Unasked for advice….


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.

4 thoughts on “Unasked for advice….

  1. Great post Megan. We should all try to resist the urge to advise, and also sometimes the urge to ask for advice. Often what is really most needed when a friend is in pain or confusion is simply a hearing ear or a soft shoulder to lean on. Unwanted advice can be just purely irritating. An flexible offer of help or support is always appreciated. I find that more and more i am really not able to confidently offer “advice”, but I can still help.

    As for the women over 40 thing, well that is fodder for a dozen blog posts…but briefly, what we one-in-five north american women who will never have biological children need, is encouragement and support to fully live our lives on our own paths. We really don’t need advice about adoption or IVF, from people who think their own paths are the only paths to happiness, no matter how well they mean by it.

    I feel that your test will go well. I have a breast biopsy test next week which i also feel will go well. But we can surely be there for each other in faith and support. Thanks as ever for your words of wisdom (but not advice!).

  2. No! Not advice. I really do want to write on the decision for childlessness thing further at some point – and I find that as I approach forty (next year) I am hearing even more *insistence* around what I should do. As much as I love my stepdaughter (she is totally fascinating fourteen year old now), my experience with her has only affirmed these decisions for me. That’s something else I need to write about……..

    Good luck with your test. I had mine last week (the second one, first was inconclusive)….. and when they Dr’s office made the follow-up they said “nothing urgen” so I’m feeling pretty good. You know, by the time you get to the early forties, everyone has had at least one cancer scare…. it’s a rite of passage to middle-age as far as I can tell!

  3. As someone who spent nearly a decade telling people what to do for a living (teaching ESL), I am also guilty of giving advice more than I probably should. Your post reminded me to think before I dole it out next time.

    I also looked at the link on real estate… wow, holy smug know-it-all. The stats quoted in that article don’t match up to my personal experience, but I guess appreciation is very neighbourhood-specific in this city. In Mount Pleasant, our home has gone up in value around 18% over four years.

    I used to read a similar blog called Vancouver Unreal Estate. The writer was constantly going on about how the bubble was about to burst. He claimed he had hundreds of thousands in cash that he was going to use to buy a house when prices crashed. That was about six years ago, I think. He stopped blogging there about three years ago.

    I’m really glad we just got on with our lives, ignored the Chicken Littles & bought real estate back then.

  4. I have a friend, a few years older than myself. His daughter, he has explained, has had more surgeries than birthdays.

    A medical error during her delivery added up to a lifelong struggle for survival – dialysis, appointments, tests. Invasive medical procedures after being whisked through emergency, such a brave little girl, the hospital staff would coo and cluck.

    About the time I met him and got to know him, he shared something which amazed me: over the course of her life, he had amassed two full archival filing boxes full of material from the well-meaning and the helpful.

    Recipes. Olive oil. Dichloroacetate and pancake batter and urine therapy…name it.

    A few years later when another friend, an adopted father, was diagnosed with aggressive squamous cell carcinoma, I made him two promises.

    One, that I would never treat him any differently than I did before his diagnosis. I kept that promise.

    Two, that I would bar any attempt by another to offer helpful advice. I kept that one, too.

    This friend eventually beat his cancer, though it lurks in the wings and did what I can only call a ‘number’ on him. And the amount of that number is not minor, yet this man, given 6-12 months to live in 2004 continues to somehow work and live. IMO it is his stubbornness – told this, he responded “I’ll see you in a year, then,” and did so. Beers all around.

    The first friend and his daughter have a somewhat different epilogue to their story. His daughter’s kidneys eventually failed, and a transplant was necessary. Himself being a donor match for his daughter, during surgery to transplant one of his kidneys into his daughter, it was discovered one of his kidneys were cancerous and had to be removed.

    His son eventually provided the match, and all these live today. But for the necessity of a transplant for his daughter, he would have died, as the type of cancer it was would not have caused pain or discomfort, but silently dug his grave.

    So if you come to my house I’ll offer you a tissue to honk into. And sympathy. And tea.

    But no miracle cures. Such either wait in the wings or are not. There are broad scribed patterns which elude frenetic energy expended in attempts to control that which cannot be.

    If there is a moral I take from the preceding it is that it is mine to listen and watch for these patterns in tragedies great and small and that speaking (or suggesting, or backyard diagnoses, or olive oil remedies, or hyperbaric chambers &c &c) gets in the way and is inimical to meaningful participation in the sufferings of others.

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