Everyone living with a chronic illness has had to deal with unsolicited advice about their health. Whether it’s from strangers on social media or from well-meaning friends and family, uninvited advice is a frustrating part of living with an incurable chronic illness. It’s so common that we often face these comments daily.
I’m sure you are all aware of the common cure suggestions including: exercise more, take up yoga, you just need to have a positive mental attitude. Go vegan, keto, dairy free, gluten free, sugar free, eat more fruit and vegetables. Get some fresh air – go for a walk. ‘xyz’ supplements cured me, have you tried? … coconut oil, aloe vera, magnesium, turmeric, 5-HTP, LDN, CoQ10, omega 3. Drink raw juice, drink more water. Meditate, pray, God will heal you. And don’t get me started on the myriad of MLM companies selling ‘cures’ like JuicePlus.
But how do you respond? On the one hand I know most people mean well and only want to help, but on the other hand these comments can be very tedious, exhausting, intrusive and invalidating.
My own experiences with unsolicited advice
Over the years, I’ve received a lot of unwelcome advice about my health. Since setting up my blog and writing openly about my health struggles, I have been inundated by messages offering ‘miracle cures’ for all my illnesses.
Although I appreciate people are trying to help, a certain amount of judgement comes with these suggestions. When someone offers unwanted advice, you don’t just hear a helpful tip to try, you hear that you aren’t trying hard enough.
The truth is, when you have lived with a chronic illness for several years, you have pretty much tried everything. People don’t understand that we’re not just lying around passively accepting our fate. We’re online doing research on treatments – we are experts on our illness.
To explain my frustrations, and highlight how intrusive unsolicited health advice can be, I would like to tell you about a recent confrontation on Twitter:
I was on Twitter, minding my own business, when someone started retweeting a blog post I had shared, with comments directed at me. I didn’t know this person, and they knew nothing about my medical history. Yet they took it upon themselves to dish out lots of unsolicited medical advice. The way this advice was phrased was very condescending. I remained polite at first, but after 5 separate cure suggestions for depression, fibromyalgia pain, acid reflux from the same person, in the space of 20 minutes, I felt compelled to confront them. This is not ok. Here’s a summary of the conversation:
This person first responded with a cure for my depression. “You need walks in the fresh air, fresh fruit, plenty of water, no sugar, no dairy”. He knew nothing about my physical health (I’m bedbound) or my restricted diet.
My response: “Thanks for the suggestions, but it’s not that easy for some of us. I’m bedbound with severe ME and intolerant to all fruit apart from bananas. I’m already on a no sugar or dairy diet though.”
I tried to keep it polite and explained my personal situation, hoping that this would put an end to his uninvited advice. But no, he kept going. He added a few other health and lifestyle suggestions, and after stating that I should go outside in a wheelchair, obviously choosing to ignore the part where I said I was bedbound, he moved onto curing my fibromyalgia pain.
“Do you also have Fibromyalgia? I do, and I take TURMERIC, 1 teaspoon mixed in honey. It’s excellent for the pain, also apple cider vinegar, 1 tsp in a small glass of warm water. . These are excellent for the pain, it does work.”
Now, as usual, certain assumptions have been made here. He’s assumed I haven’t tried these remedies before, and assumed that what works for him will work for everyone else. The truth is, I have tried them. My response: “I appreciate your suggestions Jack, but I can’t take turmeric. I have tried and it severely aggravated my IBS and acid reflux. I’m glad it’s helping you though”
Again I kept it polite. Maybe I should have just ignored him at this stage. But I hoped this would shut him up. But no, he had a cure for acid reflux too.
“Take bicarbonate of soda first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach. Half a teaspoon in warm water, add a squirt of lemon juice. This will get rid of the reflux. It does work. I got rid of reflux completely.”
Yet again, assumptions, yet again unsolicited advice.
My final response was less polite. After 5 unwanted cure suggestions I had had enough.
I can’t remember exactly what I said, and I wasn’t quick enough to get a screenshot before he blocked me, but it was along these lines:
“I know you mean well Jack, but you have now tweeted 5 cure suggestions that I didn’t ask for. At no point have I requested any medical advice. By forcing your cure suggestions onto me it feels like you are insinuating that I haven’t been trying hard enough to improve my own health. You are assuming I haven’t tried these remedies before, and that I want your advice. Please stop now.”
So after half an hour of fielding his unwanted advice, and finally telling him that this wasn’t OK – he blocked me. I guess some people can’t handle criticism. But I’m glad I stood up for myself. Maybe he will think twice about this kind of behaviour in the future.
And what prompted all this unsolicited advice? Did I request remedies for depression, pain and acid reflux? Nope! All I did was share one of my blog posts about tips for coping with bad mental health days. At no time did I encourage this encounter. Each suggestion I politely shot down, explaining my situation “yes, I have tried that, but it didn’t work – I’m glad it helps you” etc. But each time he retweeted my response with another cure suggestion.
How to respond to unsolicited health advice
Did I handle the situation well? What is the correct way to respond to unsolicited advice? Was there a better way? Who knows? But I have thought a lot about it since.
Most of the time, it’s probably best just to ignore these comments. But sometimes people do not take a hint. So if you feel unable to ignore the unwanted advice, why not try one of the following responses;
- Thank you, I’ll take that into consideration
- That’s a good idea, but I have my own way of handling this
- I am glad that works for you. There are so many different ways of doing things
- Thanks, but I’m fine
- Thanks, but I don’t really need advice. I’m already researching a solution
- I’ll ask for advice if I need it
Do you have any you would like to add?
Why unsolicited medical advice is tedious and can be invalidating
I’m sure there are people reading this who think I’m overreacting – I should just be thankful that someone is taking an interest in my health, and taking the time to make these suggestions.
But unsolicited advice can create a lot of stress. Often it can feel like criticism rather than support when someone offers their take on what you could be doing better.
I have been chronically ill for over 15 years. I receive uninvited health and lifestyle advice on a regular basis, sometimes daily. It is frustrating to constantly hear the message that, not only am I not trying hard enough to improve my own health, but that myself and my doctors are not the most knowledgeable about my medical and lifestyle needs.
Also, suggesting that I can be cured simply by having a positive mental attitude, taking a common supplement or taking up yoga, belittles the complexity and severity of my illness, and invalidates my struggles.
Can you see how this would get tedious and be intrusive? Can you see why I may react in a less than positive manner to this unwanted advice?
And it’s not just well-meaning individuals we have to contend with. We are often targeted by companies selling products or services, and scammers who prey on our desperation to get relief from our symptoms.
The next time you get the urge to give health advice to someone, please stop and think;
- What are my motives?
- Am I qualified to give advice?
- How might my comments be interpreted?
- Could I phrase this in a less confrontational, or judgemental way?
- But most importantly; Did they ask for advice?
Please do not give advice when it is not specifically requested. The key here is the word ‘unsolicited’. If someone wants information about your lifestyle, your choice, or your product, they will ask you and they will do the research.
And if you do give advice and somebody says that they aren’t interested or asks you to stop, just respect their wishes – don’t get stroppy or defensive. Please know we are constantly being bombarded by unsolicited advice, and it’s exhausting!
Don’t be like Jack.
How you can help your chronically ill friend
Rather than giving uninvited advice, why not ask your chronically ill friend how you can help. If you want to support them, educate yourself about their illness. Let them know you will always be there for them without judgement. If you see something in the news about their condition, send them the link – we appreciate that you are thinking about us. And if you read about a possible cure or treatment for their illness on social media, please think twice about forcing this upon them. If you do feel like you need to let them know, consider how you approach this and the wording you use. And if we choose not to go down this treatment path, please respect our wishes.
Trust that we are the most knowledgeable about our own health and needs. And out of respect for disabled and chronically ill people everywhere, please stop forcing your unsolicited advice upon those who don’t want it.
What unsolicited advice have you received about your health? How do you respond?
For more personal stories, reviews, news, inspirational quotes and in-depth discussion, please head over to my Facebook page.