a woman holding out a magic lotion for restless legs syndrome

Everyone and Their Aunt Betty Knows How to Fix RLS

Raise your hand if you’ve ever experienced something like this.

Aunt Betty: "You’re fidgeting a lot and look pale. Are you feeling ok?"

Me: "I’m fine, thanks for asking. I’m just a little uncomfortable because I have RLS."

Aunt Betty: "Oh goodness, I’m sorry to hear that. My husband has it too so I know exactly what you need. The drug store sells a cream called 'Fix Your Legs Fast' and it works like magic."

You’re right, I haven’t had that exact conversation but I’ve had some that were shockingly close. I’ve heard every remedy there is. Some are plausible, some are hilarious and some are multi-level marketing supplements.

Not every case of RLS has a known cause

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) seems to be one of those conditions that everyone talks about. I used to try to explain my situation. I thought if people understood they would stop trying to push remedies on me. My success rate was about a 23 percent and that’s being generous.

If you’ve had RLS for very long you know one of the first things the doctor tries to do is determine the cause. If the cause is treated then the RLS may resolve itself. No "Fix Your Legs Fast" cream needed.

Not every instance of RLS is definitively linked to a cause. In that situation, the symptoms are treated. That’s me; cause unknown. I have idiopathic RLS.

Recognizing others' good intention

There was a time where my frustration with the Aunt Bettys of the world grew and grew until I would immediately get angry when someone offered their particular RLS-Cure-All advice. It was my sweet husband who kindly brought me crashing back to reality at breakneck speed.

He reminded me that I’m always trying to help people so who do I think I am to get angry when someone tries to help me? That’s valid.

How I respond to unsolicited advice

I have devised a way to keep myself sane without being disrespectful to the people who simply want to help. I came up with a polite list of automatic responses I use to respond to well-meaning, unsolicited advice.

Here’s my shortlist. My hope is this list will help someone else navigate the Aunt Betty experience. Please reuse, repurpose, and rework anything you see here.

  • Thank you, I’ll be sure to try that. (I have no intention of trying whatever "that" is, but Aunt Betty is satisfied she has helped and moves on to the next subject. It’s a win for everyone.)
  • I’m glad that worked for (whoever the thing worked for), hopefully, they’ve found their cure.
  • That’s an interesting product, I’ll keep it in mind.
  • I appreciate your help. I'm working closely with my doctor (or healthcare team) and we’re making progress so I’d rather not disrupt the process.
  • It’s very kind of you to try and be so helpful but I’m not comfortable discussing my health issues.

I reserve the last one for those Aunt Bettys who just don’t want to turn loose of the subject. It’s ok to gently tell people we’d rather keep certain aspects of our lives to ourselves.

Turning conversations around

I always quickly try to turn the conversation elsewhere after one of those statements so there is no awkward pause or hurt feelings. After all, Aunt Betty does mean well.

Please comment with your most successful Aunt Betty responses. The Beatles were right when they sang, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”

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