Communication is Key Whether You Have Chronic Pain, a Mental Illness, or Both

chronic illness communication with family

Do you or someone you love live with a mental illness?  You are NOT alone!  Depression, anxiety, OCD, Bipolar, and addiction are just a few of the many mental illnesses that millions of people battle every day.  According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), approximately 1 out of every 5 adults in the United States, that’s 43.8 million people, experience mental illness in a given year.  That is more than the entire population of California alone!!! They also estimate that 1 in 25 adults, or 9.8 million, experience a serious mental illness in a given year that significantly interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.

womens health mag may my article

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In the May 2018 issue of Women’s Health Magazine, there is an article about mental health and relationships. If we are not careful mental and chronic illnesses can create unwanted distance between us and our loved ones. The article not only discusses the impact that a mental illness can have on marriage but also the parent/child relationship and friendships too.  They show both sides of the story as well as offer helpful tips for both people in the relationship.

womens health mag may cover

One approach mentioned in the article is to develop code phrases.  I applied this strategy to my own life and relationships several years ago.  At first, it was to signal how I was unable to think clearly or function because of physical pain from my chronic illnesses.  Later, I also learned how to express myself when I was struggling with depression or anxiety.


Whether I am struggling with extreme physical pain, anxiety, or depression, I find it difficult to leave the house, get out of bed, hold a conversation, express my feelings, or make major decisions.  I lose control over my emotions, and the filter between my brain and mouth malfunctions.  Instead of expressing my thoughts and feelings in a kind or practical manner, I blurt out short and often demanding phrases that are hurtful or just rude in tone.  This would frustrate and hurt my husband, children, family, and friends.


My solution was to create a code phrase.  I use phrases like “nobody’s home” or “can’t process” to express that I am not functioning like I should and am not in the state of mind to be able to make major decisions or answer a bunch of questions. These phrases are not hurtful, and they fully express my current mental and physical state at that moment.  These phrases are not a pass to get out of dealing with problems or issues. Avoidance will only make matters worse. Instead, they give me time to be able to recover from my episode, which allows me to think clearly.  This practice has opened deeper discussions with my loved ones and has improved how we communicate.


Honesty and communication are key when dealing with a chronic or mental illness, no matter what the relationship is.  You can learn more tips and coping strategies in the May issue of Women’s Health Magazine (click here for a digital or print subscription) or visit NAMI for tips and mental health support.

Remember, YOU ARE NOT ALONE!! Do NOT allow the stigma of mental illness to keep you from reaching out for help, support, and care.  If you are considering suicide, I beg and urge you to contact a suicide prevention line ASAP! Below are a few suicide prevention hotline and online chat resources.

Related post: The Power of Connection: Exploring Communication Strategies for Chronic Illness

United States:  National Suicide Prevention Lifeline




United Kingdom: Samaritans  116 123 (UK) 116 123 (ROI)

Canada: Crisis Services Canada


Chat online

For residents of Quebec, call 1 866 APPELLE (1 866 277 3553)

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Save 20% when you sign up through this link.

Communicating, Loved ones, Chronic pain, Mental illness, Support, Understanding, Relationships, Empathy, Compassion, Open dialogue, Expressing needs, Family, Friends, Coping strategies, Effective communication, Emotional support, Boundaries, Validation, Listening, Nurturing relationships

Published by Cynthia Covert

Diagnosed in 2001 with psoriasis, followed by fibromyalgia, psoriatic arthritis, endometriosis, and later a botched hysterectomy turned her world upside down. Cynthia shares her experience, advice, and tips for how to make life with chronic pain easier and less painful.

One thought on “Communication is Key Whether You Have Chronic Pain, a Mental Illness, or Both

  1. We have been using codes for years in our family, for all sorts of things, from “back off” to “I’ve got my period” – always handy to use to use any time, anywhere! And great for diffusing highly emotional situations. Lowen @

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