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How Social Media Hides the Reality of Chronic Illness

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The explosion of social media over the last 15 years has opened doors for people in many ways. It has the power to connect like-minded people all over the world, at any time, it gives instant feedback and increases your visibility. In the world of chronic illness, it has given people the power to educate themselves about their conditions, to share and learn from each other’s expertise, allowing them to become truly empowered in their own health and wellness so they can work with health professionals to manage their conditions long-term.

Personally, I have learnt so much online, instant access to information fuels my desire to know more. I have connected with some truly amazing people from all over the world who I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do otherwise, and it has opened doors for me to raise awareness about living with chronic illness in schools, hospitals and universities.

However, we must be mindful this virtual world is just a snapshot of reality. People can be who they want to be. The shiny pictures of your friend’s new house hide the mortgage repayments they struggle to meet each month. The beautiful, smiling family photos mask the fact their marriage is being held together by a thread. Makeup and a smile can be a beautiful mask for depression, grief, chronic illness or pain.

Let me show you what I mean.

I’m going to show you a peek into our lives to highlight what you see on my social media feed is not always all that it seems.

I took some lovely family photos on a trip to London’s South Bank a couple of years ago. We look like everybody else, minding our own business and enjoying the sights. What those smiley photos of my family don’t show you is the reason for our day out in London was another road trip to one of the city’s many specialist hospitals. An attempt to make a “day of it” once we had traveled into town.

They don’t let you know about the conversations with my husband deciding if we should hire a wheelchair for the day for my son or if he could manage a few hours out with us without it. You don’t see that my daughter used her wheelchair for most of the day, but hopped out for the photo opportunities with her brothers.

The smiles hide the fact my daughter is feeling poorly with a sore throat, and by the end of the day, she said her heart hurts just because she has stood up out of her chair.

You don’t know the reason we had a few little sit-downs along by the river was not the soak up the sights of the South Bank, but to pace and rest on the way to our destination. Due to my son coming over unwell and clammy or because I just had to take the weight off my feet for a minute.

It doesn’t show in the photos the motivational speech by the Lego artist at the start of the exhibition truly struck a chord with me. As he talked so eloquently about his inspiration for the exhibition and how everyone is a superhero and can overcome life’s adversities. He could have been talking just to me.

My smile and makeup mask the fact every step I took was excruciating as my knee is finally falling apart and is bone-on-bone in the joint as I walk. And by the time we had looked around the exhibition, the toes on one of my feet literally felt like they were on fire and cramping all at the same time.

The photos don’t show you that when we stopped for food, the first thing we ordered was tap water so three of us could top up on our pain meds.

They do not show you the next morning my daughter was on the sofa under a blanket with a heart rate monitor on her finger. It kept jumping to the high 140s as she was still feeling poorly and her autonomic system was just out of whack. Or that our son did not really surface for a few days as the inevitable payoff for our day pursued.

You see, this is the reality of living with a chronic illness social media rarely shows. I love the fact we can share in life’s triumphs, that I can read positive things on people’s news feeds, smiling children, happy couples. Lord knows we need to celebrate those things more than most, but we need to remember an afternoon out doesn’t mean we are “cured,” that we aren’t tired or hurting or going to pay terribly for it later.

A smiling face, great lighting, a photo filter, just like a shiny new car, often masks the truth and that is never more true than in the world of social media. It is important not to feel threatened by or envious of the false reality we see every day.

Comparing yourself to others.

We typically compare the worst we know of ourselves to the best we presume about others. We are all too unique to typically compare ourselves fairly to another. Other than never truly knowing the full picture about someone else’s life, you must remember you are unrepeatable, your talents, successes and value in this world are unique solely to you. How can that ever be compared fairly to someone else?

At the end of the day, when you waste your time focusing on comparing yourself to someone else, you are concentrating on the wrong thing. There is only one life you have control over at the end of the day and that’s yours.

It is important to remind yourself no one’s life is as perfect as their social media reels may show and no one is living an untroublesome life, whether you are close enough to know about it or not.

Finding inspiration and learning from others is wise. Humans are amazing and there is so much knowledge we can acquire from each other, but there is a fine line between this and self-comparison.

Work on comparing yourself with yourself. Spend your time and energy on being the very best version of you. Commit to looking after yourself physically, emotionally and to grow a little more each day. Learn to celebrate your wins without comparing them to someone’s shiny life on the internet.

Remember, no one’s life is as perfect as their social media feed.

Original photo by author

Originally published: February 20, 2021
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