On Connection

posted in: chronic illness | 0

Day 10 – Should people post about their (or loved ones) health on Facebook? Why/why not?

Note: This prompt inspired this post, but it’s about so much more.

Soul Clouds #4 © 2012 Jane Waterman
Soul Clouds #4 © 2012 Jane Waterman

Connection is important to us all, but perhaps more so to the chronically ill, who are often extremely isolated. Connection is a double-edged sword to me, particularly as a card-carrying introvert who has happy brief moments of extroversion, but on the whole likes the life of a hermit, thank you very much.

I was helping my better half at a Christmas craft fair yesterday, which is pretty much an introvert’s hell, even with a mounted poster and table for camouflage and protection. Watching the flow of people amongst the booths got me to thinking about connection.

As an introvert and a chronically ill person, I crave what I call meaningful connection. I have limited energy, and I like to make those moments talking to another person count. I like to talk about things that matter (could I emphasize this word any further?). This includes things that concern me of course (in honesty, don’t we love to talk about those things?), but also finding out the things that are important to the other person.

There wasn’t a lot of meaningful connection at the craft fair. In fact, whatever the demographic, people were there to browse (not buy, sadly for our finances) and were perhaps already thinking about where they were going next. A lot of people seemed harried, and despite chatting, often quite volubly, it seemed only their bodies and not their essence was there. Interestingly, one of the most meaningful connections I had was with a lady who was talking on her cell phone. She walked towards me, chatting away, and suddenly our eyes met. There was a spark of recognition of our common ‘beingness’ and she gave me a brilliant, apologetic smile as she walked on. Yet another lady did the same, hesitating in front of me for part of her conversation, but never really seeing me as anything more than part of the static environment around her.

Seeing as we were selling small prints of fantasy images, I was shocked that even most children did not cast an eye at them: being more preoccupied by images that moved, talked and perhaps babysat them for many hours a day. I mourned then on the loss of my own imagination in recent years, and made a promise to myself to rediscover it. That’s a story for another day.

Back to the craft fair and the people intent on not being there: I’m not judging them. We all do these things. In my youth I spent a lot of time behind the counter of a milk bar (you may know it as a corner store, dairy or something else), and always did my best to make the person feel they were being recognized and their needs heard (it’s the kind of service I love, but the most difficult to give). However, on the other side of the counter, I know it’s difficult to be present. Watching everyone move around, my numerical modelling interest came to the fore, as I tried to predict where the flows of people would go next: following unseen ley lines or lines of attraction to their destination. At other times it was a random walk as parents or grandparents attempted to wrangle the children to arms’ length.

As an introvert, I know there are days when engaging, especially as meaningful engagement is my preference, means more energy than I have to give. I too, find it easier to avert my eyes and to not see the other person with their own dreams and worries, most of which sadly centre on money. Douglas Adams wasn’t wrong in his whimsical tales of the ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’, when he wrote:

“This planet has — or rather had — a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.”

Nowadays, we might substitute small oblongs of plastic for the small green pieces of paper, but you arrive at the same destination!

When I review the connections in my life, it is admittedly with a little sadness. I know people around my age (in their forties and fifties) who are still best friends with all their childhood buddies on Facebook, not to mention everyone they met in between. My parents, and then I, moved a lot in our lives, so this was perhaps not a reflection of failure to connect on my part. I believe it’s more likely a function of my introversion and later, the illnesses that pervaded my entire adult life.

I have never been comfortable with having many friends, but the friends I’ve made are gold, even if they are no longer in my life. In some cases, the reasons for our connection (e.g. a common workplace) disappeared or life intervened (adopting and raising teenagers while chronically ill in my case), and the connection naturally dissolved. In some cases, the connections were close, but were sundered by the equivalent of a Richter scale 9 earthquake or a series of small tremors. Sometimes the ‘failure’ of these connections remained as natural a consequence of the importance and often, frailty, of human connection. For many years, I blamed myself for such ‘failures’ instead of moving on. Such connections teach us valuable lessons: not only about letting go, but about honouring what was, and moving into the future with reverence, not regret.

Even though time has healed the hurts of loss, betrayal and not-surviving-the-odds of lost connections, I still wonder at times about those friends. Are they doing well, and are they happy? In a world where it’s easier than ever to find people, I’ve had people reach out to me, and I in return, after many years. Sometimes, there is an instant understanding that life is full of challenges, and we’re happy to resume the connection to see where it may take us next. In other cases, it becomes clear that we’re in two different places of meaning and the connection has naturally run its course. Many friends knew me before illness dominated my waking (and sleeping) world, and each having undergone radical changes in world view, we often find the points of connection have changed such that those lines of attraction no longer overlap.

More often than not, the connections are difficult to restore because I have difficulty balancing the need of connection with the demands of a chronically ill life. I find the connections that endure in my world are the forgiving ones – the people who understand my illnesses and who understand that often, for weeks at a time, I may become unresponsive to connection as much as I wish it were otherwise.

Recently, I took a ‘Facebook’ holiday, being overwhelmed by managing my health conditions, much less maintaining my connections. I was heartened that many reached out to check on me during that time (I’ve since learned that you can do this without deactivating your account). Simply stating that you’re taking a break with treasured friends is enough without withdrawing entirely from connection. I’ve learned that even when we think we’re invisible, like an impression in a piece of clay, even our absence is a palpable thing.

This brings me full circle to the topic of connection, Facebook (insert your favourite social media platform here) and health. I’m comfortable for the most part talking about my health to my Facebook friends. I know that I’m not giving them a blow-by-blow of my latest pain episodes, fatigue, depression or the number of hours required to rest that day. I maintain a semblance of the filter I was raised with, which is not to make things all about me, but I know that my friends understand me anyway without it being said.

There are times I like to say more, and sometimes do in posts like this, but I do so without the expectation that these words will be read. In the past, when networking was primarily through newsgroups and email was new, it was different. The platform encouraged lengthy discourses ‘all about me’, and giving detailed accounts of ongoing life situations. Email was new and we felt a duty to read whatever message crossed our desks before spam relieved us of the responsibility. This kind of disclosure, while important to many of us at different times, can have unfair consequences that perhaps reflect this changing world of connection and increasingly, filtered connection.

Even in health activist networks, I’ve been surprised to hear people complain about how others unload their challenges on social networks. The names used are not altogether kind and not without judgement. The beauty of the modern social network is that you can filter very specifically what you do or don’t read. I sometimes wonder if members of my birth family see or read my posts, given this facility. I’ll probably find out otherwise one day!

I stand behind what I say and try not to say things with unkindness. If I do err, I’m learning, and I’ll try to do better tomorrow. In the same way, when I do unload on Facebook, whether it’s a simple status line or a link to a ramble like this, I trust that anyone reading is doing so in the spirit of visiting with me (I do so wish this visit could turn into a mutual chat – I often think of meeting my friends in a lovely conservatory on a pleasant afternoon, sharing tea and talk as if we’d done so forever). If, however, my latest discourse is not of interest, I’ll trust my friends will move on without feeling pressure or regret. This is the nature of human interaction, whether we accept it or not.

I confess a rather vicarious thrill in reading what others write about themselves, their beliefs and the things that matter most to them: the core of meaning, if you will. When someone writes such a post, I become riveted, and often find myself wishing that more of us made time to write those posts. Whenever possible, I like to let those people know they’ve been heard, even if I only have the stamina for a Facebook ‘like’.

So many of us live on the surface of life (I include myself among those people, but I’d like to think I take excursions to the depths of meaning at times). We live in a world where we can make connections with people around the world. Some of those connections can become friendships of great meaning (sometimes they lead to marriage!), but sometimes they’re just fun and fleeting and that’s okay too, just like life.

There are times we’ll stop for a minute while barrelling through life to look a stranger in the eyes and smile. There’s times we’ll run around furtively, too caught up with the concerns of ‘our day’ and our worries. There’s also times when we won’t have the resources or energy to make that connection, especially if we lack the health required to step beyond our front door.

Ultimately, after reading this little treatise on connection, I’d like you to think about your own connections. Even with the restrictions of chronic illness (or life) do you make time for meaningful connection? Are there people in your life or on your friends list that matter, or are you just maintaining ‘connections’ for the sake of connection?

After yesterday’s excursion, I’m liable to sit by and watch for a time (an introvert and a chronically ill person needs serious recovery time), but I’m glad for the opportunity to reflect on connection and to find the meaning in it. I’d like to think that all connections, including the ones we leave behind, remain as an impression in the clay: a testament to our lives, and some that will take us from this life to the next.

Blessings,
Jane

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