. Surround yourself with advocates and advisors that make an effort to understand how your pain affects you.
Second, ask your doctor and other medical professionals to help you locate professional resources given your condition. Also feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll do what we can to help.
Third, spend as much time as possible with people you care about and who care about you. Remember that sometimes people who truly care about you will be honest even if it’s not easy for you to hear it or for them to tell it. These people want the best for you, without judgment or condescension. These are the people that can help you personally succeed and provide guidance when you need it, rather than simply judging you for your condition.
Chronic pain isn’t easy for anyone, and it can be uniquely tough for young adults. Nonetheless, all of us are defined by the experiences we have, the obstacles we face, and the people that we meet throughout our lives. Your life does not have to be defined by chronic pain, but rather by the attitude you pick up to keep moving forward.
Bernhard, Toni (2014). The extra burdens faced by young people with chronic illness. Psychology Today. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/turning-straw-gold/201403/the-extra-burdens-faced-young-people-chronic-illness
Mallen, C., Peat, G., Thomas, E., & Croft, P. (2005). Severely disabling chronic pain in young adults: prevalence from a population-based postal survey in North Staffordshire. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 6, 42. http://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2474-6-42