Guest blog post by Alex Vesey, UCP Development Intern
My physical disability is pretty visible, especially when I’m out in my wheelchair or using one of my snazzy canes. My other chronic illnesses are less obvious, but I’m pretty open about them. Friends and strangers know I’m a person with disabilities and generally people are good about it, but I have one request for everybody.
Stop giving us unsolicited advice.
Look. I promise you that every single one of your friends with a chronic illness or a disability has heard about diet and exercise. I promise you that we have all heard about yoga. No matter what you’re about to suggest, I promise we have heard about it already. Veganism, antioxidants, less salt, more water, fish oil supplements, more fruit, less sugar, gluten-free, jogging, weight-lifting, fresh air, vitamins, positive thinking. We’ve heard about it. I promise. Please stop.
All of those things I listed above are awesome and each one of them has been helpful for lots and lots of people. If they’ve been helpful for you, that’s great. The issue is that I, and every other chronically-ill person I know, have heard those suggestions approximately a thousand times each and it’s frustrating. None of those things works for everybody and none of them is a magic bullet. Dealing with a constant barrage of helpful suggestions can be draining and disheartening. It can make us feel like if we’re not trying hard enough, we don’t deserve to be well. Additionally, offering unsolicited diet and exercise advice could potentially trigger someone with disordered eating or body image issues and you can’t know for sure whether someone struggles with that unless they tell you.
If we’re strangers riding the same bus or standing in the same checkout line, maybe don’t make any comments about my body at all. Why are you asking me about my physical therapy routine? That’s weird. I’m glad your diet is working for you, but I don’t really want to hear about it and I’m not interested in what you think I should be eating. Don’t ask strangers about their medications. That’s bizarre and rude. We can chat, but not about my health.
Friends, when I want health advice from you, I’ll ask for it. When I’m looking to try a new thing and want some suggestions, I’ll ask. Otherwise, you’re my friend, not my doctor (unless you’re my doctor- hi Laura!) and please don’t tell me what I should do with my body. If you’re concerned about a friend and want to be supportive, ask them what they need. Maybe offer something concrete and feasible for you- a once-a-week lunch date, a ride to a doctor’s appointment, a listening ear. Give people the opportunity to accept and refuse help, and don’t take it personally if they say no. Don’t walk on eggshells. Treat us like you would treat your other non-disabled friends. And please, skip the advice, no matter how well-intentioned, unless we ask for it.