I have a sinus headache pretty much every morning these days – a sinusitis that has last for almost a year now. I’m irritated by it, but a single extra-strength Advil is all it takes to keep it at bay. Unfortunately, this headache makes writing in the mornings difficult – especially if the Advil takes some time to kick in. As I write today, I am struggling with a particularly acute headache, and hoping the painkiller takes effect sooner rather than later. I suspect I’ve gotten worse this week because of allergens in the air – something which never affected me before the sinusitis – but everything is more sensitive in my airways now.
Having had a year with a chronic condition that is obvious to people (I sniffle a lot), I have come to realize how much unasked for medical advice people give you. And not only that, I have learned not to give unasked for medical advice to anyone else. Why? Because people, it’s irritating.
Now, I don’t mean that having health discussions with fellow-suffers is a bad thing. “Oh yeah, I’ve suffered from this same thing and this/that remedy worked for me” – this can be a very useful kindof discussion in figuring out treatments. But random conjectures – perhaps it’s this, that and the other thing (a cyst? maybe you need antibiotics? etc.) – aren’t very helpful, and in fact they presume one doesn’t know their own health path, which is somewhat patronizing.
The cancer alt-health prostyletizers are perhaps the most insistent. A few years ago, I witnessed a friend from afar who was dying of agressive prostate cancer. Not only was he dealing with his own potential death, his wife and family – but towards the end he felt the need to post an impassioned plea online requesting that people stop with the recommendations for treatment which came at him from every possible angle. As he pointed out, his decision to pursue a path of allopathic and alternative treatments simultaenously was his choice to make and were informed by intensive/invasive medical consultations as well as his own body-knowledge. To be second-guessed by well-meaning people was something that took energy away rather than assisting him in his process. (And the fact that he died does not mean he did the *wrong* thing, nor should he or anyone be judged in their choices around illness and dying. We need to face that sometimes people don’t survive horrible illnesses and there’s nothing which can/could save them.)
I’ve been thinking about him recently because of my own tests for thyroid cancer (final results coming on Tuesday – I think it’s going to be all clear) – and some of what’s been said to me in this intervening period of tests. While I *have* taken advice and comfort from friends who have had thyroid biopsies, surgeries and hormone replacements – I have *not* found the unsolicited comments (from those who have little knowledge of the condition) about what I should do/not do helpful. On the other hand, I *have* really appreciated unsolicited sympathetic comments because it lets me know that people in my life care.
These days I am working on theory that “unasked for advice is almost always taken as criticism,” particularly as I tend to be an advice-giver (and as a union rep I am frequently asked for my opinion). When it comes to the health maladies of my friends, I might look up what they’ve got so I can better understand the symptoms and issues they are facing, but I’m more interested in practical assistance and working the angle of health-empathy which removes the judgement but keeps up a compassionate dialogue.
This holds true for more than health. Most 40-something women don’t need to hear that “there’s still time” to get pregnant – and once someone has decided to purchase real estate, chicken-littling about the coming collapse in Vancouver’s RE market isn’t likely to go over very well. Of course it’s all very well-meaning….. but it also presumes the advice-receiver hasn’t really thought things out which is why unasked for advice is rarely well-taken.