I started my personal blog, RheumaBlog, five-and-half years ago. At the time, my rheumatoid disease (arthritis) was ramping up in earnest again after a long remission, and I felt very alone. I wanted to share my thoughts about rheumatoid disease (arthritis) and how I did my best to live well in spite of it. I also hoped to offer sincere encouragement to those who were just starting out in this often scary world of painful, impaired joints, inexplicable fatigue and malaise, handfuls of potent pills, and pointy syringes.
But what I really wanted was camaraderie. It’s defined as “mutual trust and friendship among people who spend a lot of time together” by the Oxford English Dictionary. I longed to talk to and make friends with others who shared this often difficult disease with me. I knew they would understand me far better than my offline friends and relatives ever could. Until you’ve experienced RD symptoms, real understanding is difficult.
I honestly didn’t expect to get much response to my posts on RheumaBlog. I hoped, of course, but shoot, who was I? Just one little, average-looking, middle-aged woman living in a huge state. I was a total non-celebrity with no claim to fame–and with nothing terribly interesting going on in my life. I even bored myself. So I figured I’d be content with whatever happened. If people found RheumaBlog and read it, great. If they didn’t, I’d just treat it as a personal journal.
Well, did I ever get a surprise! Although I made no effort to “promote” my blog (and frankly, I had no idea how), other people with RD found me anyway. There weren’t many, but that didn’t matter to me. Within just a few weeks they started commenting on my posts. They said they liked my writing, that they identified with what I had to say, and that my words raised their spirits and gave them hope.
Raised their spirits? They raised mine a hundredfold! Gave them hope? They filled me with it! Up to that point, I’d never met anyone who had RD, offline or online. That it was cathartic is an understatement. Finally, I had a community.
I started posting to RheumaBlog once or twice a week, sometimes more often, sometimes less. More and more people started reading it, some of them taking the time to leave a comment. And since then, I’ve developed friendships with many of my readers. Some of them have become close friends. I’ve met some of them in person, but many more I haven’t and likely never will. But that doesn’t make them any less dear to me.
Blogging obviously isn’t for everyone. I came to it equipped with a life-long love for words and writing. I resisted this unfamiliar new form of publishing and communicating for several years, but in the end it proved irresistible. If you like stringing words together and telling stories, and you’d like a rewarding way to reach out to others, a blog might work for you. Two good platforms that allow you to create your own blog, free, are WordPress and Blogger.
I wasn’t aware of many other options for online social interaction in 2009, except for Facebook. I tried it, but found that it wasn’t really for me. I still felt that I didn’t have very much to say that would be very interesting–not even to my family. Who in the world would want to know that I’d swept the patio or finally gotten around to chucking that giant pile of dirty clothes into the washer? And I didn’t want to post about my RD on Facebook back then. My family knew I had the disease. So did my friends, and a few of my colleagues. I said little to them about it because I always felt like I was whining when I did, and I could see clearly that it made them uncomfortable. After all, what could they say? They couldn’t do anything about it except express sympathy, and that type of thing wears badly.
I felt even less inclined to use Twitter. I didn’t know anyone who used it, and had no idea how to even find anyone. Finally, I did try it, but once again, telling strangers I’d just finished making my bed just didn’t strike me as scintillating conversation, so I dropped it.
Until last year, RheumaBlog was my only real online portal to others with RD, and while it seemed just fine to me, my readership wasn’t really growing anymore. I noticed that some of my blog readers–many of whom also had blogs that I loved to read and comment on–were also posting on Facebook now. When, to my surprise (and delight!) I participated in a couple of gatherings of RD and health blogger/advocates (because somehow, I’d transmogrified into become one myself), I learned that lots of my fellow bloggers were using Facebook and Twitter to reach out and communicate with others. It was time, I realized, that I should, too.
My purpose in telling you all this is not to toot my own horn. Instead, like anyone who’s just discovered something wondrous, I want to share it with you. Facebook, I discovered once people started liking my page, is a lot of fun. It’s also a fantastic way to carry on extended conversations and chats about living with rheumatoid disease. You can share tips and knowledge, point friends to excellent, credible sources of information, offer empathy, solace, and encouragement, and of course, share cute photos of your cat. Or dog. Or iguana, if that’s how you roll.
And Twitter! It’s fast and friendly, and by using hashtags like #chroniclife, you can find literally thousands of people who share your RD and chronic pain. Thing is, people don’t just talk about being sick. They talk about everything–being sick is just one aspect–and for the most part, the conversation is positive. Twitter is real-world, filled with good, down-to-earth people. Of course, you can also tweet photos of your cat. Win-win.
By joining Facebook and Twitter, I’ve seen RheumaBlog blossom (its web address is published on both platforms). They’ve widened, by leagues, my reach as I keep trying to connect with and give moral support to others who cope daily with rheumatoid disease. My blog is still small, but within just a month or so I increased my “followers” to nearly 400 from about 120. Imagine! Four hundred new friends, all of whom know exactly what I mean when I say “my hands are being *itchy today.”
Have you been waiting to jump into the blogosphere? Been interested in Facebooking but weren’t sure where to start? Or maybe have an urge to twitter your heart out? Wait no longer. I’m here to tell you: You’ll meet the nicest people out there!