The Holiday 'Digital Divide' for Women With Chronic Pain

Going into the holidays, I’m reflecting on the digital “divide” – and how we women with chronic pain may be more isolated than ever.

As a 34-year pain survivor and advocate, I’ve been given a lot of labels. The one that suits me best is that of being a communicator. I like good old-fashioned face-to-face and phone time. When I first heard about computers and email, I was horrified by their impersonal nature. In fact, I fought my life partner John tooth and nail over going digital, finally caving after a friend gave us a Mac.

When social media hit the scene, I got downright depressed. Not only was it digital, in my mind people were talking to “friends” they didn’t know about pretty much nothing. But the old “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” kicked in with the work at my nonprofit For Grace. In time, I learned to appreciate social media’s value as a platform to get the chronic pain word out far and wide.

Still, I resist. I continue to send handwritten cards to anyone who does something nice for me, I make phone calls as replies to emails, I write long-form posts on Facebook – and when journalists ask me to do online interviews, I push hard for in-person meetings.

While I see a valid place for digital communication with its fast, efficient vibe, I’m deeply concerned that it’s tearing our communities apart. We don’t have meeting places anymore, we’re staring at screens. Rather than conversing, we’re typing on tiny keyboards.

We’re perpetually looking down and away at machines, rather than up and at people. In short, I fear we’re losing what makes us human.

Besides depersonalization, digital communication is rife with misinterpretations. I’ve been hurt a number of times upon receiving emails from friends and colleagues that I took as angry, sarcastic or abrupt. Low and behold, when I personally addressed the sender, I’d misunderstood. On a screen, we don’t hear the nuance of a voice or see the look on a face that more fully communicates feelings and ideas.

Sadly, I feel we women in pain are more prone than others when it comes to this digital disconnect – as we’re often already isolated due to our physical limitations and personal abandonments. And it’s been my experience of late that even when a real-life opportunity presents itself, we seemingly have lost our taste, perhaps our ability, to engage in face-to-face communication.

Since the early years of For Grace, women have asked us by email, ironically, to start an in-person support group. They’re messages are desperate in their need to intimately bond with others who understand.

Recently, For Grace partnered with Leeza Gibbon’s CareConnection to do just that. In fact, we not only hosted support groups for women in pain in Los Angeles, we offered separate meetings for their caregivers. John and I were excited to spearhead and attend these meetings as we also need this connection. We arranged warm, inviting meeting spaces, great facilitators and refreshments – everything for women in pain to share openly and gain support.

Problem was, only two or three people showed up. And that was on the good months.

Call me old fashioned, but in my mind there’s an essential need for people to gather, to socialize. It’s how we’ve evolved and survived as a species. It’s unnatural and unwell for us to camp alone in front of screens, living virtually.

I’m concerned we as a society are becoming the title character in the book I just finished called “The Prisoner,” the fifth volume of Marcel Proust’s classic “In Search of Lost Time.” Albertine is increasingly trapped in her home by someone she delusionally thinks loves her. Are we being seduced by the addiction of our screens, and as a result, becoming their prisoners?

Like so many women in pain, the holidays tend to be a lonely time for me – and the virtual world is providing some love and comfort. After all, I am venting here digitally.

But I have a challenge for each of us, me included. After reading this post, let’s turn off our computer, tablet or smartphone – and during this season of “togetherness,” take a chance or two. Let’s invite a neighbor over for a cup of cheer, call rather than email or Facebook a friend, or volunteer in-person at a place of need.

Let’s all take a step back in time… to move forward. Let’s rediscover our human connection.

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Thinkstock photo by vladans

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