Silhouettes of men and women walking with varying levels of fire and flames rising within their legs.

Men, Multiple Sclerosis, and Chronic Pain

You’ve seen all the statistics before: when it comes to multiple sclerosis patients, men are the minority. That doesn’t mean the disease affects us any less though. In fact, being in the minority when it comes to this disease can actually make it feel like we have fewer places to turn to when it comes to finding understanding. While men and women experience many of the same issues because of MS, men sometimes have some added difficulties because of cultural and societal norms that have been thrust upon them. One area where this occurs is with how men deal with the pain MS can cause.

MS and chronic pain

While it doesn’t affect everyone with MS, a large number of folks do experience some form of chronic pain. It’s really only in recent times that pain has been officially recognized as a symptom. Way back when I was diagnosed, it was thought that MS couldn’t cause pain (despite what I imagine were many, many patients saying otherwise). Pain still doesn’t get the notoriety it deserves. It’s a symptom that can have a severe impact on your everyday life.

The daily, devastating impact of chronic pain

From being able to concentrate to being unable to move properly, pain has the ability to touch everything you do. As I’ve said before, pain can change you. I experience some form of pain nearly every day. Normally, it’s a burning sensation, like my legs are on fire from the inside out. It can persist for hours, even the better part of a day, or it can come on quickly in sudden short shocks when I least expect it. There are days where it’s bad enough to make me scream out and days when it persists long enough to make me cry.

It's tough to admit being in pain as a man

Even now, writing the last part of the above paragraph was extremely difficult. Men are supposed to be tough, right? We aren’t supposed to admit that we’re in pain, or at least that it has an effect on us. Many would consider us not very “manly” if we complain about being in pain. We’re supposed to suck it up and move on. We’re expected to gut it out, and if we are truly suffering, then we should do it silently. That’s the stigma we, as men, have to deal with when it comes to pain.

Downplaying my pain

Admitting the severity of my pain and how it affects me is something that is extremely difficult to do. I know, even subconsciously, I will tend to downplay my pain levels to whoever asks, including my doctor. When asked, if I say my pain is a five or six out of ten, I guarantee you it’s actually closer to an eight or nine. Even someone like me who is writing about this and should know better will still minimize my pain levels when put on the spot. That’s just how ingrained the idea of being tough and manly is to me - it happens without me even realizing it.

The importance of honesty for treatment & tracking

There are, of course, problems with downplaying our pain and what it does to us. There are options for pain; if we aren’t truthful about it to our doctors, then we may never get the relief we’re looking for. Aside from that, we need to be more truthful about our pain, so our doctors can properly gauge our disease progression and the effectiveness of our treatments. Pain is like any other symptom and needs to be reported. If we’re stumbling and keep falling, we’d probably accurately report that - it should be the same with pain. It’s part of the disease, and to put up our best fight against this illness, we need to be properly and accurately monitored. That accuracy starts with us, the patient, being truthful about what ails us.

Pain affects us in so many ways

I’m sure that makes sense with regards to our doctors, but what about our friends and family? We’re likely to be even less forthcoming about our pain with them. That can have some adverse effects too. Pain affects us: it can exhaust us, depress us, causes us to appear distracted, and make us angry. I can think back to numerous relationships in my life that were probably ruined because I was in pain and kept it to myself.

Suffering in silence can negatively impact our relationships

I wonder just how many times I was short with someone, or snapped at someone, or just seemed hateful, because I was suffering silently in agony. Pain can make you absolutely miserable, and if no one knows that we’re in pain, then we just come off as miserable, awful, or angry people. Sometimes we have to open up and explain what’s happening to us, or else we risk losing everyone. What good is appearing tough and manly if there’s no one left to care?

We have to admit when we're in pain

Pain is difficult for either sex, but in different ways. Men aren’t supposed to admit it, and women often have it dismissed. So understanding the pain our disease can cause is something that has to come a long way. In order for people to gain a greater understanding of pain and MS, we all need to be a bit more truthful about it. Admitting that you are in pain doesn’t make you less of a man or less of anything.

Normalizing men talking about pain

I guarantee you that if you experience MS pain, you already have a higher tolerance than the average person. You already deal with it better than you probably realize. For the good of both our bodies and our relationships, we, as men, need to normalize talking about the pain we experience. Acknowledging pain doesn’t mean you aren’t dealing with it well. Talking about it doesn’t make it go away, but it sure can be helpful.

Thanks so much for reading and always feel free to share!

Devin

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