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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.

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.

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.”

Really? I mean, really?

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • Eebtool
    2 years ago

    Wren,
    If only they could spend the day TRYING to walk in your shoes?

  • jane
    2 years ago

    Yes Wren, there is such a fine line between helpful advice and getting up one’s goat.
    I find the worst ones are the comparisons. Such as” i have a friend and he/she takes da da and they are so good”. It makes me feel a failure or i haven’t tried hard enough or i must be depressed because i don’t want to do something. I find the longer i have RA i am more likely to do something on my own so i can pace myself and not be in the situation of explaining why i am unable to do something. My husband thinks i ought to say no i am busy, i am kickboxing thanks. I have been offered a scam drug from one friend, just silly things, but now i say, thanks but if i tried or took everything i wouldn’t have time to sleep. Well intentioned the advice may be but it can irk.

  • mp44sturm
    2 years ago

    Wren, I think you are so on target. The comments are often a result of people wanting to do something to be helpful –or– it’s some people who just need someone to pick on. And so nicely put: they “use advice to judge you without actually saying so”

    I have never thought of the situation in that way.

    Possible comeback: “You point out my arthritis a lot. Does my arthritis bother you? … Well, if it doesn’t bother you, why do you keep bringing it up?”

  • Wren moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi, Chinesebarbie!
    I’m glad you found this article helpful. And oh, I do like that comeback–it’s a good one, and one that might poke the asker into thinking about why they’re commenting. I think most people are actually trying to be helpful and even kind, but there are a few of those judgy-types out there, too.
    Thanks for reading and stopping by to comment. I do so appreciate it and I love hearing from you! 🙂

  • Connie Rifenburg
    2 years ago

    What happens when that “helpful person” is a professional, tho not in RA, but in another medical field, and starts with the Gluten, sugar, leaky gut, etc.?? How to you nicely tell them exactly what you said above? If all these things worked, why are so many people still suffering? Don’t you think it would be on the front page? “Cut out Gluten and you will be cured of RA!” WOW!

    I have had people tell me about this or that that worked for another person with arthritis. Then I must explain what RA is – compared to OA (I have both) And those who look at your hands and the fact they don’t look like claws (yet) and say, “oh I’ve seen people with RA and their hands are much worse than yours”. Oh. OK. Well, I happened to have had my RA diagnosed early in the disease and it has been consistently treated for 13 yrs. Those people you’ve seen with the crippled hands, etc. may have had it longer than me, a more severe case, or didn’t get treatment -because it wasn’t available to them (i.e. those in their 80s now) or it wasn’t diagnosed before damage had already begun.

    But that doesn’t mean I don’t have RA. It also doesn’t mean that my pain and inflammation can be fixed by changing my diet, losing weight – oh, and ofcourse going off those terrible steroids! I have RA. For years I wanted the answer of what caused it!! I think I found it (at least in my own mind) but, I’ll never forget what my RA Dr. told me when I kept saying “How did I get this?”. She said it simply and firmly…. “It doesn’t matter how you got it. You have it. It’s not curable. It IS treatable, and you need to understand that from here on out.”

    I finally came to realize that this is the biggest truth of RA. If you have it. You simply have it. No fancy diet or pill will make it go away. Some things will make it more bearable, but they haven’t found a cure ….yet…. so all these people who have solutions to our problems if we would only listen to them, need to hear the same thing it took ME time to understand. “YOU HAVE RA. IT WON’T GO AWAY. IT IS INCURABLE…BUT TREATABLE.” And … no, it’s not because I don’t want to get better.

    Thanks Wren, as usual, you’re right on target.

    Connie

  • Wren moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi, Connie Rifenburg,
    Thank you for such a thoughtful comment! I love what your rheumatologist told you–it’s so plain, simple, and truthful.
    I’ve had people comment on the fact that my hands aren’t distorted or showing serious signs of disease, either, in spite of having RD for nearly 30 years. I just tell them that since it’s an autoimmune disease, it affects each of us differently. Some people have disease that’s very harsh and causes joint damage almost immediately. Others, like me, don’t. I still have RA. It still causes me a great deal of pain. I still have to take the powerful drugs.
    Connie, I appreciate your comment, and I’m delighted that you enjoyed the article. I look forward to hearing from you again soon! 🙂

  • Richard Faust moderator
    2 years ago

    Thanks so much for writing Connie. I think you have answered/responded to these individuals admirably. I think the courtesy you are extending is just that. When the advice is unsolicited the person is invading your space. How much you choose to educate or even dignify with a response at that point is your call.

    One situation I do believe is difficult for individuals with causal explanations for RA to explain is Juvenile RA. My wife, Kelly Mack (a contributor here) was diagnosed at age two. As she explains in this diagnosis article, her family actually had a doctor try to say she was faking symptoms for attention: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/diagnosis-story/. This illustrates that there will always be people, even experts, that unfortunately will come up with simple explanations to complex situations.

    I think the responses you developed show that, while you may not be able to always control the RA, you have chosen to take control over how others get to define you. Best, Richard (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips
    2 years ago

    Wren,

    If you eat 17 pounds of Brussels Sprouts, while in the shower, but not on Thursday or Sunday except in months that end in y with a J first letter and with a U, you will surely cure RA. Or is that an A on Tuesday with 12 pounds of broccoli in August? I can never seem to get that straight.

    I know my comment sounds dumb, but in reality, I know a man I thought so much of who was fooled into one of these ‘cures’ for diabetes. He died attempting to not use insulin. I think of this situation often when these things are said to me.

    Yeah, sometimes advice is deadly.

  • Wren moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi, Lawrence ‘rick’ Phillips,
    You’re so right. We must all be SO careful about “advice” from others, particularly from those who stand to profit from our desperation. I’m so sorry to hear about your acquaintance who died–I know he’s not the only one out there who had the worst happen because of faulty advice.
    Thanks for commenting, Rick. Here’s hoping you’re feeling well! 🙂

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