Monday, April 15, 2013

Chronic Illness and the Fears of Facebook

I recently read this article about social media and the temptation to be envious of the lives of others. As one with chronic illness, it's easy to find my heart discontent after scrolling through a few status updates on Facebook. But the truth is pictures, tweets, and status updates are not REAL life, are they?No one can see the hurt and pain behind those snapshots on beach, but unfortunately that does not mean it's not there.

Ironically, when I first began to have debilitating pain, I remember seeing a picture of my beautiful college friend on Facebook. I thought to myself, "She is so lucky, her life is so easy." I hadn't spoken to her in several months, so my thoughts were based solely on how happy she looked in her pictures. I soon found out that my friend was actually miserable and her marriage was falling a part.

I knew that my outside appearance didn't justify the pain I was experiencing, yet I held my friends on Facebook to a higher standard. And I still catch myself doing it now from time to time.

Because I know I am tempted to judge someone based on what I see on social media, I feel I have to be so careful what I post about myself. Afterall, what will someone think if they see pictures of me smiling on a vacation? Without talking to me they will likely think I'm feeling better (if they even know I'm ill at all!).

And it's not just social media. I find myself worried about taking a short walk outside if I feel up to it. I don't want people to see me driving by and think, "She looks fine to me, what's wrong with her anyway!"  I want to hide from people when I see them out while I'm shopping. I dread the questions and I feel they must be thinking, "Well, if she can shop, surely she can work." As if a pain filled trip to Target compares to a 12+ hour labor intensive nursing shift! Sadly, when living with chronic pain one must learn to do just that live as best they can in pain.

I enjoy seeing pictures of old friends' children and keeping up with people I would have lost contact with through the years, if not for social media, but I do not like the way it makes me worry about what others think of me and the jealously I often feel when secretly peering into the lives of others. I want to live my life without worrying what other people think about me all the time, but it's a challenge. And I think social media has only made it worse honestly. Sometimes I think I will deactivate my social media accounts, but chronic illness isolates me so much from the world already it is difficult to remove the primary way I communicate with others when pain often keeps me at home.

I have met many wonderful people also struggling with chronic pain via social media and this blog. And I am thankful for that community, but let's be honest, true community happens primarily in real life. My 400 Facebook friends can a smiling picture of me with my Sunday School class as we gathered for the 6+ hour intensive Secret Church a few weeks ago, but they cannot see that I had to lay on an air mattress in order to participate and even then I wasn't without pain.

Whether we like it or not technology is our future, and although it has it's weaknesses, it's not really the problem. The problem is our hearts. They are desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). Our hearts long for what we don't have and think up evil thoughts about others. Our hearts worry instead of living in the freedom we have in Christ (Romans 8:1). Our hearts look for entertainment online instead of seeking first the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33).

I cannot control the thoughts of others, but I can control my own thoughts (by the grace of God) and I can use discretion when posting pictures and information on social media sites.  I can entrust my worries and fears to God who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23). And most importantly I can strive to build real open and honest community amongst the people I live.

How do you handle the challenges of chronic invisible illness and social media?

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