Heartfelt? About that Unsolicited RA Advice

Heartfelt? About That Unsolicited RA Advice

Over the years I’ve had countless people, from dear friends to complete strangers, offer me heartfelt advice about how to treat my rheumatoid disease.

Rheumatoid arthritis "advice"

Mostly, it’s useless. Sometimes it comes in the form of interrogations: “Have you tried gin-soaked raisins? A copper bracelet? How about this supplement? Or as a warning: Don’t eat tomatoes/gluten/carbs/sugar!”

Sometimes, it comes at you in a gently scolding sort of way: “Maybe if you lost a little weight,” or “Try walking every day, perhaps?” or “How about eating more veggies?" All of which are might be helpful if you’re equally as gentle about accepting veiled criticism.

Responding to unsolicited advice

Because I’m a polite, cheerful person (wimp) who dislikes conflict, I usually end up saying something positive, like “Wow! I’m glad that helped her/him" Or "That’s amazing!" or "I’ll look into it.” Or “I tried that years ago. No luck. Sorry.” Or “Yes, I’m sure eating more spinach will help. Thanks.” Or “Sounds interesting. I’ll check it out.”

It’s often annoying, though, particularly when friends push you hard to try some miracle cure they’ve heard about. They can’t believe you’re not excited about it. In fact, they may get a bit pushed out of shape when you try one of the above-patented responses on them.

I’ve only rarely become annoyed enough about unsolicited advice to tip over into anger, though, and then only because my unsolicited advisor accused me of not really wanting to “get better.”

The best of intentions

Most people offer their unsolicited advice and ideas out of real concern. They want to make our lives easier, better, and less painful. They want to help because just sitting back and watching you struggle makes them feel helpless. This altruistic kind of advice may come from anyone--friends, family members, and even total strangers.

RA lifestyle advice

I have one friend who’s deeply into natural remedies and organic foods. She’s excited about what she knows about these things and she’s excited to share her knowledge. I’m right there with her on much of what she says, but some natural remedies are, I believe, three-quarters snake-oil, and if eating clean and exercising could actually cure RD, I’m sure I would have noticed by now. I’m as kind and respectful as I know how to be with this friend. I love her, but sometimes I wish she’d respect my treatment and lifestyle choices, as well.

We all do it

People give us advice because they want to solve the problem for us, too. We all do this, of course. I’m doing it right now, writing this post in the hope that I might help, enlighten, or encourage someone else, like me, who has RD. Let me hasten to say that there’s nothing wrong with this. This is a form of altruistic advice. There’s no harm meant even though the advice might sometimes annoy the advisee. Be kind to us, gentle reader.

The advice is more about them than you

Giving advice is a great way to feel needed, too, even when you aren’t. Needed, I mean. Some advice-givers take it a step further and do it to make themselves feel important. It’s not about you at all—it’s about them. Maybe they see themselves as teachers or educators, or maybe they just like to hear themselves talk. Or maybe they want to establish their superiority or power over you or to use the advice to judge you without actually saying so.

I find these types of unsolicited advisers the hardest to deal with. They’re often very good at making me feel bad if I don’t rush to do as they advise, even when I know what they’re telling me won’t help or, worse, is a bunch of hooey. They’re good at turning my rejection against me--hence, the "you don't really want to get better" accusation I mentioned above. So, I tell myself that if I see one of them swooping in on me I ought to use this opportunity to practice my assertiveness skills right-now-this-instant! Then I duck into the nearest coat closet until they’re gone.

Tired of complaints

Finally, sometimes people offer advice because they’re tired of the complaints.1 I know I’ve been there—I’ve done it to friends or family members who've gone on and on about a problem without doing anything to fix it. Now, I’m not proud of that. But I’ve done it to myself, as well. I get exasperated. Let’s cut the talk and get some action, here! It’s like a verbal poke in the ribs. Do something!

Unfortunately, that kind of advice offered bluntly and at the wrong time and place, can hurt as much as help. People who are chronically ill and in pain don’t (for the most part; there are exceptions, I suppose) mean to complain. And having someone minimize our feelings hurts. Yet we do get frustrated and cranky. We do feel invisible and marginalized, sometimes, and we do feel so alone. We try not to kibitz about things all the time, but sometimes we just need to let that frustration out into the world, to put it into words that make sounds, to describe it so we can fit it into a box and put it away until the next time.

When that happens, we just need a friendly, empathetic, caring person to hear and acknowledge us. We don’t need advice—unless we ask for it.

1. Tired of Hearing You – People may want you to do something constructive instead of complaining all the time.

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