There’s one thing that is really hard to come to terms with when you develop a chronic illness – something that is as much incurable and debilitating as the disease that rages inside of you – the constant stupid medical advice from friends and acquaintances who Google cures for your disease. Sure, the fact that your friend is Googling the shit out of your illness is endearing in a way, I guess, because it means they want to know what is wrong with you and they want to know so bad that they turn on their Macbook. It’s nice when you’re sick and the people around you put a little effort into understanding the mechanics behind that sickness but chances are, if you have an illness, you prefer when your friends gather some basic understanding and then give it a rest.
Sure, I appreciate it when a friend wants to better understand why I might limp some days but go out jogging on other days. I get that my disease is complicated. But when someone starts reading every Web MD article that has ever been archived on lupus, or starts going to holistic health websites to find simple everyday cures that no one has ever thought of using before, I will smile politely and thank my friend for caring, and then I will roll my eyes when she isn’t looking and probably message one of my sick friends about how tiring this is. I just don’t care about your top ten health hacks but I’m too polite to tell you that to your face!
If you’re reading this and you feel confused because you think Googling cures for a friends’ illness is a heroic, thoughtful thing to do, then I will try a little harder to explain it to you. See, chances are when someone is told they have an illness that drastically affects their lifestyle and they are going to have to live with it for the rest of their lives, they tend to do a lot to understand that illness and how to manage it. Chances are they even see a doctor on a regular basis, and maybe some other health care providers too. Maybe they have five doctors that specialize in five different things, as well as a massage therapist, acupuncturist, physical therapist, voodoo witch doctor, and a very old Chinese woman who has a cupboard full of herbs. And chances are that all of these health professionals are doing the best they can to work with your friend to make sure the disease makes as little impact on their life as possible.I have lupus, and despite all of this bogus internet spam telling me that all I need is a little vitamin D3, I think I’d rather listen to my team of medical specialists. Your friend probably feels the same way.
As that person with a chronic illness, I can tell you first hand that I want to shin-kick the person who tells me that maybe the gluten in my diet is causing my joint problems, even though I don’t have a gluten intolerance, or that maybe if I just always make sure my chair and bed are facing east I won’t have severe migraines any longer. I call bullshit on 90% of the things I am told by people. Usually those people aren’t my friends, because my friends are pretty cool and they know better than to send me 7859 articles by vegan mommy bloggers that tell me stupid things like wearing my hair in a pony tail is giving me vertigo. But, as a blogger, you better believe that I get hounded by comments and e-mails that promise me I am not sick, and that all I need to do is buy this book for 9.95 USD that holds all of the secrets to immortality. And I delete every one of them. Because no one needs to be undermined as much as to be told that their disease that they battle everyday with endless doctors appointments, pills, chemo, and operations isn’t real or it can be fixed by eating kale cooked at exactly 236.24 degrees celcius for no more than 12 minutes and no less than 11 minutes and 59.3 seconds.
So yes, if you come across something that might legitimately help your friend out or that you are curious about and just want your friend’s opinion on, copy and paste that shit into a Facebook message. You’re allowed to discuss your friend’s illness with them if you do it the right way, if you ask questions and show interest because the body is a really interesting thing and you really need to talk about the splendor that is science with someone before your head explodes. It’s not okay to discuss it if you get all preachy and health guru on them. It can be a balancing act, depending on the illness, the personality of the person with the illness, and how absolutely idiotic the information you provide is.
To help make this process easier for you, I will provide examples of how Googling things can be beneficial for your sick friend, and an example of how Googling things can be a waste of time for your sick friend.
This is okay:
If you have a friend who cannot eat gluten due to the autoimmune disease Celiac, it’s totally cool for you to send that friend some cool gluten free recipes you found online. How thoughtful of you!
And this is okay:
My friend Jill found this advice column about someone who is offended when their friend doesn’t care about all the research they’ve done on their disease. See, I have cool friends who know how to send me the right things about chronic illness. Reading that article actually sparked the uncontrollable rant that is this blog post.
But this isn’t okay:
Let’s say your friend has Multiple Sclerosis and you read an article on stupidmadeupholisticcuresforseriousdiseases.com written by some Beverly Hills “Natural Health Expert to The Stars” that promises you that some gluten has a chemical in it that actually destroys the myelin in the nervous system and by cutting out “bad gluten” and keeping “good gluten” in their diet your friend will be able to walk again.
And while I’m providing you – the friend of someone with a chronic illness- with some world renowned advice, I have some more to dish out:
I know you saw that news article about Lyme disease and the symptoms seemed to fit for your friend even though your friend already knows what disease they have – don’t bother telling them you think they have Lyme disease.
Sure aspartame isn’t good for you, but your friend probably doesn’t have aspartame poisoning.
Nope, your friend probably doesn’t have metal toxicity. They have arthritis, remember? Arth-ri-tis. You already knew this. Stop trying to diagnose them. They were already diagnosed. I don’t care that Grey’s Anatomy did an episode on it!
It’s probably not a gluten thing. Just because you read Wheat Belly doesn’t make you a doctor. Stop telling your friend that she is killing herself by eating a slice of toast 3 times a week.
If you’re not sure if the bogus cure you found online should be sent to your friend, chances are the answer is no.
Send cat pictures instead.
Their illness is not about you. Don’t be pissy because they are too sick to hang out or something. They are just as sad as you are that they don’t feel up to drinking White Russians and dancing to Spice Girls downtown. Just use that time to google more cat pictures instead.
Stop believing all this crap you read on the internet. That should probably be tip #1. If you follow that one you probably won’t have to worry about the other 7 (except cat pictures).
You know how being gay isn’t a lifestyle choice? Yeah, neither is having Celiac. So if you have a friend with Celiac don’t ask them what they eat on their “cheat days.”
This is how I see it: if I believed everything I read on the internet about what was wrong with me and how walking backwards for 6 days could cure it, I probably wouldn’t have stuck it out with my doctors and they probably wouldn’t have found the mass in my head that caused almost all of my problems (this leads me Tip #10: Don’t just assume your friend has a tumour in their head). As much as I lose trust in doctors and health corporations at times, I still have more trust in them than some random blog comment written in barely recognizable English even though it’s supposed to be an excerpt from CNN.com. And you should have trust in the process too. Trust that your friend knows the important things they need to know about their own illness. And stop telling us that we just need to stay active. Shut up. We know that.