My husband is the ultimate extrovert. Put him in a crowded room and he’ll feed off the energy for days. Me? Well, the very thought of a crowded concert or even a potluck makes me cringe. I love people, but I’m not a person who can work a room. It’s unsettling for me. Add to that the constant fear of brain fog moments, health issues, and general social anxiety, and I’m a hot mess in a crowded room.
This seems to be the lament of many of my chronic illness friends. It’s not that we don’t like people, but rather that being around people is complicated. When you feel bad it’s hard to have the ambition for social engagements. Chronic pain makes it hard to concentrate on the conversation you’re having. And, to be honest, just the general lack of understanding the public has for my (and many others’) invisible illness is unsettling.
Basically, I’m too dang awkward to be in public. Just this morning at church a woman a couple pews in front of me turned around to shake my hand. She was far enough in front of me that she had to lean over the pew between us and still couldn’t reach me. I was sitting while everyone else was standing, because my heart was doing the cha-cha in my chest. In an effort to act like I had decent social skills, I stood up to lean toward her- then stumbled and grabbed the edge of the pew for balance. Then I burst out with a barely intelligible line- “I’m sorry. I don’t stand good.” WHAT?!? Of all the possible things I could have said, why did I say that? Seriously, there’s never an excuse for bad grammar. I should be kept in a cage.
However, on Facebook or Instagram, I’m a completely functional adult. Given the time to think about what I’m saying before I say it, I make sense, and I’m typically grammatically correct. (Full disclosure- I still rely on autocorrect for spelling.) With iPhone edits and social media filters, I’m way more cute and graceful. I need social media to be a normal person. I realize that you’re probably thinking, “You don’t have to be perfect. You want to make friends based on who you are- not a contrived online profile.” I agree with you. However, when illness turns your body into something you don’t even recognize anymore, I think it’s fair to find your confidence for entering the public realm wherever you can find it- even if it’s in the unrealistic world of social media. It’s helped me find who I am again, so I thought I’d share it’s virtues with you.
- I’ve made friends. It’s true. When I have exciting news, one of the first places I want to share my news is one of my chronic illness support groups. You see, at one point I had work friends, but the disabled life doesn’t exactly afford many of those. I met people for lunch and coffee, but that’s a little harder to do now. There are weeks that go by, and I don’t speak to any humans in person other than Joe and the lady who gives my allergy shots. However, my online friends are always around, and if they’re not they will be eventually. I’ve had the opportunity to meet people who live a life very similar to mine. I can share victories that don’t seem like victories to my healthier friends. My chronic illness friends understand when I post, “Guess who took a shower, fixed their hair, went to lunch, and unloaded the dishwasher today? This girl!” Normal people would probably not realize this is a huge achievement. My chronic illness friends on social media understand that this is a big day!
- I’ve found a way to be a part of something that matters. As my health has changed, I’ve been less capable of doing a lot of the things I used to do. I can’t volunteer to tutor students or teach Sunday school. My body isn’t very reliable. For a while, I felt like I no longer had a purpose or a way to contribute to the good in the world. However, I learned that the social media world is filled with lonely and isolated people- like me. I can’t be there physically, but I can listen. I can offer prayers and hope and encouragement. Online support groups have been a fantastic outlet and a great way to try helping others rather than focusing on my own problems.
- Social media has an off switch (and it’s available 24/7 too!). If I have a migraine or a particularly symptomatic day, I have the option of not looking at social media. Instead of being online when I feel sick and grumpy, I can make the choice to stay away. Of course, you can make that same decision in real life, but it’s more difficult. Real life people involve commitments and explanations. Online interaction happens when it happens. There’s always someone there when you’re ready.
Is social media the perfect answer to all social interaction? Of course, not. It’s important to make friends who can actually be there physically when you need someone. However, if you can’t handle all that yet, social media is an awesome place to start. I’m unapologetically in love with Facebook and Instagram. (Twitter is just not my jam.) Does that mean that I’m one of those people that’s tied to their phone screen a lot of the time? Yes, but it’s only taking away from my napping life or doctor’s office waiting time. I’m okay with that. This life is difficult enough, and if an online support group, online friends, or anything else makes life easier for you- I say do it. Social media can be your bestie too. She’s big enough for all of us, and I promise not to be jealous.
Peace, love, and health, friends.