When you've got a chronic illness, it is highly likely you're going to have a run-in with alternative medicine. This is especially likely to happen if said chronic illness is not very well understood by medical science.
Now, as a disclaimer, I don't mean to say here that alternative medicine doesn't work at all. I'm just giving fair warning: as a disabled/ill person, do be careful about alternative medicine. People are diverse, treatments are diverse, and medical conditions are quite diverse, even between different people with the same condition. But there are a lot of scams out there. If someone says they have a cure to a disorder that is not known to be curable, definitely be wary. Furthermore, please realize that if you ignore what your traditionally trained doctors say, you might miss out on some really great treatments.
Finally, to non-disabled people who know people with conditions like this: please don't recommend treatments to us. We know you're trying to help, but when you do this, you participate in what's known as "othering"--pointing out the things that are different about us and making them an exclusive topic of conversation, which keeps us from being seen as, y'know, regular human beings who can and should be empathized with. Further, it indicates that you think we don't have any idea what we're doing about our own health, and it often comes off as a lack of acceptance of our reality. So yes, however enthusiastic you are, just please don't share these things unless we've specifically asked for it. It helps spare us extra frustration. <3
All of that to say that today I thought, to illustrate these ideas, I'd share some of my own experiences with alternative medicine.
My pediatrician was very accepting of alternative and non-Western medicine forms. Again, this isn't a bad thing. However, at times it seemed to get in the way of proper diagnosis. When I was in sixth grade or so, it became clear that something was up with both me and my youngest brother (as noted in this post). At that point, a lot of alternative treatments were thrown my way.
While my brother, who was notably worse than me and ended up being diagnosed with autism, was going to counselors and evaluators and psychologists and such, I ended up in my pediatrician's office with a random lady who was doing some kind of non-Western thingy where she and my mom touched me and waved their hands over me and stuff like that which was somehow supposed to resolve this situation. It might have been a chakra/energy thing like seen in yoga. It didn't work. Mostly I felt really uncomfortable and confused.
After that, we turned to other more accepted forms of anxiety management. Nothing properly medical, still, with the focus being on my brother, but my mom and I put together a pack of "calming" things--like a slice of my baby blanket and a bunch of lavender--that I carried around at school in a dark blue fanny pack. I also, so you can get this image properly in your head, was just teaching myself how to walk like a normal person (instead of on my toes, due to pre-fibro pain), wore fake jeans (because my fingers bugged me enough to keep me from putting normal ones on), had just fully hit the wonders of puberty (making me, among things, look like I'd dyed my hair because a darker shade was coming in at the roots), and still wore glasses. It was awkward. But that kit did work for me til seventh grade, when I went on a crusade to "fix" myself. No more fanny packs, toe-walking, or fake jeans.
After that, alternative medicine and I had a break for a good long while. I did yoga on my own for a while, and still do on occasion, but I count that more as exercise. It wasn't until I developed fibromyalgia in tenth grade and was in the process of seeking both diagnosis and treatment that I returned to that realm. And that was an adventure.
I went to all kinds of places seeking help. Before I was diagnosed, back when we believed I was having an arthritic immune reaction to the swine flu virus, we tried a homeopathic method often used for allergy control, in which I was given a bottle of H1N1 distillate and worked my way up from holding the unopened bottle. This, unsurprisingly, did nothing. I also took NSAIDS for a while, which didn't help and, in fact, ended up hurting my stomach and esophagus so badly that I could only eat jello for two weeks.
Even after my diagnosis, my doctor recommended various alternative methods of treatment, because my mom was leery of antidepressants. I went to physical therapy, which isn't designed for fibromyalgics. However, out of that, I did get a TENS unit that I use when I'm having bad pain in one or two specific muscles. After PT, I tried massage. This didn't work long term because it essentially moved the worst of the pain from inside my muscles to the top of my skin. Applied heat works well for me, but it's not viable when you're in pain 24/7 all over your body. I tried a bunch of supplements that did nothing and went gluten-free my first year at college, which only helped minimally with my related digestive issues.
The weirdest thing we tried was an alternative masseuse. It was exactly one appointment and it was so awkwardly horrible I was both in tears and laughing by the time we got in the car afterwards. The lady was German, I believe, and she did a "gland" massage, which basically consisted of her having me undress and then poking at my tonsils and other random glands on my body. While she poked, she went on and on about the evils of American life and how if I wanted to be cured, I needed to stop consuming any kind of milk product and instead go out in the woods at night in the snow and chop wood.
Finally, as I said in my fibromyalgia story, the situation got bad enough that Mom agreed to try antidepressants. And they worked so well for me, it was like a miracle! I was thrilled. That medication, along with standard lifestyle adjustments like balancing my work load, making sure I got plenty of sleep, and exercising, got the fibro under control enough that I could lead a pretty fulfilling life.
So, to anyone who has a condition for which antidepressants are recommended, try it out! Don't be scared about what the media says. You will want to do it under close supervision, particularly as an underage patient, and it's good to remember you might have to go through a few different types before you find the one that works for you. I was lucky to immediately have a positive reaction. But it can really be helpful, for mental illness too. For all the hype around alternative medicine right now, I think we forget that traditional medicine has a lot to offer. It does.
In summary, because of my own experiences, I'm a pretty big fan of traditional medicine. Additionally, whatever your situation, it's important that you take control of your own physical health, the same way you need to take control of your mental health through counseling and other appropriate treatments. Trust what feels right for you, do your research, and be smart. People have different results. This is just my experience.
Now, of course, teens are going to have less control than adults, but you can still do your homework. Communicate to those who do have the power, parents, doctors, etc., about what you need and what you'd like to try. It'll help you so much to have that kind of involvement, for now and for the future. Stand up for yourself, all right? You deserve it. It might not pan out at first, but at least you'll have establish that pattern for the future.
Thanks for reading, and I'll see you next time for my post on the Ch1Con 2015 Blog Tour!
Images via projectcitizenship.com, allaboutyou.com, and laurievarga.com.
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