|Me, blogging from my couch|
I've done so much sharing here for over 6 years now. While I was a bit hesitant when I first started, I honestly don't give this topic a second thought anymore. In fact, when I'm not able to post as often as I would like, I actually feel like something is seriously missing in my life. And from comments I get, I know my readers miss me too when I post less frequently!
So with the power of hindsight behind me, I put my thinking cap on and uncovered 3 main reasons why I continue to share my struggles with chronic illness so publicly.
Reason #1: To Connect with Others
Ten years ago, I was a very outgoing and social person. I loved going out with my friends to concerts, dance clubs, restaurants and the movies. I loved going shopping all by myself for hours at the mall. I bowled with my hubby in 2 leagues at our local alley, meeting many new friends. I was someone who didn't mind driving all around town to meet up with friends and visit interesting places!
Ten years ago, I was a clinical social worker with 11 years work experience. I worked full-time and I interacted with lots and lots of people every day. At my last position, I even volunteered for the events committee, planning workplace parties and other fun activities with and for my co-workers.
Then 2004, a trip-and-fall accident resulted in the chronic pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia, which took all of these things, and more, away from me.
Now, leaving the house to do something fun with my hubby or friends is like running a marathon. It makes my pain worse, it disrupts my fragile equilibrium and it often pushes me beyond my limits. The unavoidable increase in pain and fatigue makes me feel physically awful and mentally anxious and irritable. In those moments of increased symptoms, I find myself cursing my chronic illness for the devastating effects it has on me.
So I decided to start sharing stories about my life with chronic illness through a blog and on Twitter. Like a fisherman's net, I threw myself out there to see if I could connect with anyone. And through the magic of the Internet and the act of sharing my thoughts, feelings and experiences in a search engine friendly format, I attracted others to my blog and Twitter account. Over time, my posts and tweets became my ticket to the online chronic illness community.
And just like that, I started meeting new people and being social again in ways that fit with my "new" life.
Reason #2: To Share the Illness Experience
When I began my "new" life with the chronic pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia, I wasn't quite sure what to do. Initially, I looked to my medical providers to diagnose my illness and prescribe some kind of treatment that would get me back to normal. As the weeks turned into months and the months turned into years, it started becoming clear that my doctors were going to be able to fix me.
Thinking back to my cancer experience 16 years before, I realized that to live my best life with chronic illness, I was going to need the support, wisdom and guidance of other people living with fibromyalgia and chronic pain to help me figure out what to do next.
In 1988, I was lucky to find a young adult cancer survivor group after I finished my leukemia treatment. They helped me make sense of my cancer experience and find the strength and courage to put my life back together after it was so completely disrupted. I learned that sharing about my illness with other people helped motivate me to turn life's lemons into lemonade. And listening to the stories of others in similar situations to my own, about their struggles and successes, helped me to accept and master my own illness experience. Positive peer influence and support for me are magical, life-affirming gifts.
So with this new challenge facing me, I started looking for an in-person support group. Much to my dismay, I had no luck! Then I realized that if other people living with fibromyalgia were like me, attending a weekly support group might be a nearly impossible task.
Then a "healthy" friend introduce me to blogging, Twitter and Facebook. Wanting to make new friends and new connections, I drove in and gave social media a try.
Six years later, social media is a permanent part of my life. I've learned how to ask for support and, in return, give support to others in these virtual groups and forums. I simply can't imagine my life without this unique way of sharing my illness experience. I feel I am truly part of a community that is accessible, convenient and, most of all, caring.
Reason #3: To Give to My Hubby and IRL Friends Some Downtime
This might seem strange, but having multiple sources of support in my life not only makes my life better, it makes life better for my hubby too. Because let's be honest: the people who live with us and/or interact with us the most really need to have a break from us and our chronic illnesses every now and again.
Being the social person that I am, it is in my nature to want to share everything with my hubby and my friends. I'm not shy about asking for a compassionate ear when I need a little understanding, empathy and support. But since the illness I am dealing with is chronic, i.e. an illness that I will live with for the rest of my life, there is a real risk of burning out my support system from overuse. I care about my hubby and my friends too much to let that happen.
With support needs that are sometimes big and definitely ongoing, I know I need more than just a few people "in real life (IRL)" to lend me an ear when I need one. Thankfully I've found the extended support network I need in the virtual communities that social media is able to create and support. I can access this support any time, quickly and easily, through my computer or smartphone.
As with all things in this life, social media isn't perfect. I've encountered misunderstandings, miscommunications, hurt feelings (mostly unintentional), meltdowns and even the occasional fight. Social media can be intimidating at first and there is definitely a learning curve. I found it easiest to observe more and interact less at first, a.k.a. be a lurker. But since most of the rules are literally unwritten, I found the "watch and learn" approach worked best for me.
That said, for the most part, I've found the chronic illness community to be wonderfully polite, supportive, accepting and caring. But then again, most of us participating in this community have a shared purpose: to live our best lives despite chronic illness. I think this really helps keep the conversations and interactions focus and helpful.
Now if only I could find a way to meet all my lovely new friends living with chronic illness in-person!