The cure evangelists appear to be riding hot and heavy again, which requires me, once again, to explain what cure evangelism is and why it is oh so very annoying. For those of you already on board, sorry, this post is probably going to be tremendously boring for you. My deepest apologies, and have you considered vitamin E oil for that little skin thing? I mean, I didn’t want to say anything, but it’s just, you know, sort of noticeable and I wasn’t sure if you were doing anything about it. I mean not that it’s, like, gross or anything, I mean, not really, it’s just that I was worried about you.
So, cure evangelism. Almost everyone with a disability or chronic illness or even temporary bout of ill health has experienced cure evangelism. It happens when an oh so nice, and well intentioned I’m sure, and lovely person decides that you need some personal medical advice on how to deal with your limp, or asthma, or depression, or…whatever. This unsolicited advice is always provided in a way that suggests this person is doing you an immense favour, and when you rebuff the oh-so-kind offer of assistance, you’re labeled hostile and rude. Mean. All they were doing was trying to help. I mean, GOSH, I thought you might CARE that your skin was all crusty and weird.
Here’s the thing about living with disability, with chronic illness, with, yes, a temporary issue like a persistent bacterial infection or a cough or any number of things. You’re aware that there’s an issue. My friend Annaham, for example, is well aware that she limps, and doesn’t actually need to be reminded of it by random strangers and casual passerby. You are intimately familiar with your own body because, well, it’s yours, and you live in it, and it is kind of hard not to notice when it doesn’t work like the bodies around you. When you wheeze going up a hill because you have asthma and your walking companion does not, that’s going to be pretty obvious to you.
And if you’re aware that there is something going on, that there is something different about you, there’s a chance you are probably doing something about it. You may well be seeing a doctor. You could be doing some research to learn about different treatment options. You could have decided, for example, that you would like to use a cane to address your limp, which is not going to go away, because it helps you with stability and makes it easier for you to complete daily tasks.
You may, in fact, have tried a variety of treatments. Perhaps you tried several different medications for your depression. You tried acupuncture and meditation and herbs. You made some dietary adjustments. You found, ultimately, that some of these things worked for you and some of them did not. You made a conscious choice about which treatments you wanted to continue, and which ones you did not, and you’re managing your depression in a way that works for you, that suits your needs, that allows you to function.
And then someone feels the need to come along and say ‘oh, you have [condition]? Have you tried…’
The thing is that this is not a one-time occurrence. It’s constant. People seem to become amateur medical practitioners as soon as they find out someone in their vicinity has a medical condition, and they’re quick to pile on some hasty advice and suggestions. All with a smile, because they mean well, and they are absolutely sure no one has brought up a possible treatment, an alternative diagnosis, a different way of approaching the situation. When the cure evangelist’s victim says ‘thank you, but no thank you,’ it’s considered inappropriate and hostile. Why would you want to be so inconsiderate to someone who is just trying to help?
I have had people quiz me, aggressively and invasively, about private medical issues in very public places. I’ve had people shout across the produce section, trail me through the store insisting that I try this treatment or that, and did I know that their brother’s girlfriend’s cousin’s best friend’s ex-wife had [condition] ‘one time’ and managed to ‘cure’ it with meditation and crystals? Did I know that there’s a medication for that now? Have I considered exercise? Am I aware that gluten is the root of all evil and my medical problems would magically go away if I cut it out of my diet? Have I tried aromatherapy?
There’s an air of ownership, entitlement, there, with people assuming that I need their help or advice to address private medical issues. It’s never enough to say ‘I’m not interested’ ‘please stop’ ‘please go away’ ‘no thank you.’ No, I must explain, often to complete strangers, how I am managing my private medical care. Who my doctor is. Which treatments I am and am not using. What I have and have not tried. I am expected to be accountable to people who want to meddle in my life.
And this plays into the larger social obligation to be healthy; I am expected to be healthy, to ‘get healthy,’ to ‘overcome.’ If I do not, I am letting down the social contract and should be punished. People with chronic health conditions are frightening because these conditions do not go away, cannot be cured. People who don’t want to cure their chronic health conditions, who don’t view them as a problem, are even more scary. What do you mean you don’t take medications for that?
The belief that people must be healthy is tied directly into the belief that it is okay, and perhaps even required, to concern-troll people about their health. There is little difference, to me, between the person demanding that fat people exercise ‘to get healthy’ and the person at the post office last week who earnestly told me that my chronic joint pain could be cured with leeches.
Cure evangelism is offensive. Please stop.