Social Media and the chronic illness experience

This post is for the ‘Patients for a Moment Blog Carnival’ hosted by Leslie at ‘Getting Closer to Myself‘.

This month’s theme is Social Media and illness, with which there are two parts!  The first part is to describe our illness using just 140 characters; just as if we were using Twitter to do so.  This could just be one statement characterising the illness experience, or a series of statements of 140 characters.

The second part of the challenge asks us to describe how social media has personally impacted our illness experience.

So, how can I describe my condition just using 140 characters?  Well, this could be extremely challenging giving the complexity and the unrecognised nature of my illness.  But here it goes…

Neurological condition affecting the brainstem. The effects include constant dizziness, vertigo and spastic paraparesis affecting the legs

The first part is self-explanatory, obviously the illness that I live with is a result of a neurological condition, known as a long-standing brain-stem lesion.  The lesion is scarring of the brainstem, possibly as a result of a head injury of birth, although as it was diagnosed years later, the exact cause of the lesion is unknown.  The effects that I listed are the main symptoms that I experience as a result of the neurological condition.  As the statement suggests this include the constant dizziness (feeling as if my world is unbalanced), vertigo (as if the world around me is spinning).  The spastic paraparesis is another symptoms that is troublesome to my daily life.  It affects primarily the legs as suggested by the above statement.  It causes stiffness and weakness of the legs which makes it uncomfortable and at times very difficult to walk.  Often due to the weakness, it can cause my legs to suddenly give way from under me.  Recently, I have been battling severe trembling in the legs, a jelly-like feeling in my legs, which above all is extremely uncomfortable and leaves me unable to stand for long.  Of course, there are other symptoms that I experience such as nausea, neuropathic pain and fatigue.

Are you able to describe your condition in 140 characters?  Give it a try!





To the second part, then!  How has social media impacted my illness experience?  For starters, the impact upon my illness experience is mainly positive.  Social media, not only allows patients to connect with others and share their stories and experiences, it also allows patients to raise awareness of their particular chronic illness, and share with others what it is like to live with illness every day, and everything that goes with it, for example, I often tweet via Twitter on how I am feeling, and attempt to write how the symptoms affect me and what it is like to live with them.  Not only is social media fantastic and advocating and raising awareness of illness, but it is great to connect with others, particularly when we are experiencing a flare or relapse, and gain support from other patients in similar circumstances.  It provides camaraderie for those experiencing chronic illness, like myself.

Think about when you are ill in bed, it often involves being stuck in bed, alone whilst everyone else is busy living their lives.  Asa  result, it often leaves you feel lonely and isolated, right?  Think if illness was a regular part of your life; being stuck in bed, lonely in your bedroom with no company was a regular part of your routine.  That feeling of loneliness and isolation is also a regular part of your life, however Twitter and other forms of social media, provides patients with chronic illness a perfect tonic, as it allows to converse with other people even when in bed via new technologies such as smartphones and tablets.

It provides entertainment and diversion from illness.   Often, when I am bed bound due to the extreme weakness in my legs, or due to severe dizziness, I am very grateful for the supportive messages that I receive on Twitter from other chronically ill patients and friends; they really brighten the day, and also reminds me that I am not alone on the journey through illness.  Social media provides real-life perspectives on illness, and besides the entertainment and social aspects, perhaps the most valuable features of such sites is it’s a place free from judgement and stimatisation that many experience in the real-world, as well as educating others about particular medical conditions in order to tackle the problem of stigma .



One thought on “Social Media and the chronic illness experience

  1. I’m an avid blog reader and writer and I find that it provides a sense of community that real time doesn’t always allow. I have to be careful to balance it though, b/c I find, for me, I can also end up identifying too much with my illnesses if I spend too much time in the blogosphere.

    I am not much of a user of social media (largely just unfamiliarity, not a purposeful choice) but I can see how it could be so valuable too, to be able to put out your struggles or successes without the pressure of writing a full post and without feeling like you being judged for your experience.

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