It never fails to amaze me how people can instantly become Drs and start prescribing you treatments, no matter what the condition. Some people will offer you home remedies, some will tell you about an amazing new treatment they heard about online, some just go with their gut feeling rather than having faith in your diagnosis. Now, I’m not against hearing some “out there” ideas when someone has already tried everything and they’re willing to try something non conventional (such as this recent article on faecal transplants, which turned out to be a fascinating read) but both participants must be fully informed before such a conversation should take place. I’ve had people advise me on how to treat my Tietze syndrome whilst I was still explaining what it was to them. This kind of advice is not welcome.

The Instant Expert

Chest pains? Respiration issue.

This gem came from someone I knew through friends who was training to be a pharmacist. No enquiries after I had said chest pains, just a flat, simple, all-encompassing and assumptive reponse: “See a respiratory therapist”. Now, to be fair, I’ve never see a respiratory therapist but that could be because my diagnosed condition is a bone issue and has exactly nothing to do with my internal organs! It honestly concerned me that someone training in medicine would instantly prescribe treatment after a conversation about the issue that could be measured in syllables.

So why do people make assumptions about conditions and their treatment? Well, in the case above I think the woman wanted to live up to expectations that were going on around her. The training she was undergoing meant that people were constantly joking with her about their health problems. Whether she felt under pressure to diagnose me or this new esteem had gone to her head, her lack of faith in me that I’d know how to treat my own chronic condition meant that I just wanted to leave.

Because Nothing “Just Happens”

A different example of condition ignorance happened with a co-worker. I’d informed my work place about my condition and they knew that I could have these bouts of intense pain. After one forced me to go home, I came into work to see my co-worker looking at me curiously. She suddenly broke out with “Do you ever consider that your chest thing might have something to do with you drinking so many energy drinks?” This was not a young woman but a forty-year-old mother who should not be clueless about health conditions. When I replied with a simple “No” she said “Well, perhaps you should” and got on with her work.

I was lost for what to say and which element of ignorance I should point out first. The fact that I’ve had Tietze syndrome since I was 14 and I didn’t touch energy drinks until I was in university? That sugar has no bearing on bone and cartilage development?

Now, I’d be the first to say that I have a sugar addiction, which can lead to all kinds of health issues. If I’m in a pre-diabetic state then I have no one to blame but myself. However, taking a bad habit of mine and making it responsible for my health condition seemed like a weird vindication thing for her.

I think for some people, random illnesses and conditions make them uncomfortable. There’s also the fact of never being “cured” of a condition, which can create a snag in logic for some people. I’ve had more than one person ask what can be done about my chronic condition and they seem stumped that I can live with “nothing, really.” I can only assume that the average person underestimates how happy someone can be even with chronic pain. Health is a surprisingly fragile thing that is easy to take for granted and can flee at any moment. Most conditions aren’t “earned” in the same way that a person who drinks and drives is actively increasing their chances of getting in an accident. For many people, it’s a mixture of genetics and other factors beyond their control. It is NOT comforting but it is the truth.

The key issue with both the examples listed above is that both the people in them over simplified my issues as a comfort to themselves. The only way to help with this is patience and taking the time to explain my condition over and over, in clear and practical terms. Then, when they still over simplify, at least I tried!


Kayleigh Herbertson

Kayleigh is a 20 something year old woman who is currently living with a chronic pain condition, a skin condition and a mental health condition. Juggling these three can be something of a challenge but she's always ready to take things on head first!

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