Emotions stirred and thoughts provoked

Since writing about the unexpectedness and rawness of emotions sparked through friendships I have developed purely online, my mind has continued to ponder and I have found myself exploring this further at times at all sorts of times of day and night.  The reactions and varied comments, and even the flurry of twitter activity clearly told me that I am far, far from alone in this, and I guess that is at the heart of the matter.

There are a number of themes to emerge from the subsequent comments, discussions and blog postings and a couple of these have particularly taken my attention.  One theme to emerge is a comparison of the nature of online and “real life” friendships, or what I have seen termed “3D friendships” and the fact that they can feel in some ways as if they are more profound.

I also find the question of “overlap” fascinating.  This is where firm online friends meet in real life, or 3D.  The Accidental Amazon described meeting with 5 other feisty Breast Cancer Blogging Advocates at the recent  National Breast Cancer Coalition the US.  These women knew each other online, particularly through their blogs and it must have been a truly special if somewhat unreal experience to meet in person, as AA recounted in her comment on my unexpected emotions post.  On a similar vein, it was warming to read M of Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer as she blogged about meeting up with an online friend recently and talked about how different that face to face meeting was in comparison with her expectations.   I would love to meet my online cyber sisters and friends and wonder how we would get along if we did have the chance to connect in the real world.

The theme which has caused me the most reflection is that of why we become firm “stranger-friends”, sharing personal details about our illness and feelings, without knowing or even protecting our names and other identifying information.

When I reflect back over this whole cancer experience, I recall discussing my blog with family members, anxious to protect their privacy as well as using the blog as a way to update detail in a way which they could choose the level of detail they wanted to know.  I had realised that when I was sharing updates and news I would focus on the practical aspects of the diagnosis, treatment plans, side effects and of course, matters such as hair loss!  And let’s be honest there was plenty of that to talk about.   However, we never ventured far into the topics at the root of those scary, dark thoughts and fears which would keep me awake at night – being confronted with my mortality, my fears and my sense of vulnerability.  It is no secret that I started blogging mainly as an outlet for offloading those thoughts.  Rather than allowing them to feed on each other and grow, taking over my mind, I started to compose these thoughts into prose and the early thoughts even took a poetic form.   These enabled me to take control over thoughts, crafting them into something I could be proud of, rather than something to feed my fears.  Many of the words on this blog were formed during the hours when souls usually sleep and troubled minds make trouble.

How does this relate to our online relationships?  I find that the level of detail that I put on the blog is greater than I would or could discuss in person.  Without a stage to myself that is!  Let’s face it, if I were to recite or share a fraction of what I post here, it would resemble some long winded monologue!  In a regular conversation we tend not to talk in that level of detail.  A conversation usually does not allow the free rein that a blog posting does.  When you add the deeply personal writings which we put online with our interaction, a link is made, often a feeling of close friendship, generally reciprocal and one which can develop quickly into a deep emotional connection.  The fact that the words we share are not bound by the diversions of face to face discussions means that our thoughts and ideas can develop and be expressed in a continuous train of thought, without diversions, interruptions or the subtle body language signals that guide a spoken conversation.  There are no raised eyebrows, or sharp intakes of breath to tell us while we are posting that we should move onto another topic, or give the current one a rest.  Being able to process and express these ideas is enormously healthy and helpful.  The fact that our site stats tell us that someone is interested enough to read our thoughts, updates and rants often in great detail gives us the signal to follow through our train of thought.  We lay our hearts and minds out for all to read in the public domain.

The beauty of this is that it is so often reciprocal.  I greedily read the deeply, personal thoughts and accounts of so many blogs, often initially because our path is similar and then because we develop a bond of friendship.  By laying open our hearts and by reading and engaging with each other through comments, Facebook, twitter and sometimes personal messages, we quickly reach a level of intimacy and familiarity, deepened by a shared experience and in a context frequently of feelings of vulnerability.  I believe that this combination enables such a strong emotional connection,

When I look back at the thought process that I have followed even in this post, I can see that the act of articulating these ideas has enabled me to arrive at my own slightly clearer understanding of this unexpected phenomenon of the depth and powerful emotions of online friendships.  It has helped me to understand part of the question “why?” these friendships spark such deep emotions.  It does not even begin to explore the question “how” to handle these feelings.  However, that process of rationalising and attempting to understand and acknowledging in itself will prepare us and thus help to equip us to handle these emotions.

Even more powerful is the fact that so many of us feel similarly and this reassures us that we are not alone in far more ways than one.

17 thoughts on “Emotions stirred and thoughts provoked

  1. Oh this is just wonderful and wonder full, you are spot on and said it beautifully…a friend once said he did not read my blog because it was like “taking a peek into my soul” and that he wanted to learn me in person, through what i disclosed…and it’s true.

    nice nice piece phillipa…

    Lauren

    • Thanks Lauren – yes, isn’t it complex and tough for those near to us too. Such a rapidly changing context too.

  2. I am crazy about this post Philippa and so glad that you expanded on the theme. Isn’t it incredible where this blogging journey takes us? I started Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer over 2 years ago and like you, thought that it would just be about offering advice on how to deal with things post treatment in a practical and supportive way. In the begining I kept my identity secret, but little by little I revealed myself, inspired by the level of trust and sharing in the blogging community. I had no idea at the outset how much of myself I would end up exposing to the world and I understand that it is not for everyone. However, I have found a support and an understanding within this special community of bloggers which I just don’t find in the “real” world. I am so grateful for the friendship and support I have found and hope that I can give some of it back to others too.

    • Thanks Marie – my reply has just been eaten by the cyber gremlins so I am not sure if I can remember what I wrote now!

      It has been a truly amazing journey and like you I protected my identity initially, until I gained confidence, and also as blogging became more and more mainstream. Interestingly I protect my family and work, and keep them off limits for discussion yet am happy to talk in detail about body parts!!

      I can feel a new post taking form about real life friendships, but will keep that for a later time so it is fresh.
      Thanks and hugs
      P
      x

  3. Thank you Phillipa,
    I remember when I was on a course of Phycotherapy. I spoke emotionally in the “big”group, later that day someone in the more intimate therapy group expressed horror at the fact that I felt spontaniously, safer in the “big” group.It now feels the same way with my blog. Maybe it has something to do with coming from a large family, where it was rarely safe to express my feelings. So… I’m making up for it now!!!. I also feel as if the blog it a bit like a diary that I can best share with strangers! It’s been lovely to read your interesting post, and as you can see if brought up a lot for me. Kindest regards, Sighle

    • Thanks for this interesting experience – yes it is funny how we can open up and feel safe in an environment which others are not comfortable in. And although the internet is such a public forum, I have been totally bowled over by the level of support, warmth and friendship I have encountered. Warm wishes to you too P :)

  4. Philippa,
    Love this post! I think you got it exactly right. I feel far more free typing words at my keyboard and knowing those who do read them will understand and relate. I rarely have “real” conversations about my disease (and all the baggage that comes with it) where I go into such depth for a variety of reasons. And that is the exact reason these deep online friendships do develop – because we do “bare our souls” so to speak, and we know we will be safe in doing so. That’s how I feel anyway. Thanks for a truly insightful post.

    • Isn’t it so! I feel comfortable writing in such detail, and knowing that I am not alone. It is so interesting, because it doesn’t undermine traditional friendships, which of course are kept alive and deepened themselves thanks to internet and email (I find this particularly because I am so far away……). Long may we have this safe and supportive space P :)

  5. Philippa, so right on so many levels here. I started my blog as an outlet, too. How much does anyone really need to hear in person? There is something very freeing writing my thoughts in cyber space. Initally, I was sure no one was even reading, so I felt I could say anything. Now, that I’ve learned so many relate with my experiences, I want to say even more. I love these online friendships and it’s true, we know more about each other than some 3D people I’ve known forever. Thank you for saying it so beautifully.

    • And there’s so much to say, isn’t there! It is wonderful to have this connection and place where we can be so open and well supported. I do still harbour this crazy fantasy that we could all meet up one day though………… Who knows :) P x

  6. More and more I’m realizing the therapeutic value of blogging – it became an essential companion during treatment, and is now leading me to meet other people (like you!) going through similar journeys. For some reason it’s easier to dig deep and share through blog format, and then bring in twitter and online forums – there’s a significant community online, and I love that. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a worldwide BC conference where we could all meet up and talk?

    • Yes C – it is such a healthy outlet I find. That was my original point in blogging, to offload or download the dark and scary thoughts and process what was going on in my mind, as well as creating a record as I knew the detail would fade. I love your idea of a global BC conference, thought it also makes me smile because we would probably have to be a bit less wordy (in my case for sure!!) in what we say :) It’s great to connect with you, P :)

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  8. Phillipa, thanks for sharing these important thoughts. I am the online friend whom M of Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer met up with in Ireland recently. We were so blessed to have been able to connect at a hotel, even though our time together was short. M was everything I expected her to be from her online postings and comments: kind, compassionate and caring. I think we can learn much from these online- to-3D friendships and would encourage everyone to try if possible to meet their cyberfriends in person.

    Thanks for sharing,
    Jan

    • Thanks for your comment Jan, and sharing about your meeting with M – it sounded like a really special day. So much is possible now, and it would be wonderful to explore how we can bring our online friendships into 3D.
      Thanks, P :)

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