Friday, January 16, 2009

Internet & Support: Are You Who You Say You Are?

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My close-knit group of virtual friends and I have discussed the reality that some people aren't who they say they are online.

We're been parts of larger communities where people have perpetrated that fraud, pedaling their (fake) sob stories or fantastic (fake) lives for as much attention as they could garner, some people even going so far as to fake death for the outpouring of sympathy.

But what about the relationships I've built through this blog and through migraine support forums? That's a stickier question. When I ran into a random site one night recently I started thinking about it and couldn't stop.

This is the site: Crush

Don't ask me why I spent so much time on it because I don't even know. I guess their story kind of sucked me in and I had to keep reading.

At first I kept wondering how they could put themselves out there like that given the very real possibility the boy's mother would sue them for defamation (libel or slander). (Forgive me. I'm a legal geek at heart and First Amendment issues have always been one of my special passions.)

Right as I was finishing up my visit to the site, I read a comment by the site's author about her concern that some people with the same problem their grandson's mother has (Munchausen by Proxy) use the internet to garner attention for their situation.

I have known some of the people in my close group of online friends for more than five years now and had the privilege of meeting one of them in real life (IRL) so far. I trust them with things I only admit to myself, and they help me face things I would sometimes rather ignore.

We help each other through relationship problems, kid problems, fertility problems, lost jobs, even, unthinkably, losing children. They support me in ways I could never have thought possible.

I rely on them almost every day for help making decisions big (should I try botox) and small (what to have for dinner), and they make me laugh so hard all the time. They rock. No two ways about it.

I also have the fortune of interacting with people I've come to know through this blog and a couple of my favorite support sites for migraineurs.

These are some amazingly strong, brave, resilient women. Anyone who reaches out for support is welcomed into the fold. This is a beautiful thing in so many ways and a large part of why these communities are so special to me.

Unfortunately, it occurs to me that this opens us all up to the possibility (reality?) that we might be played for fools any old time it strikes the fancy of a profoundly lonely or disturbed person.

The nature of illness is inherently isolating. It scares you, takes you away from everything you thought you knew, tumbles you until you're so dizzy you could vomit and spits you back out into the world, dazed and grasping for anything to help you hold on.

I worry that in our eagerness to interact with others who share our experiences we could be unknowingly feeding someone else's mental disturbance, thinking we're offering support to a kindred spirit.

At this point I'm still left with lots of questions. It will take time for me to think through them and, perhaps, come to some conclusions. Among the questions: Does it really matter? What does it change if you learn someone you have leaned on or extended support to is a malingerer or liar? Will it erode that feeling of camaraderie and common purpose you feel with others sharing your struggle?

Have you ever doubted an online friend or had a bad experience? How did it make you feel? What, if anything, did you do or say?

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