Who says internet friends aren't real?
How do you refer to friends you've made on the internet? I've been told they're not "real" friends when I talk about them, and I think that's just not true. Back when I had my worst flare ever, I was in medical school half-way around the world from home. While I had supportive friends and family there, they didn't truly understand my reality. I felt completely alone and isolated. So I went looking on the internet and found some amazing friends on Twitter. They understood what I was dealing with and we supported each other through some very rough times. I'm still friends with many of them now - over 10 years later! Feeling alone and isolated, is such a common feeling with chronic illnesses. These days, I think many people are experiencing the isolation due to covid restrictions. I'd like to remind everyone: you are not alone. The internet can be a great connector if you're willing to be open and vulnerable.
Earlier this year, I created Ollie's instagram account and started sharing more about my life with lupus via that platform. It was scary for me, because some of my real-life friends and family follow Ollie's account and I haven't been all that open with real-life people. I was worried about the reactions I might get. But what actually happened was that I met someone else with lupus who has literally become one of my best friends in the whole world. We chat at least a few times a week, sometimes even every day.
Sometimes I get messages from other pet accounts saying that they come to pet instagram accounts to see cute pets not hear depressing stories (or whatever), and it's so discouraging. Then something amazing happened. Another dog account reached out and said she recognized Ollie from one of my lupus posts that someone had shared (I don't know who shared it, since I don't get notifications, but how amazing is that?) She has a relatively new diagnosis and wanted to chat. Friends.. this is why I share on Ollie's instagram. It's a great platform, and this is exactly what I was hoping would happen. I literally cried, because I've been so discouraged lately with trying to raise awareness and whether I was having any impact at all. Like all my efforts were just disappearing into the vastness of the internet. Turns out they weren't - I just didn't know it!
Just because you're on the internet, doesn't mean that you aren't impacting real people. It can be hard to feel connected when you're hiding behind a screen. Sometimes the people you interact with don't feel like real people either, but they are. What you lose in face-to-face connection, you can gain in authenticity, honesty, and openness - if you're willing. I know there are a lot of internet trolls out there, but there are also so many great people if you reach out. It's hard to find people with your illnesses in your immediate circle, but the internet is an amazing tool. Use it!