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How Social Media Helps Shield Me From the Social Isolation of Being Sick

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When it comes to social media, we often hear about the negative aspects of each platform –like the fact that social media is full of highlight reels rather than what’s actually real. We only get to see what influencers choose to show us, which is usually only the highlights. We also hear about how the internet is full of “keyboard warriors,” who spew all kinds of nasty hatred into the comment section of any social media platform. They say things they would most likely never say to someone’s face all because they can hide behind their screens or keyboards without any real consequences.

While those are well-known facts about social media, what isn’t often spoken about is the fact that social media is an enormous blessing to those in the chronic illness community. I’ll wait while you pick your jaw up off the floor. Did I really just say that social media is a blessing?

I will explain. One of the biggest issues for those in the chronic illness community is social isolation. Once you get sick and get to the point where normal social interactions are no longer the norm, where do you turn?

What do you do when you can no longer get out and about and do “normal” things like dinners out or meeting friends for a drink?

Some people joke that this would be their dream. However, if you are no longer able to do this, life becomes very different.

These days, most people turn to social media. They go in search of a person or group that might understand what they are going through. They go in search of a place where they won’t be judged for their lack of energy. They seek places where they can “meet” people who have a condition similar to theirs, someone they can talk to freely without having to worry that the person on the other end is making unfair assumptions about them.

In the past, those things were hard to find. But nowadays they can be found on social media.  Facebook alone is made up of hundreds of thousands of different groups, ranging from a group full of people who love Yorkies, to a group full of people who have lupus.

But why would someone want to be a part of a group of other people who are sick?

Simply put, being part of a group with like-minded people is comforting. It is nice to know there are other people who are dealing with the things you are dealing with. Oftentimes, once you develop a chronic health issue, the friends or family you once went to with problems either don’t understand or don’t try to understand. It is hard for many to grasp why when we say we are tired, we can’t just take a nap and feel better. Healthy people often don’t understand why we don’t have the same level of energy they do. Why we can’t go out for drinks and go dancing afterward without paying for it the next few days. But when you join these groups of like-minded people, they get it, because they too are living it. It is comforting to know you aren’t the only one awake at 3 a.m. with insomnia. There is normally a whole crowd wide awake, and that community creates both camaraderie and a safe space for those with a chronic illness.

Like I said before, social isolation is a serious problem for people in these chronic illness communities. Not only do people crave the understanding provided by these groups, they also crave social interaction. When many of the people you once went to for a good chat or just to shoot the breeze with are no longer there, where do you turn? Where do you turn when you just need to vent about another bad doctor’s appointment, or the abnormal lab report that just came back?

Many turn to social media. It’s nice to be able to chat with someone about anything and everything or nothing at all. It’s nice to have someone in your life who just “gets” your issues, and won’t care if you are still in your pajamas at 4 p.m. Once you cancel plans with someone for the 359th time (probably not that many times, but you get my drift) they stop asking. Most just don’t understand why you are canceling, and assume you are either being flaky or that you just don’t want to do whatever it is your plans were for. When in reality we wanted to do nothing more, but our bodies wouldn’t let us. That is where these friends we make in these social media groups come in. They don’t care if we cancel, or if we don’t answer their text right away. They get it, because they are living the same life. We don’t have to explain why. And that is a blessing.

It’s strange to admit, but many of my closest friends are people whom I’ve never met in person, and I am completely OK with that. These ladies live the same life I do and totally get what I am going through, even if they haven’t gone through the exact same thing.

That being said, all the people you meet in these groups aren’t going to be people you connect with; there most likely will be some some bad eggs. There are going to be rude and hateful people, or people who don’t get it. But for many, it’s still worth taking the risk and joining, because being a member of these online communities may be the only way for some to interact with someone else all day. These communities become some people’s families. When you are homebound because of an illness, the possibility of making new friends is slim to none.

It’s hard to keep old friends when you can no longer get out of the house. These groups and communities provide so much. They provide support to someone who has been newly diagnosed with a condition they have never heard of and don’t know anyone who has it. They become the place where one can go and get things off their chest, or discuss things that no one in their life would understand. These groups become a place where they can ask questions about an issue they are worried about mentioning to their friends or family because they can’t bear to scare them one more time. To some, these groups are all they’ve got.

So while it may sound strange that social media can actually be beneficial, it’s true. Believe it or not, social media can be the best part of someone’s day.

This story was co-written by Amy Nora and Amber Blackburn.

Originally published: September 9, 2019
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