4 Things to Remember Before Offering Me Advice on My Chronic Illnesses

Living with a chronic condition is challenging on the best of days and can be overwhelming and scary at its worst. I can’t count the number of days I wake up thinking, “If only I could wave a magic wand and make all of my conditions go away.” A lot of this wishful thinking comes from my interactions with “healthy” people and conversations I’ve had about the multiple conditions I live with. If I could hand people a list of things they should keep in mind before offering advice, this would be it.

1. Wishful thinking is not a cure.

If simply altering thought patterns through force of will cured depression and anxiety, I would be really hopeful for the entire planet. Unfortunately, these things depend a lot on brain chemistry and as much as I’d like to be able to change how the chemicals in my brain interact with just a thought, I know this is unrealistic. Sure, the power of positive thought is a huge factor in managing the self and I don’t discount the benefits of maintaining a positive attitude. However, when it comes to mental illness, positivism is by no means the only tool needed in the toolbox.

2. Diet and exercise will not eliminate my conditions.

Yes, maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine is essential to good health. There is a lot of merit in the saying “healthy body, healthy mind.” But just like wishful thinking, these things by themselves will not cure any of my chronic conditions. Diabetes is caused by many factors and while poor diet and a lack of physical activity can certainly lead to certain types of diabetes in some people, simply eating better and being more active will not cure the disease. Chronic pain can not be cured simply by losing weight even though being healthier overall can help.

3. I appreciate that you care.

Unless presented with evidence to the contrary, I assume you are giving me advice because you care about me and you want to see me feel better. Knowing you care boosts my mental state and gives me hope. Sometimes the best thing I can hear is a simple “I care.” Humans, however, are driven to be problem solvers, so I understand why you would offer unsolicited advice. Even though I may not take your advice for whatever reason, know that if you are coming from a place of caring, I do appreciate the effort.

4. There is no simple answer. 

My cocktail of conditions is unique to me. Everyone with chronic mental and physical conditions has unique challenges that only they experience. If a treatment worked for everyone with x condition, a lot more people would be cured and/or have full control over their symptoms. I have tried many treatments with varying degrees of success. I am constantly searching for answers. When you ask me if I have tried this or that, know that I have been pursuing treatment for a very long time and have explored many options ranging from the medically proven to the anecdotally helpful. The person who wants to see me feel better the most is me and I put a lot of time and effort into that endeavor. Please don’t assume there’s a simple and quick fix that I have overlooked.

When discussing chronic conditions with loved ones, keep these things in mind. Unsolicited advice and suggestions for quick cures can do more harm than good, even if given with the best intentions. Reassure your loved ones that you do care and that you want to see them at their healthiest and happiest because it is good for them. You may not be able to cure or treat your loved one’s conditions, but you can make their journey a little bit easier.

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Thinkstock photo via SbytovaMN.

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