Sunday, April 13, 2008

Online and Offline Friends (Part 2)

Actually, if I'm being honest, if anyone came up to me, introduced herself and said what I wrote in yesterday's post, I'd run away as fast as my legs could carry me. While I have purposely become more "blunt" in my dealings with others, I usually don't "spill my guts" upon first meeting people. I like to get to know them a bit more slowly than that.

And while my good friends all know about my illness, it isn't something I would spring upon someone new--before we developed some level of trust. I usually try to put myself in the other person's shoes. If I just met someone, and they began sharing their most intimate secrets right away, I would feel uncomfortable.

What's interesting is that the concept of "online friends" is an entirely new entity to me. This blog--which I've been writing for a little more than 13 months--is my first sustained online presence. And while there have been a number of faithful readers, and a few who truly have become friends, unlike some other bloggers, I can't sustain online relationships with a large group of people.

Perhaps the main reason is that I don't spend a lot of time online. Staring at a screen doesn't make me feel well. I don't read a lot of blogs--bipolar or otherwise; I prefer reading books. Unlike others who are bipolar, I'm not interested in the entire field of mental health. For the most part, I try to focus on aspects of bipolar recovery, depression recovery, and wellness because that's what I'm interested in, and that's why people read this blog.

But my personal interests are wide-ranging. If I look at the books surrounding my bed--which is mostly where I read--right now I'm reading about photography, music, walking, woodworking, adjusting to college (I'm trying to help my son), the mind and the brain, playing the electric guitar, and color theory. I just finished reading Steinway & Sons, and a half-dozen murder mysteries (that's how I relax). I'm also reading Ordinary Women, Extraordinary Lives: How to Overcome Adversity and Achieve Positive Change in Your Life, Creating from the Spirit: Living Each Day as a Creative Act, and The Story of Elderhostel.

So, what am I saying? I genuinely like the community I've created here. Having never talked to one bipolar person before I started writing this blog, it's been gratifying to find kindred spirits. In a world where there's so much negativity about being bipolar, I like the fact that people who comment on my blog have such a positive outlook. I have learned that seeking wellness with others is easier than trying to do it alone.

On the one hand, developing online relationships has been a tremendous growth experience for me. As I've become more isolated in the "real world," I find it very satisfying to share my deepest thoughts about illness, wellness, and other important life issues in cyberspace.

On the other hand, developing online relationships has made me realize what I've been missing offline. On Monday, I plan to write about why it's been so difficult to maintain "real world" friendships, how my bipolarity has affected those relationships, and what steps I plan on taking to reenter the world once again.


my life with bipolar disorder said...

Susan, I am also benefitting alot through online friendships. This is also my first time developing a blog, sharing online and developing online friendships. Reading yours and others blogs, and learning from one another's experiences and so many new coping and wellness activities is enlightening and helpful.

And above all the wonderful support we can get from one another is something I have never expected! Just knowing that here is someone who has gone through it, understands and will not condemn me, is wonderful. I am so glad I "met" you, Marja, Paula Joy, Syd and so many other wonderful friends through our blogs. I thank God for all of you. Hope you have a wonderful week ahead. Nancie

bart said...

hi susan,

i can understand your reasoning and although i can function reasonably well in real life, here online there is a different sense of community altogether which i find comforting and uplifting...

i'm planning on writing about the tensions between online and offline life also in the near future, the ways in which communication comes into being, the ways in which each persons commentary can reinforce the personal wellbeing of others and how a meaningful dialogue can be maintained in the absence of face-to-face conversation...

keep well...

Gianna said...

Certainly it's not appropriate to unleash the whole truth on a new potential friend. But when it comes to my unreliability if I want to make a commitment with them I tell them I have a health problem and I can't always follow through on appts. If I don't feel like I can explain this to someone (I trust my gut) I don't proceed with pursuing friendship, so of course it's frustrating...but really...I don't want to pursue people who can't deal with me...that is only hurtful..

As far as online vs offline friendships they are by nature very different and there is a type of intimacy that develops online that is unlike anything offline because no one in real life takes this much time to unload their deepest thoughts, pains, and joys on a regular basis...

I've realized it's not necessarily that I'm missing something in my offline life in the way of friends (well---I do miss CA where my closest friends are) but that the quality of the relationships are simply different. All my "real world" friends are "normal" they can't understand in an intimate way what I go through...but they love me and I can touch them and hug them and that is a good thing...we also have much more varied conversations---they are simply two different kinds of worlds...I'm trying to learn not to compare them but it's hard.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Nanci,
I agree that these online friendships are very valuable. Years ago I read an article about a study at Stanford, which noted that women with cancer who joined a support group lived much longer. After a few telephone calls, I quickly learned that I couldn't find a support group that would work for me. The people I talked to weren't positive enough nor were they looking for solutions.

The great thing about finding people online is that it's a self-selection process. People who are positive and want to find like-minded people can.

I hope you have a great week as well!


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Bart,
I, too, function well in real life, and perhaps what I wrote was misleading. It's just that I've experienced so many depressions over the years--and then was so sick with medication-induced hypomania that changed my behavior--that I let friendships fade.

But let me know when you write about the value of reinforcing the personal well-being of others--I'll link to it.


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Gianna,
I hope I didn't offend you by the opening paragraph of my post. I had intended that paragraph to be a "smile." And I certainly agree that it's not appropriate to meet someone and unleash the whole truth.

Perhaps my situation and yours--at this stage in our lives--are different. And I'm not yet sure how to deal with mine.

For the last few years, I have been consistently and truly well for 7-8 months a year. My depressions start around November and last through February, although this year it's just abating.

So, while I can disclose my illness to someone new, there may be no real symptoms for many months. And then when a depression hits, I truly want/need to be alone.

Online relationships are certainly different. And they're so new to me that it's still quite extraordinary to read about people experiencing similar feelings, and who can provide advice and understanding. Anyway, I won't belabor it, but it's something I will continue writing about.


Gianna said...

You didn't offend me at all...I hope I didn't offend you...

I've been unwell and mostly unable to follow through with commitments for a year now...I still try to maintain connections with people.

It's very difficult and painful...I hope I didn't sound like I thought it was anything other than that.

I am not having an easy time...I've just found a few people who are hanging in there with me...and I try to continue to believe there are others.

In any case I often feel very lost and alone at time too.

BPD in OKC said...

I find that I don't get judged by my online friends I've made through my blog. They come to my blog knowing that it's about my mental illness, so they know what to expect from me. In real life, people are much more judgmental about my illness, and I find it hard to open up and trust people.

Danielle Says Hello said...

I hope that perhaps we are at the beginning stages of developing an 'online friendship'. :)

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

I hope so as well!


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Gianna,
I'll respond in more depth to your second comment offline. But I do want to address some of what you've said here:

I know what it's like to feel so sick day after day that you wonder how and if you'll survive. I know what it's like to feel like a failure because you're honoring none of your commitments. I also know what it's like to feel so sad and alone that it hurts. And to cry so hard and for so long that you're sure there aren't any tears left.

At these times you feel you'll never get well. But I have--and I know you will.

With love and compassion,

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear BPD,
There are moments when I'm ill that I fantasize what it would be like to live in a community of other highly functioning bipolar people--
just so that people could understand how I feel.

And then, of course, when I'm well, I can't imagine how I ever could have thought that.

What's nice about being online is that you can reveal what you want to--and people can respond to you or not. In person, it's all so much more difficult.


Paula Joy said...

Being a "Bipolar Baby" - diagnosed just 4 months ago, I have discovered that my blog friends gave me something I never would have found other wise. They give me a wealth of information, TRUE understanding because they've been there and are there, support, and no judgement. I've only been blogging about being bipolar since March 23rd - not even a month yet. It's been my blogging friends that have helped me get a grip because of their knowledge.

With that being said, that can never replace the love, hugs and tears shared with "real" friends. There are times when it's the voice I need to hear, or the cup of coffee, or the shopping partner, or the silence on the other end of the line as I bawl my eyes out, or someone looking me in the eye and saying, "It's going to be okay."

I guess it boils down to balance, and drawing what you need to fill your tank from the source you need it from at that time.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Paula Joy,
Of course you're right. Balance is the key! And maybe because you're getting such good advice at such an early stage after the diagnosis, you'll find and/or create the necessary balance.