Belonging in a Digital Age
Over the past few years, one of the places that I have felt that I am able to truly belong is online, on my blog, and on social media. It’s a space in which my voice has found expression, a space in which I feel free to be seen, acknowledged and accepted as myself.
Unrestricted by geography, I’m able to connect with those who have shared interests, shared experiences, and also those of same, different, and no faith. Rather than assuming that this belonging means that we are ‘all the same’, it’s important to look for #moreincommon and connect with those of different beliefs and outside our immediate experience, especially in the contemporary age where much social media seems to be about shouting at each other.
Dealing with cancer over the past couple of years (so far), Facebook groups in particular have felt like safe, secure and trusted spaces that I want to participate in (largely because of how such groups are managed by the moderators). Within these groups I know that I’ve found a tribe of people who understand, and this helps manage worries about what is concerning, and what is seen as ‘normal’. I’m able to get advice from those who are ahead of me in the experience, companionship with those who are undergoing similar treatment, and give advice to those coming behind…. between us all, a very black sense of humour emerges.
Joining public conversations on Twitter and Instagram via hashtags enables me not to feel as alone in the experience. When the general media representation of cancer (especially metastatic cancer as I now have) is one of a lack of hope, it’s encouraging to see others ‘living life to the full’. We as people are finding ways to make the best of the energy we have and talk honestly about the challenges we face. This does this require adding a dose of reality to the standard #Instaperfect posts that are so common , and searching out voices that are also non-conformist in this way!
There is power and encouragement in such camaraderie, in groups such as the ‘Younger Breast Cancer Network’ where we say we are #InYourPocket for other members of the network. Such shared spaces, however, also force you to face the challenges of life with cancer, watching people manage ongoing side-effects from the treatment, friends whose cancer has returned, metastasised, or progressed, especially to end of life.
Within online spaces we have to manage different peoples opinions, but they are largely spaces in which I feel there is so much in the challenges that we have faced in our treatment, that there’s a lot of space to listen to each other’s voices, and find what is in common. Life is challenging enough without falling out with each other online, in the groups I’m in anyway… but maybe we’re all conforming to the ‘safe norms’! Along with being able to share my progress via social media and my blog, thus conserving headspace for other aspects of my life than cancer. As they say on the BBC programme ‘You, Me and the Big C’, cancer is the club that no one wants to join, but we have no choice, and social media makes that journey just that bit easier.
By Bex Lewis