When I See Competition and Jealousy in the Online Chronic Illness Community

Jealousy is one of those ugly emotions we don’t like to think we are capable of feeling. But everyone feels jealous occasionally — jealous of someone’s great hair, jealous of their car, their lifestyle, their 2.5 beautiful kids. It’s natural, and as long as we don’t treat others badly due to our jealous tendencies, I think it’s harmless.

I think the problems start when we act upon our jealousies and say or do things to hurt other people, especially our friends and family. In this day and age, it’s become so easy to act upon our feelings, even anonymously, due to social media.

Social media seems to be the number-one way the chronically ill interact with each other. Understandable, considering the chronically ill are sometimes too sick to have much of a social life and may spend more time with their doctors than with friends.

My daughter, 21, is among them. She has been battling multiple illnesses that greatly reduced her social life for many years. Her family became her only social circle until she discovered the online chronic illness community.

There are so many different ways to connect with people online and the chronic illness community is no different. You can join groups, start groups, post photos, message, chat, tag, etc. And any one of these can introduce you to hundreds of people who are battling an illness just like you or your loved one. So many people who have their own sad story, their own heart-wrenching account, their own battles won and lost, their own wish to be accepted and belong.

Here begins the first stages of friendship, and sometimes, unfortunately, competition and jealousy. Don’t get me wrong — most of the people my daughter and I have met are wonderful, tender-hearted, loyal, uplifting people who have become our dearest friends. But for some (and this was very hard for me to believe in the beginning of our illness journey) I think there is a need to not just be sick but be more sick than their friends. And if they can’t be more sick, then they might accuse others of faking their illness or using their illness to get sympathy. This is where I feel jealousy can start to take over and they may fall into the trap of becoming envious of those they interact with.

woman smiling with her daughter wearing a red hat and face mask
Leslie and her daughter.

If someone’s friends have more friends than them, more “likes” on their post or photo, or maybe more sympathetic comments about their illness, I think this can lead to some insecurity about how sick they are, how many medications they take or how many ER trips they made last month. I’ve seen this followed by arguments, accusations and friends being forced to take sides. It’s a lose-lose situation. No one ever looks good trying to tear someone else down.

My daughter and I have been extremely lucky. We have both met and befriended some of the most amazing people in the chronic illness community. Yes, we’ve had our encounters with some who wished to bring us down. But that’s the beauty of social media — you can easily choose to leave a group, unfollow a page, or even turn the other cheek and respond in a way that’s positive.

I’ve always told my daughter, “Every person’s pain and suffering is relative. Who are we to decide whose illness is worse or whose pain is greater?” Jealousy won’t answer those questions for us. It just works to divide a community that should focus on holding each other up. Because in the end, no one understands us more than those who are leading a similar life with chronic illness.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one commonly held opinion within the community surrounding your disability and/or disease (or a loved one’s) that doesn’t resonate with you? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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