Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired

Strategies and alternatives for coping with fibromyalgia, bipolar disorder and other chronic illnesses

8 Ways to Handle Unwanted Treatment Advice

Posted by wendyburnett on April 13, 2010


In yesterday’s post, I talked about the people in our lives who keep pushing us to try new treatments thinking that we’ll be “CURED,” and promised you a selection of methods to deal with them. As I said in that article, none of these methods are guaranteed to work with every “helpful” person in our lives. Just like us, each person will require their own combination of methods, and some won’t stop no matter what we try.

As annoying as it can be to deal with all the time, we have to remember that our illness has affected their lives as well, and handle the behavior as gently as possible. The goal isn’t to alienate our supporters, but to help them understand that there is no perfect treatment that works for everyone with our illness. Although we appreciate them trying to help us, they can’t expect that every suggestion they make will be helpful, and some treatments could actually make us worse.

Here’s my personal list of things to try:

  1. Thank them and tell them that you’ll discuss it with your doctor. In many cases this will work with the friends who are really only trying to be helpful, and don’t have their own agenda. This is the easiest way to handle it, and you don’t have any hurt feelings to deal with.
  2. If you’ve already tried it, and it didn’t work or made you worse, say so.
  3. If it’s something that sounds interesting to you, try it (after researching any possible negative reactions or interactions with medications you take and discussing it with your healthcare team) and keep them updated on if/how it’s working. This works especially well with simple suggestions like getting more sun (there is research out there showing that the chronically ill tend to be Vitamin D deficient, although it’s not known if this is a possible cause, or an effect of becoming more housebound.) If you actually try some of their suggestions, it will show them that you appreciate them trying to help you, but be careful, this strategy can backfire and make them even more determined to find a “cure” for you.
  4. Refer them to one of the many sites that offer support and advice to family and friends of those with chronic illness to learn how best to help you, or give them a book with a section on how to deal with a loved one with a chronic illness. There are several good links in my sidebar, and some excellent books on the subject as well.
  5. Let them know what’s helpful and what isn’t. If you don’t have insurance and can’t afford the latest and greatest new pill because it costs $500 a month, let them know that. If you don’t believe in alternative treatments like chiropractors or acupuncture, say so (gently, gently.)
  6. Explain that you and your doctor have settled on a treatment plan for you, and you’re giving that plan time to work, without adding new treatments that could interfere with what you’re already doing. Tell them you’ll add it to the list of things that you might try if your current treatment doesn’t work out.
  7. If they continue to pressure you to try new things, have an honest talk with them. Use “I messages” so that they don’t feel attacked. (PLEASE don’t yell, “you’re driving me CRAZY with all these suggestions.” Instead, try something like “I feel pressured when you insist I try a new treatment even though my doctor says it’s not a good idea.”)
  8. If they refuse to back off, or constantly get angry and attack you for “not trying to get better” you may need to take a break from the relationship. You don’t need the additional stress in your life.

Update: Someone posted this link on one of the FB groups I belong to, and I thought it was great. Someone wrote to an advice columnist asking why her friend with chronic illness didn’t take her advice. Check it out: Unsolicited Medical Advice: RA and Chronic Illness

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7 Responses to “8 Ways to Handle Unwanted Treatment Advice”

  1. Good list.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Keith Carey. Keith Carey said: 8 Ways to Handle Unwanted Treatment Advice « Sick and Tired of …: Fatigue. H.O.P.E. (Helping Our Pain and Exhaus… http://bit.ly/bRQUm0 […]

  3. cinderkeys said

    Good suggestions. All the advice comes, I think, from a good place. They just want you to get better. What they may not realize is that if the cure came that easily, everyone would know about it already … and would be cured.

    • Yes, the advice (usually) comes from a good place, it’s simply that healthy people don’t understand that you can’t just make a chronic illness go away. It’s a totally different mindset. Even if their suggestions are helpful, it’s not a cure, and they expect it to be.

  4. An excellent post. Generally, these are such well-intentioned comments. And of course, people don’t realize that we know our bodies better than anyone, which, as you say, doesn’t mean that we aren’t open to recommendations. The Vitamin D, for example, is a good reminder (thank you).

    • Thanks, and you’re welcome. I usually don’t mind if someone suggests something as long as they don’t go all pissy if I don’t try it, but it can get very annoying when they do it constantly.

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