“Have you tried these pills? They help to build muscles and decrease inflammation,” said the lady at the health shop. I stare at her, resisting the urge to roll my eyes far back into my head before politely declining the offer of said tablets and hastily moving along. Apparently being a young adult using a walking stick makes me a target for shop attendants, much to my amusement. I see the same thing later that day, as I’m browsing online support groups. Dozens of comments offering the benefits of different supplements: turmeric, epsom salts, magnesium flakes, activated charcoal – you name it, I’ve seen it.
Not forgetting the all-too-common lifestyle advice that comes with these supplements. Oh how I loathe the lifestyle advice that healthy people really enjoy sharing with me. I had a relative at one point this year telling me that if I cut certain types of food out of my diet that my fatigue and pain would disappear overnight. Conveniently, a gluten-free, low-fat, low-sugar, vegan diet isn’t going to cure me of my chronic illness. Hungry and miserable are the first two things that spring to mind when anyone suggests such a thing; again cue the eye rolling and polite decline of such a ludicrous suggestion.
There is never a “one-size-fits-all” approach to the treatment of medical conditions. We are, after all, unique humans with our own quirks, likes and dislikes. When people suggest these alternative medicines, nine times out of 10, I’ve also researched it and sometimes if I really think there may be an ounce of hope that it’ll work, I’ll try it. Does it ever work? No. Does it make me feel terrible as I realize that once again, I’ve failed at trying to find something that may “cure” me? Yes. Does it lead me back into the horrible cycle of self-loathing and sadness and grief for the frail body that I’m now apparently stuck in? Sometimes, yes.
I have no shame in admitting that in desperate times, I have been drawn to the alternatives. I know they do not work, for if they did, every doctor in the land would be offering it left, right and center. Sometimes I just need a small glimmer of hope that somewhere out there, there’s something that will make it all stop. These supposed cures thrive on my desperation and vulnerability, the part of my brain that desires to be normal again.
RESOURCES FROM COMMUNITY PAIN CENTER – CHRONIC PAIN
eHealth Media videos
National pain strategy
I’m a person of science. I have the tools to help me decipher the scientific fact from the fiction. I can spend hours browsing through scientific journals, consensus statements, health guidelines and yet always find myself drawn back to the alternative medicine.
Through falling into this wellness trap, we end up believing that any fluctuation in our health is our own fault. I cannot control what goes on with my body; if I did, I would make sure it doesn’t fail me during the times I need it to function at its prime – exams, holidays and birthdays to name a few. These messages are propagated in such a way that it lures us into this false sense of security. There will be people out there who say these things work for them, and if they feel they do, then so be it. I am not the one to judge. But, I would like to politely ask that if I decline your advice of following the lifestyle you choose for yourself, please do not be defensive or offended. I have spent many hours in tears because these things haven’t worked for me before, wasting too much money on trivial cures and often building up my hopes that I may have finally found something that will let me enjoy the activities I miss the most.