Dear Imprudence: I Can Totally Police My Friends, Right?
Prudie’s livechat with readers last week featured a whole cornucopia of bad advice, including some substantial slut shaming and diagnosis of a reader via the Internet, but one thing jumped out at me:
Santa Cruz, Calif.: My friend was diagnosed with a chronic illness about 15 years ago. She takes care of herself and has learned to live with her condition. She remained active and always appeared healthy. Two years ago, she discovered that she has food allergies that are the cause of her health problems. She was disappointed that she would have to live on an extremely restricted diet but hopeful that her body might recover once the allergens were out of her system.
Since she started the new diet, the results have been dramatic. She looks sick. She is underweight, pale, and always tired. She also has gastrointestinal problems which she never complained about before the diet. And she still suffers from the original condition. If I ask how her diet is going, she says she feels great and she’s happy she is no longer poisoning her body. Should I let her know what I’m observing? I don’t want to pry, but should I ask more about what kind of medical care she is getting?
Emily Yoffe: It’s possible your friend is not seeing a quack, but I would bet she is. I’d also bet she is paying a lot of money to the doctor who diagnosed her “allergies.” I wouldn’t be surprised if this doctor sold supplements or special diet food to keep her “healthy.” It is strange that people will ignore the signs that a treatment is making them worse because they want so much to believe. You could try to do some research on the doctor and the diagnosis. I’m sure you can turn up evidence that questions the supposed food allergies. But even in the absence of that, you should express your concern in a way that doesn’t make her defensive. Tell your friend that you’re simply worried that until she went on this diet, she looked and seemed robust, but now she is pale, tired, and ill, and you think it’s time she got a second opinion about the course of treatment she’s on. Then if she won’t listen, you can be reassured you’ve done what you could.
Right, so, here’s the thing. Even when it’s your ‘friend’ it’s still policing. And, yes, telling people that they are making their allergies up is also policing. ‘Expressing your concern’ is policing. Whether someone’s a friend, coworker, or complete stranger, it is up to that person to approach you to ask for help, not to you to tell ou what to do.
And, you know, I have some friends whom I am pretty sure are receiving questionable medical care and possibly being taken advantage of. But it is not my business. If those friends approach me and ask me for my opinion, I will be honest, but until then? Not. My. Business. It is not my business to tell my friends how they should approach their medical care. Period. Just like it’s not Santa Cruz’ business to police this friend.
Another reader followed up, pointing out:
Joe (Chicago): Re: Restricted diet. If the person’s friend had a chronic illness like Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, and then it turns out that she was ultimately diagnosed with celiac disease, her story wouldn’t be unusual. It’s often quite hard to figure out how to cope with a gluten-free diet, especially if you previously ate a lot of wheat-containing foods. The subsequent crappy diet (meaning not enough calories or carbohydrates) can often lead to weight loss, which itself can make people look like they’re sick.
Emily Yoffe: Good point. But it has become all the rage to declare everyone has a wheat allergy when they don’t. But anyone who is going on a “healthful” diet and ends up sicker needs to seek another medical opinion.
And again, Prudie went the ‘fake allergies’ route.
The thing about the fake allergies myth is that it kills people. This widespread belief that most people are just ‘making it up’ means that people do things like thinking it’s ‘not important’ if a few nuts end up in a dessert destined for someone who specifically said that ou was allergic to nuts. It’s just made up, right? Or, worst case scenario, maybe that person’s skin will break out a little, right?
What this person asked for was a free pass to police her ‘friend.’ And that’s exactly what she and readers got from Prudence, along with a healthy side of ‘oh, allergies are just made up anyway to be trendy or something.’