Nobody asked for your advice.
There’s a joke in the chronic-illness world: You mention a problem you’re having, whether it’s back pain, a clogged sink, or fake calls from the IRS. Someone responds, “But have you tried yoga?”
It comes from our experiences on social media in particular. When we talk about what it’s like to be in our tired, achy, unpredictable bodies, or just how we’re doing on a given day, we’re barraged with unsolicited advice. The most popular recommendation always seems to be yoga, though turmeric, homeopathy, restrictive diets and other notions come up a lot, too.
Don’t get me wrong. Yoga is great for some people, and for some kinds of aches and pains. But if the original poster says something like, “yoga made my joint pain worse,” the advice-giver often acts upset. “I was just trying to help!” they’ll say. Then the original poster is compelled to soothe the commenter, when they never asked for advice in the first place. It sucks.
At the same time, there’s this stereotype that folks with chronic illnesses are lazy. That if we only tried this remedy or that therapy, we’d be “cured.” But most of us have already tried everything we can think of. In Paula Kamen’s All in Your Head, her memoir about a migraine that wouldn’t go away, she enumerates every treatment she tried, from seeing a shaman to having surgery. None of it worked, but you can’t say she didn’t try. Other memoirs by folks with chronic pain or illness are similarly full of failed treatments. But our friends and acquaintances on the internet still think they know better.
I’m tired of responding to those comments. I’ve been tired for a long time, honestly. So here’s a list of pretty much everything I’ve tried, and how it went.
Note: this is not an invitation to recommend something you don’t see here.
Activated charcoal: Great for occasional nausea or gut trouble.
Acupuncture: I’ve been to a few highly recommended acupuncturists. I could always feel the needles. It wasn’t relaxing. It didn’t relieve my regular migraines, or anything else. And my one experience with cupping left me sick to my stomach and so dizzy I could barely walk.
Anti-anxiety medication: Most of them make me MORE anxious. I started taking buspirone in March of 2020. Then the pandemic hit. I can’t even tell you if it’s working.
Antidepressants: I’ve been on them since 2014 and they’ve been saving my bacon.
Anti-inflammatory diet: This is such a vague description, but sure. I eat a lot of fruits, veggies, whole grains and plant proteins. I also avoid eating foods my body doesn’t tolerate, including eggs, bananas and a few others. I test low on inflammation-based blood tests, but my body feels like it’s in a constant state of inflammation. *shrug emoji*
Arnica: All available arnica (pills and topicals) is based in homeopathy, which means the herb is too diluted to do anything. That said, this is one of the few homeopathic remedies that occasionally feels like it helps. It’s probably a placebo effect.
Aromatherapy: I sometimes wear essential oils or put them in my bath because the scents are soothing. But I’m also careful because a lot of them are toxic to cats. You know what’s more soothing than aromatherapy? My cat.
Bone broth: I love broth, especially when I’m ill. It does feel like it relieves some inflammation, but I suspect that’s more because it’s warm and salty than anything else.
Cannabis: The D.A.R.E. program in schools made me terrified of all drugs, including pot, but as an adult I find very small amounts helpful. I like topical salves on sore muscles, THC tinctures for pain, and CBD tincture for when I haven’t slept well and feel like garbage (for some reason, it perks me up).
Chiropractor: I love my chiropractor. She puts my joints back in alignment, soothes achy muscles, and gets me out of sticky pain situations, from mis-aligned hips to ribs gone awry.
Cold laser: I saw a physical therapist for a long while who did cold laser treatments for a chronically painful ankle. They did nothing.
Crystals: Crystals are pretty, and the visualization work I’ve done with them is powerful, but that’s because our minds are powerful. I try not to buy crystals anymore because they’re so irresponsibly mined.
Cupping: See “acupuncture.”
Deep breathing: I rely on this a lot, as someone who experiences anxiety and PTSD. Did you know that slow, deep breathing, especially a long, slow exhale, is the ONLY way we can invoke our parasympathetic nervous system (the “rest and digest” mode)? There are other ways it can be activated, but they’re all autonomic.
Detox tea: I’ve tried various teas that claimed to “detox” the body. I’ve never seen any indication that they did anything.
Energy work (Reiki or other): Yes, I’ve done some of this on my own, and I’ve had treatments from others. I generally feel better afterward, but again, I think that’s because visualization is a powerful tool.
EMDR: I’m in therapy that sometimes involves EMDR or other forms of bilateral stimulation. It does help, but it’s not an overnight cure. Healing takes time.
Epsom salt baths: I love epsom (magnesium sulfide) salt baths. They significantly decrease pain — and leave me a lot less sleepy than magnesium supplements or topicals do.
Foam rolling: So good for self-massage. I have a very firm roller for my back, softer ones for my painful hips and legs, and a vibrating one that’s like magic.
Fresh air: So good. Especially for mental health.
Gluten-free diet: I have celiac disease, so yes, this helps a bunch.
Gua sha: I endured this fascia-scraping treatment for a while. It left me bruised and in more pain than ever.
Herbs: I steer clear of most herbs after reports that many herbal supplements don’t contain what they claim to, and sometimes contain toxic chemicals or gluteny fillers. But I love lemon balm tincture for anxiety and insomnia, astragalus for immune support, and cramp bark for muscle pain.
Homeopathy: See “arnica.” I once tried homeopathic remedies to chase away a bout of mastitis when my daughter was a newborn. It went badly.
KT taping: I’ve tried it several times. It doesn’t help me at all.
Low-carb diet: Yes, for a few years. But I didn’t feel any better, and I really missed carbs.
Lymphatic drainage: The same PT who did cold laser therapy with me also did lymphatic drainage. It felt nice, but I didn’t see any long-term benefits.
Massage: Massage is a cornerstone of my pain- and stress-management plan. The combination of touch, deep pressure and being able to lie still for an hour or so is unbeatable.
Meditation: I resisted meditation, particularly mindfulness meditation, for a long time. It seemed … boring. And then when I started it, I was overwhelmed — I was too used to being disassociated from my feelings and sensations. But now I appreciate those moments of pause.
Osteopathy: I’ve seen several osteopaths. There was the one who fixed my chronic hip pain (for a while). The one who turned out to be more like a naturopath and steered me toward health gurus who’d been warned by the FDA. The one who touched my bum without warning me first and ghosted me when I told him not to do that again. The one whose treatments really helped, but cost too much and couldn’t provide me the paperwork so I could bill my insurance. If I could find another like the first one, that’d be great.
Opiates: Make me terribly sick to my stomach.
Outdoors: I love being outside, especially near some sort of greenery or a body of water. It always seems to help a little, or a lot.
Physical therapy: I’ve been through PT so many times, I’ve lost count. There are exercises that help here and there, but mostly they have caused me more pain, not less.
Pilates: I love pilates, especially gentle pilates on the reformer. I’m much stronger, thanks to this weird, awkward German exercise program.
Probiotics: I take them daily (the kind with an added prebiotic). Do they help? I have no idea.
Quinoa: It’s delicious. It doesn’t have enough protein.
Tarot: A fun and witchy way to reflect on one’s current predicament.
Trigger point massage: I love trigger point massage, even though I often have to self-administer it and it’s hard on my poor fingers and hands. I often use a pinky ball or backnobber to get at trigger points when I can. You have to massage the same points several times a day for lasting relief, though.
Turmeric: I tried capsules for a while, and “golden milk.” It gave me terrible heartburn.
Vegan diet: I have never been vegetarian or vegan, but I do have a number of vegetarian and vegan recipes in my repertoire. They’re fine. I’m hungry if I don’t get enough protein, so they tend to be heavy on the tofu or beans. But I don’t feel like it makes a big difference to my health or pain levels.
Vitamins: I take a multivitamin, B complex, C and D daily. Do they help? I have no idea.
Weighted blanket: So sooooooothing.
Yoga: I did yoga for several years, starting with prenatal yoga. I loved how relaxing it was, but over time it made the pain in my joints — wrists, elbows, shoulders, knees and hips — noticeably worse. I switched to pilates.
Zinc: Makes me very queasy, even in small doses.