Many patients who are homebound with an illness complain about isolation and loneliness.
Sure, there’s always television. But you can only watch so many reruns of the Jerry Springer show. (Just saying.)
And then what?
You can read a book, or call a friend. But maybe you don’t like to read, or maybe talking takes too much energy.
And maybe what you really want is to find others like you who are also feeling crummy — others who are experiencing the same thing you are. Or maybe you want to find people who have gone through what you’re going through and have come out the other side.
So you fire up the computer. Or, if you’re in bed you can reach for the laptop or your tablet. And there you have it: The Internet. A virtual world of support literally at your fingertips.
You clickity-clack your health condition into a search engine, and… voila: You are no longer alone. In fact, studies show that 80% of Americans go online with concerns when they’re sick. There are forums and blogs and Facebook pages and Twitter feeds filled with people who are going through the same thing you are. And here’s the best part – along with finding people who are going through a similar ordeal, you can also find out what these other people are doing to manage their symptoms.
And sometimes, these sites or forums don’t just coalesce around a particular health challenge — sometimes, they are tailor-made to reach a specific demographic, like Black Doctor – a website that addresses health challenges in the African American Community, Es Tu Diabetes, a Spanish language site for people suffering from Diabetes, or Sharsheret, a Jewish community website for people with Breast Cancer. The great thing about these forums is that they offer an added dimension of familiarity — people who understand the cultural nuances and literally speak the same language as you.
Along with the comfort that comes from connecting with others who are going through a similar ordeal, when you spend time engaging with people who are going through what you’re going through, or have already kicked its butt, you arm yourself with a series of potential remedies: Maybe you’re going through Chemo, and can’t hold anything down. So you check the forums and find another person who endured the same Chemo for the same condition and says that ginger tea helped him through it, and maybe it’ll help you, too. Or, maybe you’ve got an aggressive case of Psoriasis, and all the topical treatments in the world aren’t making a bit of difference, but a girl over in England swears by Light Therapy. So now, the next time you talk to your doctor, you can raise this as a possible treatment for your own condition.
Along with forums, blogs are a great way to read personal accounts, and the internet is full of stories and anecdotes written by people who are willing to put their life out there. Reading what others are going through may even encourage you to write — and writing and sharing your experiences with others can also be very therapeutic. Through blogging — whether you’re writing your own account or reading others — you find a world of people who are eager to share their experiences and connect with others, and you’ll often pick up useful advice on how to manage your condition. And if you’ve ‘gone public’ with your health challenge, Twitter feeds (like LiveStrong CEO, Doug Ulman’s Twitter account) and Facebook pages (like the Rheumatoid Arthritis Warrior,) too, are another way to connect with others and find other relevant blogs (or share your blog!)
Using social media to manage a condition isn’t just a patient-to-patient thing. It also turns out that patients are “friending” their doctors on Facebook. (And let’s ignore the obvious joke about ‘poking’ and move on.) A recent survey indicates that this is less about wanting to keep tabs on your doctor, and more about convenience: 72% of patients said they would like to use social media to make appointments with their doctor, 71% said they would like to use social media to receive reminders about upcoming appointments, and 70% said they would like to use social media for referrals to specialists. For the doctors that don’t want their patients seeing them tagged in a photo with a glass of vino in hand, they’re setting up a secondary account to manage patient relations.
Regardless of how you use the internet when you’re dealing with a health condition — whether you’re participating in a forum, writing a blog, following a Twitter feed, getting updates from a Facebook page, or receiving notifications from your doctor — knowing that there there are stories of struggle and survival just a mouse-click away, can be very healing.