A period of acute or prolonged illness is a difficult challenge. Patients and their families struggle with communication, as well as feelings of fear, sadness and isolation. Writing can be therapeutic and especially helpful for many coping with illness. And while some find keeping a private journal and getting words down on paper comforting—others discover that sharing their words in a blog is a unique way to express themselves, connect with others and receive support and information from a larger community.
“For many patients the process of blogging shifted their relationship with their illness, decreased their sense of isolation, brought meaning to their lives, and linked them back to the outside world,” writes Pamela Katz Ressler, who co-authored a paper on this topic. “A chronic illness may set one apart from the healthy world in which one previously resided and leaves one attempting to find balance in unfamiliar territory.”
Write once, explain to many
When someone is sick, they’re often asked the same questions over and over from well-meaning loved ones. By blogging about their condition and how they’re feeling, patients are often spared the tiring and upsetting experience of having to explain the details and specifics of their conditions over and over; instead they can tell everyone once, in their own words, and let their in-person visits and phone calls focus on other topics.
A constant companion
While well-wishers may overwhelm the ill at the beginning, eventually people get back to their normal routines, while patients must grapple with the effects of their illness on an ongoing basis. The routine and permanence of a blog can provide a steady outlet for those recovering for procedures or recovering ongoing care.
“The writing of a daily blog post became as important to my recovery as my antibiotics and physio exercises,” says Sue Eckstein. “It provided a shape to the day and gave me a sense of purpose – a sense that I had some control in an environment where almost everything else was happening to and not with me.”
Sparing loved ones
While many ill people have amazing support networks they can rely on, they also want to be more than just their disease to their friends and family and realize they might need other outlets to communicate their feelings and fears without overburdening those who care for them most.
“Since the illness I am dealing with is chronic, i.e. an illness that I will live with for the rest of my life, there is a real risk of burning out my support system from overuse,” writes Selena of Oh My Aches and Pains!. “The people who live with us and/or interact with us the most really need to have a break from us and our chronic illnesses every now and again.”
Connecting to a larger community
The rarer and more unusual your illness is, the more isolated you can feel. But online, those with similar conditions and circumstances can find each other and form meaningful bonds and information sharing opportunities that may simply be impossible “IRL”.
“My writing became a life line to the outside world. It provided the opportunity for people I already knew to get to know me better, and for those new to my life, it created a connection that wouldn’t have occurred any other way,” says Leslie, who blogs at Getting Closer to Myself. “For me, blogging has given me the emotional support/commiseration that I wasn’t always finding in my “real” life. If I hadn’t started blogging, I might still feel like the only one in the world that this is happening to, that I was the only 22-year-old (at the time) ever to be diagnosed with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.”
Leaving a legacy
For those facing a terminal diagnosis, a blog can also be a gift to those they’re leaving behind. Their words, memories, photos and insights can provide a lasting record their friends and family can return to long after they’re gone.
“My son doesn’t read the blog. But he will be able to when he’s older. Both of my children will be able to see what their mum went through and they will know how much I loved them,” blogged Katie Scarbrough, a mother in the United Kingdom stricken with cancer. “I am glad I have done it. It is a memory, a keepsake for them.”
Those blogging about an illness have several options when deciding who should get to read their writing on the topic. The easiest, of course, is to just put everything out there under your own name. But for those wanting to maintain a level of privacy, there are two paths:
- Private blogging: Readers must be granted permission to see posts, enabling the blogger to control exactly who does (and does not) have access to their writing, which is most often used by those who only want to share the details of their experience with select friends and family.
- Anonymous blogging: Anyone can read what they’re writing, but by not using their real identity they can be completely honest and not worry about exposing the details of their personal life with strangers, as well as not offending friends, family or coworkers who might otherwise find their blog.
In the end, it’s a truly personal decision how much people want to share about their experiences. Has blogging helped you or a loved one through a difficult health experience? Tell us about it in the comments section below.