If you’ve lived openly with a chronic illness for any length of time, you probably have enough unsolicited advice to fill three garbage bags. Invisible illnesses, like fibromyalgia, often allow you to choose who you share your medical condition with. The responses you get, however, aren’t always the most useful. Some will be based on articles a friend has read on the disease in passing. Family members may try to convince you to try an experimental or alternative therapy you’re not currently interested in (or that you’ve already tried). Others may give advice based on their own experiences living a life that has a few of the challenges that you’ve had to face. At the end of the day, these are often people you want to keep in your life, though. Developing effective ways to politely turn down unsolicited advice on your chronic illness is, unfortunately, an important skill.
“Thank you, I’ll consider that.”
This one is effective for nearly any type of well-meant advice. It allows you to accept that the comment was made with the best of intentions, and it’s only a little bit of a white lie. After all, you can consider something for a few moments and then easily discard it as a useless opinion. Plus, it makes the friend, family member or co-worker feel comfortable in the conversation without forcing you to engage further on the topic.
People with chronic illnesses aren’t required to acknowledge every piece of advice — well-intentioned or not — that they receive. If someone reaches out with the information you’re not interested, you can choose to not engage with that person on the topic. If they’re paying attention, they will likely notice and hopefully adjust their conversations with you in the future. If they’re not, you may not want to be talking about your chronic illness with them at all.
Some people in your life may be important, but not terribly emotionally aware. You may have to spell it out for them on reining the unsolicited advice. After having a conversation on why these comments hurt your feelings, you could point them to lists of things not to say to people suffering from a chronic illness. Let someone else do the heavy lifting in the conversation. Not everyone you care about will know how to approach your chronic illness. That doesn’t mean you have to bear the burden of their hurtful comments, though.