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Living well with chronic pain

9 July 2022

Author, entrepreneur, health expert and endometriosis sufferer Karra Eloff recently visited Christchurch to promote new book The Chronic Pain Couple. Style spoke to her ahead of her Facebook Live Q&A with Endometriosis NZ on July 14. Words Hannah Powell

Karra Eloff’s chronic pain journey began when she collapsed in a furniture store while shopping with her husband. Confused, she put it down to a running-related injury. But as the pain spread across her joints, the next few years were spent visiting doctors and specialists, finally being diagnosed with spondyloarthritis, an arthritis that affects the bones and joints. Soon after, she was diagnosed with a pelvic condition too, called endometriosis.

Endometriosis is where tissue is found where it ought not to be, causing inflammation and pain in the womb. Not your normal period cramp, endometriosis is debilitating and sore, causing immense distress. There are four stages: minimal, mild, moderate, and severe.

For some, it can lead to things like surgery, infertility, or a diet on FODMAP. But for most, it means years of trying to get a diagnosis. In New Zealand, one in four women and those assigned female at birth have endo. That’s about 120,000 wahine diagnosed across the motu.

Karra’s debut book, The Chronic Pain Couple, is a practical blueprint on how to navigate love and intimacy while being diagnosed. Her book is full of hope and strategy for many.

The chapters draw on challenges she has had to face alongside her husband Johann. In her book, she explains how they couldn’t do the same activities anymore as a couple. Letting go of daily gym visits and intrepid holidays was something they both had to overcome, as well as the reality of before chronic pain, and after.

“It wasn’t only my body that was weak and sick. Our relationship was too,” she says in the book.

Intertwined with her experience co-facilitating a chronic pain support group, her book features others stories of sadness, anger, and grief.

Karra wants to help other couples find their new normal and a relationship beyond survival.

“There are millions of couples right now struggling with chronic pain and intimacy. And yet, where’s the information?” she says.

Karra wants to open the conversation, talk about it, and let others know they’re not alone.

“If you think about it, the core of what chronic pain is, it’s sending a danger signal to the body,” she says. “If we were chased by a bear in the wild back when we were cave women, we wouldn’t be thinking about sex…just like when we have chronic pain.”

For those diagnosed, having chronic pain could mean painful sex, fatigue, low libido, and changes to self-esteem. Factors like couple dynamic, importance of intimacy in the relationship, and family planning can quickly turn into issues that need to be addressed.

the chronic pain couple book

“When you have chronic pain, sometimes sex sounds like reverse parking a car…oh, a little to the left, no, not too far.”

Think of The Chronic Pain Couple as a go-to guide for tough conversations and pivoting moments.

As Karra says, chronic pain impacts everything in your life.

Her strategy is outlined through four pillars that are explained in detail in her book.

Number one is communication, followed by mental health, intimacy, and personal success.

After spending years researching this topic, Karra found these key areas in communication made space for more romance and fun, avoiding the patient/carer dynamic that many settled into. Those who are in relationships are both affected by chronic pain, just in different ways.

“I hope that people realise we don’t have to settle for a passionless co-existence with our partner,” she says. “[Instead] we can have that remarkable relationship and reach big goals, even if we are stuck in bed some weeks with chronic pain.”

Karra hopes that her book will encourage those struggling to improve more than just their health condition. She aims to inspire them to improve their life.

Join Karra’s Facebook Live Q&A with Endometriosis NZ on July 14 at 7pm.

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