For disabled people, unsolicited health advice can be a frequent source of frustration. Dr Amy Kenny shares which remedies not to recommend.
“Have you tried kale?”
“What about essential oils? It worked for my cousin…” the barista trails off.
When I came in for a mocha, I didn’t realise it would come with a side of unsolicited medical advice. As if just existing in a wheelchair comes with an invitation for health guides and diet fads.
Every stranger and soon-to-be-stranger has a remedy for me to try. Here are the top five remedies from strangers, ranging from silly to outright ridiculous.
Bathe with Epsom salts—this will “draw out” the disability
My disability isn’t a splinter; it cannot be drawn out. It is embedded in my nervous system, which I am sort of attached to, and sometimes even fond of.
"My disability isn’t a splinter; it cannot be drawn out."
Epsom salts can help soothe your tired toes, but they are not a catch-all for every disability. Taking a salty dip won’t alter my entire nervous system.
Imagine if a salt scrub could put my medical team of neurologists out of a job.
Sleep with a bar of soap
Magnesium found in soap may help to relieve restless leg syndrome, but this is unproven and not a good remedy for other disabilities
If I wanted lavender-scented sheets, I would buy a lavender laundry detergent. Loading my bed up with soap doesn’t change the fact that I am disabled.
Leg cramps or restless legs syndrome (RLS) might be relieved from the magnesium found in soap, but that’s about it.
Folks who recommend soapy sleep to me must think my complex medical diagnoses can be washed away with an old home remedy. Imagine the time and money I could have saved on medical care if that were true.
Try to relax
OK, Frankie. Why didn’t I think of that?
Even when I am already calm as a cucumber, I am still disabled. I am not disabled because I am stressed or upset or sensitive. My wheelchair isn’t for emotional support.
No number of lattes and manicures will change the fact that I am disabled. But I wouldn’t mind the mani-pedi if you’re offering.
Try jogging—after a while, your legs will remember how to walk
Can you play Chariots of Fire while I try? I’m sure that will help. Just the mere melody of the music will make my slo-mo running seem more heroic and I’ll be able to “overcome” my disability.
"It assumes I am disabled because I am lazy or unhealthy in some way, so I can fix it"
See how silly that sounds? Underneath this remedy is the assumption that if I just try hard enough, I can become non-disabled. It assumes I am disabled because I am lazy or unhealthy in some way, so I can fix it.
I am just one jog away from living everyone’s non-disabled fantasy.
Hit your other leg with a hammer
I don’t think that’s what people have in mind when they think of “hammer pants.” How would resorting to physical violence change my disability?
Maybe the person recommending this one needs a therapist, not a tool.
This remedy is for all the folks who think dad jokes and racecar sound effects are the most appropriate way to deal with my disability.
It reveals just how uncomfortable they are with the fact that I am—gasp—disabled, that they must nervously laugh to conceal their fear.
Handing out unsolicited remedies carries the—wrong—assumption that disabled people want to "fix" their bodies
I’ve heard all of these and more. No space is safe from the watchful eye of strangers, ready to recommend remedies to me for a body I am not seeking to fix.
Every grocery store, library, and public park turns into the comments section on social media when you navigate life in a wheelchair.
Strangers approach me with remedies—and sometimes even potions or lotions—to rid me of my disability. One time someone produced a homemade potion of essential oils from their purse. Somehow, I am still disabled.
The trouble with these remedies is that they assume I despise being disabled, when I am actually at home in my body.
They use the construct of care to condescend to me, assuming I don’t know basic home remedies to ease aches and pains.
They deal in toxic positivity and the myth of our own independence, claiming that we can change our destiny if we just vision board it into reality.
They put themselves in the position of gracious know-it-all, pitying some poor disabled woman like me.
"They assume I despise being disabled, when I am actually at home in my body"
Worst of all, they project their fear of disability onto my body, trying to rid the world of the uncomfortable truth that they might become disabled one day too, by either age or accident.
They make me the ghost of Christmas future in their nightmare while I’m just trying to pick up milk or return my library book.
What should you recommend to a disabled person? Nothing! Let us live our lives in peace. Trust that we are supported with medical care, homeopathic therapies, loving communities, or whatever we choose to maintain our wellness.
Don’t assume that we need your help or health advice if we don’t ask for it. And for goodness’s sake, don’t give us hammer pounds or potions. The only potion I need is to make these recommended remedies from strangers disappear.
Dr Amy Kenny is a disabled scholar and a Shakespeare Lecturer who hates Hamlet. Her forthcoming book, My Body is Not a Prayer Request, is out now.
Read more: Why invisible disabilities matter
Read more: Making your home disability friendly
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