Have You Ever Tried?

The advice tends to fall in categories and, just for fun, I asked the chronic illness community on Twitter to share their experiences.

By Lene Andersen


Eye of newt and toe of frog…It’s not just Macbeth’s three witches who are into that particularly disgusting-sounding remedy. When you have a chronic illness, friends and even casual acquaintances will tell you that they know just the thing to cure what ails you. The advice tends to fall in categories and, just for fun, I asked the chronic illness community on Twitter to share their experiences.

Food can heal your body

“No red meat or pork, eat vegetarian, cut out dairy, gluten and GMO, drink coffee, drink red wine, don’t drink coffee or red wine.” @notoriouscmoney

If diet helps control your symptoms, great! But for those whose condition doesn’t respond to food, it is be exhausting to be told that the magic cure can be found in the diet of an intermittently fasting vegan caveman who only ate organic berries under the full moon.

Try harder

“I’ve also been told to pray harder.”—@creakydragon

Whether it’s the power of positive thinking or seeking help from the Almighty, the underlying theme is that if you just try hard enough, you’ll get better. It’s enough to make you quietly foam at the mouth, because being present in your life already requires you trying really hard. Faith—in God, in joy, in your own fierceness—might help you to cope, but science has yet to prove that healing can be accomplished through the power of the mind.

I saw it on television, so it must be true

“Frozen lemon being the most popular, insane one. The exaggeration of turmeric. My personal fave—baking soda would cure my cancer…I’M NOT A CAKE!”—@kittypotpie85

You can tell when someone’s favourite television host has shared a new remedy that will cure everything from cancer to hangnails. That’s when you get inundated with earnest emails or maybe even gifted a package containing said miracle. Would it be wrong to share a subscription to a reputable medical research site with the sender?

It can’t hurt

“Wearing magnetic bracelets, and the scariest was wearing quartz stone!!!”—@smhull728

Far be it for any of us to scoff at another’s beliefs. Even if they suggest that walking barefoot on the soil can cure autoimmune disease (earthworms, ditto) and rubbing your foot with an onion will take away the illness. If you’ve got the energy then there’s no harm in trying some of the less invasive suggestions, but perhaps draw the line at anything involving bloodletting.

They just know

Repeatedly bumping into people who feel compelled to share something they “just know” will cure you can be incredibly frustrating. You’re living with a complex condition that has no cure, yet your cousin twice removed is earnestly convinced that a kitchen spice, shiny stone or never eating chocolate again will magically restore you to perfect health. On some level, you know that the advice is coming from a wish to help. That this person cares about you. And that makes it harder to sigh heavily in their presence.

So what do you do?

One option is to thank the advice-giver and say you’ll look into it, but that leaves the topic open for follow-up the next time you see the person. Rather than spending months twisting yourself into a pretzel in a hopeless battle to avoid being rude—because you are, after all, Canadian—being honest can put a brake on the situation. Simply say: “Thank you for caring. I’m very confident in the treatment plan my doctor and I have developed together.” And then change the topic. Of course, if they persist, there is always a slightly sharper back-up: “If it were that simple, no one would be sick.”

Lene Andersen, is an author, photographer and advocate living in Toronto. She writes books about living well with chronic illness, including Chronic Christmas: Surviving the Holidays with a Chronic Illness, and the award-winning blog The Seated View. She is a member of both the R-PATH and OWN housing committees.

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