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When You're on Information Overload and You Have an Illness to Manage

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What’s the first thing you do when you start to feel a physical symptom you haven’t felt before? You Google it, of course. Suddenly, there’s a tsunami of information overwhelming you with diagnoses you couldn’t have dreamed of. Or, what if you just Google your health condition? What comes up?

The internet gives us access to an infinite amount of information, including individual experiences, professional advice, and armchair experts. How do we weed out what we don’t need so we can benefit from what is truly helpful?

I have traveled the world in search of treatments and cures for my condition. I have seen practitioners in India, Sri Lanka, Israel, Peru, England, and all over the U.S. Many have told me they could help to slow down, stop, or even reverse my condition. Most were well-intentioned and believed what they said. I invested money and time in pursuing some of these treatments. Time away from work and my family.

I have learned a tremendous amount in the process and I have benefitted in different ways. Have any of the experiences slowed down, stopped, or reversed my condition? No, but I have learned about health, nutrition, exercise, massage, and meditation. I have incorporated a lot of what I have learned into my daily life. So, I’m not prepared to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

The more vulnerable you are, the more likely you will be to believe what people tell you. When my symptoms started getting worse in my early 30s, my wife and I were willing to put everything on hold to explore different options. Choosing what to pursue and what to remain open to are very personal and subjective.

Power of Placebo

There are many layers of health and treatment that we are not even aware of that factor into the equation. For example, making the decision to pursue a given treatment can feel empowering and hopeful. This can shift your thought patterns and beliefs to ones that are more positive and proactive. This is where the placebo effect comes into play. The placebo effect is when you believe that you are receiving a treatment for your condition, but you are really just receiving a sugar pill. Nonetheless, you demonstrate similar changes and improvements to those that have received the actual treatment.

The key variable here is the belief that you are receiving the treatment. If our beliefs can cause not just changes in our thoughts and feelings, but in our physiology, this is something that we at least have to factor into our decisions about our healthcare.

Do Your Homework

If you come across someone or something off the beaten path that piques your interest, I recommend you do the following:

1. Talk to close friends and family about it.

2. Do your own research.

3. Ask for people you can talk to that have already tried it.

4. Try not to decide impulsively.

Unfortunately, there are some people out there that are willing to prey on our vulnerabilities to benefit themselves. I am sure some even believe they are doing good and helping others. We have to be our own best advocates. When people make claims, push them to back them up. Talk is cheap.

Our challenge, especially when Western medicine has little to offer for our respective conditions, is to be curious, open-minded, critical, and comprehensive in our research. We have to become our own personal scientists.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Follow this author on Chronic Illness Therapy.

Originally published: September 14, 2018
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