Why helping can be hurting.
By now, I’d say that I’m a professional patient. When I see new doctors they remark that I have a pretty extensive medical knowledge, and always ask if I have a background in the medical field. I do not, I’ve just been chronically ill since the age of 12.
Being ill for this amount of time has led to a number of interactions where my disability takes point and centre – mainly when I tell people, or I’m using a mobility aid. In my experience, people love to help – or at least feel like they’re helping. I’d argue that it’s almost a knee jerk response for someone to suggest a new drug, therapy, food, or holistic remedy, to ‘help’. However, 99% of the time it doesn’t help . Whilst the intentions are good, they are ultimately harmful. Ask anyone that’s been chronically ill – people love recommending stuff, and for the most part chronically ill folks have already tried, tested, and figured out if most of your suggestions will or won’t work. So, when you suggest something we plaster on a smile, and usually try to change the conversation.
Whilst we can appreciate that you want to help, we’re usually experts in our illnesses. We’ve had to become experts in out illnesses because doctors, and the medical profession in general let us down time and time again. In the UK you get ten minutes per GP appointment – if you’re lucky. My experience is that doctors try to get you out in five minutes or less. In those ten minutes I have to cover everything pressing, and then some. For most appointments I have a list of three or four things I have to discuss. On the rare occasion I only have one thing to discuss (it’s rare, but it’s happened), more often than not the doctor will remark that I’m here a lot, and ask if I’ve been stressed lately. Mental health is important, but it negates the impact of our physical health if doctors boil us down to nothing more than a set of symptoms they try to fit in the mould of anxiety or depression. I’ve had doctors tell me symptoms – that were found out later on to be asthma, as anxiety.
Am I saying you should never suggest anything to a chronically ill friend or family member? No, but be mindful, maybe preface your stance with – “I realise you may have tried this, and please stop me if-”. If they cut you off, or look tired maybe drop the subject. Realise that even though you may think it’s a unique way of helping or, that we’re being short with you, we’ve had to endure suggestions from everyone. The Gent even gets co-workers suggesting remedies for me to try, and they only know the bare bones of what’s going on. He’s still new to the whole chronically ill business so he gets annoyed and frustrated when people keep suggesting obvious things to help. He still can’t understand why random people think they know my illness better than I do.
I will admit, I am guilty of doing this – like I said it’s almost a knee jerk reaction. We’re brought up, and taught it by our elders and peers by seeing their behaviour. I do still suggest things to try to fellow friends, and chronically ill people, however only if I know their background, and to my knowledge they’ve not mentioned it.
Be conscientious with your compassion.