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Pain support group starts in Ashland

An Ashland resident who suffers from chronic pain is starting a free support group for those who suffer and for their loved ones.

The first meeting is scheduled from 12:15 to 1:45 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 12, in the big conference room inside Pony Espresso Coffee House and Washington Federal at 175 Lithia Way. The meetings will be held the second Thursday of each month.

Elisa Friedlander, a marriage and family therapist who used to run a practice in the Bay Area, says she can no longer work due to limitations from chronic pain.

She said she remains licensed in the state of Oregon with the hope that someone will find a cure to her multiple ailments and she’ll be able to return to work.

Because she can no longer work, she spends her free time volunteering and trying to help people better cope with chronic pain.

Using her skills as a psychotherapist and her experience of living with pain, she developed the support group to help people cope with pain, have a safe space to be supported, gain skills to aid in interaction with others and spread awareness.

“Because it’s so stigmatized, people don’t really want to talk about it with others, and what happens is an apparent isolation that comes with chronic pain,” Friedlander said. “A profound impact is social isolation. You’re in pain because you have to limit the activities you do and have to change your pace, and people end up canceling their plans.”

She said chronic pain is not apparent.

“I look like I’m functioning, and I look like I’m OK, but really I’m suffering from pain that isn’t apparent and it really impacts every single aspect of a person’s life,” Friedlander said. “If someone’s in a wheelchair, there’s something obviously going on. It’s different for someone when you can’t see the pain.”

She said it’s exhausting just to function properly. She said a lot of energy is spent trying to appear “normal” and not in a constant battle.

“It’s really hard for people to understand what life is like for people with chronic pain, and because of this stigma and lack of understanding about chronic pain, it’s important to get together with people who understand,” Friedlander said. “Putting language to what some of the people are feeling can be life changing.”

In the group, she’ll facilitate activities such as mediation, writing and breathing techniques.

She’ll also help those suffering by giving them tools to learn how to be independent and when to ask for help, as well as give loved ones who may be caretakers the tools to learn the new relationship dynamic.

“It’s a really helpless feeling to witness somebody suffering and not be able to do anything,” Friedlander said. “It’s a learning process to ask for help. A lot of people pride themselves on being independent in our society. People say I’ve never thought about it as grief because nobody died, but some people lose friendships, their careers, their passions, relationship dynamics change and even their identity can be lost.”

She said when she lost her job and the ability to drive it was frustrating, but she relearned what independence means.

“When you have a medical condition that causes chronic pain it takes everything,” Friedlander said. “It took my work, my ability to drive, my ability to participate in things I wanted to do. It takes tons of energy, but ultimately I determined that it’s not going to take away who I am.”

She said the group will focus on the mind/body/pain connection and how to deal with it mentally, physically and even spiritually.

She said chronic pain happens as a result of an injury or genetic condition or illness that can last a month or six months or longer. It could go on for years, for life, come in spurts, fluctuate in intensity or be constant. It varies greatly and disrupts every aspect of a person’s life.

“There’s really so much stigma in our society about pain, and that’s something that can make people feel really alone and isolated because people have preconceived notions because of their upbringing and their own experiences,” Friedlander said. “I think part of creating awareness of chronic pain being a real thing is creating the awareness, so it decreases the stigma.”

She said with more awareness comes more research and steps toward better treatments and cures.

Gov. Kate Brown declared the month of September Pain Awareness Month at Friedlander’s request, and this week the city of Ashland followed suit, she said.

The support group is part of the U.S. Pain Foundation’s national network of support groups, known as Pain Connection, from which Friedlander was able to receive special training.

According to the CDC website, chronic pain affects approximately 50 million U.S. adults, and high-impact chronic pain (interfering with work or life most days or every day) affects approximately 20 million U.S. adults.

“Better pain management is also a major element in addressing the current opioid crisis,” the website says. “Persons living with pain need safer and more effective alternatives for pain management.”

Friedlander said more and more doctors are shying away from prescribing opioids because of the opioid crisis, which hurts those with medical conditions who use opioids responsibly.

She emphasized that her support group does not discuss opioids — or any medical practice for that matter.

“Our philosophy is that the pain group has nothing to do with medicine or anything medical,” Friedlander said. “There is no one treatment that works for everybody, and there’s really no right or wrong treatment. It (the group) is about integrating psychosocial support into whatever treatment the individual uses. Whether you call it integrative or holistic medicine, there’s a mind/body relationship with pain.”

For more information about the support group, see elisafriedlander.com/chronic-pain-support-group.html.

Contact Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

Elisa Friedlander talks about her chronic pain and why she doesn't let it bring her down. She's starting a support group in Ashland for those who suffer and for their loved ones just in time for Pain Awareness Month. These clips were taken from the video she submitted to the U.S. Pain Foundation. She was chosen along with 29 other individuals around the world to showcase real peoples' journeys with chronic pain to raise awareness.{ }Ashland Tidings / Caitlin Fowlkes{ }Thumbnail