If you’re a student, this is an exciting time of year for you. You’re ready to return to school, springtime is mere weeks away and you’re one semester closer to achieving your academic goals. But if you’re a student who has to manage going back to school with chronic pain, your experience may be far more challenging.
Your struggle will include more than the physical pain from your condition. It’s likely you will endue emotional stressors such as feelings of isolation and anxiety as well as the sting of social stigmas. It seems cruel that those in middle school, high school and college have to work so hard to manage the new school year with chronic pain.
But the reality is that on campuses throughout the United States, students living with an invisible illness often suffer in silence. Many of the students don’t understand their pain and may go untreated and undiagnosed. Others may not have the support to help them overcome social stigmas or they may not be able to afford medical care. Even worse, some students may be unable to manage their mental health, assuming their troubling feelings are “normal” due to social pressure or academic workloads. Let’s look at 4 ways you can kickstart how you manage going back to school with chronic pain.
#1: Know that physical pain isn’t just in your head
For college students suffering chronic physical pain, kicking off a new semester can be a challenge for other reasons. Living in constant pain makes packing and moving an overwhelming task that requires planning and relying on a support system. Even a long car ride or a flight back to campus can be exhausting when you’re in chronic pain.
Tabitha McDuffee, a young woman living with fibromyalgia, recently shared how her journey impacted her academic career. Prior to getting a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, the doctors told her she was fine or the pain was in her head. Needless to say she felt dismissed. One doctor told her, “It’s just the stress of being a college student.” McDuffee suffered her chronic pain alone and went undiagnosed for years. Today, she’s managing her chronic pain with a long-term plan and working as an advocate for other women with fibromyalgia.
#2: Know you are not alone
Medical research tells us that close to half of all Americans suffer from at least one chronic illness, and that number is only set to increase. Among those affected are those with conditions causing chronic pain. It’s estimated that 50 million adults live with chronic pain and close to 20 million adults live with high-impact chronic pain.
Young children and teens suffer as well. It’s estimated that up to 35% of children and teens around the world experience some form of chronic pain. Other chronic illnesses and conditions like autoimmune diseases, heart disease and diabetes affect 54% of millennials.
That means it’s likely many of those on your campus are struggling and seeking answers and support as well. By more easily recognizing pain in students, the medical community and campuses across the country can help diminish the stigma of chronic pain.