Overheard two colleagues comment about people with chronic pain, "Well, they do tend to focus on the pain, don't they?"
I was busy (& guilty of eavesdropping) so I didn't say anything but it's made me think about why we are perceived in this way. If you have chronic pain it's easy to focus on it because it can be so all-consuming because you desperately wish for it all to go away. You will spend a fair proportion of your life hoping for the magic cure. Even if you know that isn't going to happen & you can tune out of the pain it still doesn't stop you from thinking like this sometimes. We are told the correct way to deal with the pain is to acknowledge it but not dwell on it in a negative way, yet this takes resilience and practice and the right kind of moral support, which can be thin on the ground.
If you are a patient confronted with a health professional asking about your pain you are going to have to talk about it. And it's not a very pleasant thing, so of course you're not going to brush it aside and pretend it's Ok if you have a sympathetic ear sitting in the room with you. I'm sure there's no point fibbing and saying you haven't really got any pain thank you very much because that's not going to make them help you. And how many of us have worried that they might not believe us so we emphasize the bad bits? (Come to think of it, are there any "good" bits?)
And if the health professional is trying to help you to ease the pain with some sort of intervention you will spend a lot of time wondering & hoping, "Is it better yet?" If that treatment flares the pain up you might be a bit anxious about trying it again, or stop altogether. It's human nature to avoid things that don't feel too good or are difficult.
I know all of this because I have gone through it, and still do.
I am also a health professional. I can see the frustrations of my colleagues who think their patients are being too negative & fixated on the problem of pain. Being fixated on a problem can stop patients from making progress and they might not realise this.
And I can see it from the side of the patient who just wants to feel better but is lost in the fog. It takes a long time to get used to the idea that pain is sticking around and although it can be managable it's a wild beast. Being fixated on the problem can be a distracting waste of time, but it's easier said than done to think about other things. Besides, we live in a culture & an age where if there is something wrong we expect it to be fixed just like that, and I don't think that it's always made clear that this idea is at odds with chronic pain. It also hurts when someone does make this clear, if they haven't explained it in the right way, quite often several times, over a period of time so that we can adjust our thoughts.
Spent the rest of the day crawling about with my wheatie pressed to my head / neck, and eventually swallowed my pride and some paracetamol, hoping no one assumed I was too pain-focused. The thing was, in order to deal with the immediate problem of pain interfering with my work I had to focus on it for a short while in order to force it back in its box.
I have written this as a way of making sense of my thoughts. Perhaps next time I hear comments like these I will be brave enough to make a sensible response & spread the word : be patient with your patients! We're only human.