Self-Treatment vs Self-Advocacy: Knowing What You Don’t Know

Jan 25, 2017 by

You can have me read this article to you instead of reading it yourself…

Or you can read it the old-fashioned way below…

Have you ever felt like you know more about what’s going on with you than your doctor?  And so you should probably just forego the pointless appointments and endless tests and figure this treatment stuff out yourself?

Hold Up!  Let’s talk about this first.

There are three types of information:

  • The information we know
  • The information that we know we don’t know
  • The information that we don’t know we don’t know

When we are becoming educated and informed on our health and medical needs, we get pretty good at #1 and #2.  We become adequately informed on certain things, and with that comes the knowledge that there are also certain things that we will just never understand as well as someone who does it for a living or went to school to learn about it.  And that’s fine.  Because we know that’s the case.

But then comes #3.

Yes, it sounds redundant, but it’s a real thing.  You don’t know what you don’t know.  I don’t know what I don’t know, either, which I was rudely reminded of as I broke into the world of publishing and website management.

My pharmacy training turned out to be utterly useless in educating me on the pitfalls of those fields.  Unless I researched the heck out of what I was doing and talked to a bunch of different people who were experts on the topic, I wasn’t going to find out what I didn’t know until I tripped and fell into it headfirst.  Like when I crashed my site with the wrong keystroke.  Or when I wasted a ton of money on something I didn’t need that actually made the whole fiasco worse.

And when those things happened, after I calmed down and slowly recovered, I was grateful it was just a book and just a website.  Not something much more important, like my nest egg or my health.

The problem with #3 is that we don’t know it’s the category we’ve fallen into until it slaps us across the face.  And when it comes to our health, that slap can be uncomfortable, frustrating, or even devastating.

Back to the Original Question

I was with you on the first question.  I, without a doubt, know more about what’s going on with my condition than my doctor does.  I mean, I’ve had it for 14 years, I’m a pharmacist who has worked with many other people that have it, and I wrote a book on it, for heaven’s sake.

And you don’t need all of that behind you to know more than your doctor, either.  The average person knows more about their own health and situation than their doctor does.  That’s why it’s so important to understand your value for your health and learn how to become a strong self-advocate.

The difference is that the average person doesn’t know what they don’t know.  And if they don’t recognize this looming limitation, they can wander confidently into a dangerous world of self-treatment where they will simply be waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop.

How are Self-Treatment and Self-Advocacy Different?

What a great question!  These terms are often confused, but they mean very different things.

Self-treatment involves taking your care and your health completely into your own hands.  Someone who is self-treating effectively says “farewell” to the medical system and decides to forge their own path.  A standard self-treater might raid the natural supplement shelves for herbal remedies or try an endless array of diet ideas.  A hardcore self-treater might go so far as to travel to another country to procure drugs or treatments that their doctor wouldn’t give them at home.

Some of you may be thinking that doesn’t sound so bad. The problem is, self-treatment happens in a void.  That means that it is surrounded by a shroud of category #3 – the things that you don’t know you don’t know.  In a situation like this, it is only a matter of time until you trip right into one of those things.  Maybe some of them will just be a product that didn’t work or a strategy that made you constipated.  But some of them could be a diet that made you much sicker for months, or a treatment that left permanent complications.

Self-advocacy (which we have covered ad nauseum in previous posts), involves becoming an active participant in your care.  A participant that is knowledgeable about the situation and the options, and has a voice in the decisions that are made.  A self-advocate will utilize a team approach to their treatment, in which their various doctors, dieticians, pharmacists, counselors, and anyone else they’ve brought in are working alongside them to identify the best options.

The team approach acts as a very strong guard against category #3.  It’s a brain trust of sorts, with each person’s expertise coming together to all but eliminate the realm of things that you don’t know you don’t know.

And so…

If your answer to that original question – “have you ever felt like you know more about what’s going on with you than your doctor?” – was yes, you’re probably right.

But the follow-up question would be better phrased as “So how can I use that knowledge to improve my care?”  Because if you share what you know with your doctor, then you can merge your areas of expertise (yours being you and his being the medical problem at hand) to produce a much better solution.  And when you do this with all of the members of your healthcare team, you are much more likely to come out on the other side a happier, healthier person.

This doesn’t need to preclude you from trying some of those ideas that a self-treater might have tried.  But if you discuss them with the medical team that has the in-depth knowledge and experience on the topic, you might be able to narrow it down to the ones that are actually going to help and not land you in a worse place than where you are now.

Want to learn more about how to improve your health?  There’s a whole library of topics here.  Or sign up for the newsletter to have them flown directly into your inbox!

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