Remember when the Internet was just for nerdy spotty teenagers to flame each other over various science fiction characters and plots? No? That’s probably because you were busy socialising with real life people in the real world. I, however, wasn’t. I was that nerdy spotty teenager. My idea of a good weekend was seeing how many episodes of Star Trek The Next Generation I could watch in a row.

The internet has come a long way since those days, I’ve come a long way since those days. Well, I’m still nerdy, and I’m still spotty, but I’m fast approaching 30.

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Yup, the big Three O.

The biggest change on the internet since the turn of the century has been social media. If you’re reading this now, you’re a part of social media, if you have a Facebook account, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest etc etc, you’re a part of social media. Social media has turned the internet from something only nerds and geeks used to try and out-do each other, to something that everyone uses. You can conduct your entire life online – work, play, shopping, socialising, everything. You don’t just have to avoid your mother in law in real life now, you also have to avoid her online too, because she’s probably on Facebook asking you when you’re going to come and visit and sit through a 3 hour long youtube-driven slide show of her latest holiday. This is the fault of social media.

However! Social media has now given a platform for like minded people across huge distances to find each other and be able to communicate, educate, support and encourage.  For the chronically ill, it’s an absolute lifeline. Although physically limited, we can use it to socialise and interact with the world on a level that previously would have been off limits to us. We can also use it as a great tool for learning, about our conditions, about other conditions, and to inform our healthcare choices. You can  use the internet to do your research enabling you to have more productive appointments. I first heard of Lyme disease online, without the internet I would’ve been diagnosed with M.E. and my chances of recovery much poorer.

Recently I’ve become much more familiar with social media and I’m constantly astounded by it’s enormity and it’s power for bringing people together. I’ve met some amazing people that I would never have met otherwise. These people make me feel less alone with my symptoms, with my worries and fears. When I’m laying awake at night in pain and distress, I know that there are others out there, going through the same thing, who know exactly how I feel and are always there for some virtual hugs and reassurance. In return, I try to be the best friend I can be, and run the best support network I can, so that no one has to feel alone with this, or any disease.

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The internet is great, we can be laying in bed in our PJs feeling like we’ve been run over by a bus, thrown through a hedge, then pecked repeatedly by an army of woodpeckers, but we can still comfort others, write angry letters to MPs, sign petitions, plan protests, run groups, and most importantly, share funny pictures of cats.

For those of us who can’t work and have lost so much independence, the internet can give us something productive to do, something to get out of bed in the morning for. And if you physically can’t get out of bed? That’s ok too, there’s wireless! 

Even in the days where my brain was mush and I couldn’t mentally cope with my physical symptoms, the internet was my salvation. I played The Sims computer game, and entered building competitions on a fansite. It gave me the most wonderful escapism while still having that tiny bit of connection with people on a level that I could cope with. I googled pictures of beaches and mountains for me to escape to in my imagination. I learned random facts about countries I knew nothing about. It was the gateway for my mind to escape the horror of being trapped in a body that wouldn’t work.

So, if you know someone who’s sick but doesn’t really use the internet, get them online! Teach them everything you know, point them in the direction of a support forum, website or Facebook page. Show them some pictures of funny cats!

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