One of the things I really like about the internet is the opportunities it gives me. But more specifically I liked the opportunities it gives me for support, community and even friendship. I think some people find that hard to understand (although it does seem to be becoming more acceptable nowadays).
I have loads of friends and acquaintances I spend time with and visit in real life. Traditional friends I guess you could call them. Brilliant people and I wouldn’t be without them. But meeting people online is different.
Online it’s easier to meet people who have the same disabilities as me. And that’s huge. I belong to a group on Facebook called You Know You Have CP When… It’s described by one of it’s founders Cara Liebowitz as being for people with CP (cerebral palsy) by people with CP. There are almost 400 people in that group from all over the world. Some of them are people I’ve known for years in various other places even out there in the real world or online. Others are people I didn’t know before.
One of the other members described it as something like a family. I’m not sure if that’s a word I’d use for it (in part because I’m lucky enough to have an awesome family something that a lot of the people in the group don’t have) but it is a really amazing community. I don’t think I’d cope anywhere near as well as I do if I didn’t have that form of support.
I can post on there and say “my neurologist is thinking of putting me on a new medication” and more than likely someone will have tried it and be able to tell me what it’s like. Or I can say “bad day” and not be judged for the fact that I’m so tired having a shower was a major achievement.
And most importantly I can share something that’s happened to me that I found really really funny. And there’ll be another ceep as we call ourselves (sort of like “tweeps” on twitter) who realises that there are times when if you didn’t laugh you’d cry and laughs with me. Because sometimes the look on a non disabled person’s face when they think they’ve offended a Poor Disabled Girl really is nothing short of hilarious.
(for those of you who’ve read The Fault In Our Stars by John Green, my crip humour is very very similar to the cancer jokes that Hazel and Gus make in that book – and just like them I find that if you haven’t lived it in some shape or form it’s hard to understand the funny).
It’s friendship too. I posted on there I wanted to know why people like our little community because I was writing this piece. Five minutes later my phone rang. It was Becky who I’ve known for years through blogs and facebook and the like. We chatted for an hour and I really enjoyed it. She’s currently going through the benefits process again thanks to the changes the government brought in. And she told me that if it wasn’t for the fact she knows people online who’ve been there and are willing to share that she’d be struggling a lot more than she is.
As one of other group members, Sam, said there are always times when he prefers to reach out to people who know him in real life (who he says are mostly non disabled) but the opportunity to collaborate and share through the internet is good. I’m definitely with him on that. Virtual hugs are brilliant but sometimes only a real one will do.
I may never be able to spend time with many of the people who make up my online friends. Those virtual hugs may never turn into real ones. But they make a huge difference to my life and I hope they know what they mean to me.