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When Caregiving and Abuse Go Together for People With Chronic Pain

by Jennie Shulkin, J.D. and Heather Martarella, Psy.D.

Netflix’s “Maid” tells the story of Alex, a 23-year-old mother, struggling to make ends meet immediately after fleeing an abusive relationship. She spends the next few days physically carrying her toddler from place to place, sleeping in her car and on the floor of the ferry station, and then finally lugging furniture up to a room at a halfway house. The viewer is struck by Alex’s determination to not take the easy way out and return to her abuser, despite facing intense emotional and financial hardship when attempting to obtain governmental assistance, care for her toddler, and hold a strenuous new job as a maid.

Without being able-bodied and healthy, Alex might not have been able to break away from her abuser and gain her freedom. Now imagine Alex with the added challenge of incapacitating chronic pain.

Chronic Pain and Potential Power Imbalances With Caregivers

Chronic pain is defined broadly as pain that lasts longer than six months. The CDC estimates that over 50 million Americans live with chronic pain. Of course, there are varying degrees of chronic pain – ranging from backs that ache when sitting too long to constant, widespread pain that makes working, socializing, and caring for family members or even oneself very challenging. For some, chronic pain is incapacitating, such that basic, everyday tasks require enlisting a caregiver.

Like chronic pain, caregiving exists along a spectrum and takes many different forms. Caregiving can mean performing basic tasks like preparing food and facilitating bathing; it can mean emotional and financial support, or it can mean helping someone schedule and attend medical appointments. Many cannot afford paid caregivers

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Jennie Shulkin Heather Martarella

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