Monday, August 06, 2012

Unexpected Benefits: Using Social Media to Evolve in Real Life Interactions

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BlogHer '12 © Diana E. Lee
Last week I attended a blogging and social media conference primarily for women called BlogHer in New York City. This was my third time attending, and it occurred to me as I relaxed in my hotel room the second night that coming to BlogHer has noticeably improved my ability to put myself out there and get to know people in real life rather than continue to be controlled by my anxiety.

Even though I tend to be a loud, talkative person with those I know well, quick to cackle and snort when the mood strikes, with new people I'm quite shy. I mostly prefer to hang on my own if I'm not with my husband, family or very close friends. It's just more comfortable for me.

Many people who attend BlogHer come with groups of friends. For them a big part of the fun is attending events and parties together and never having to worry about who they'll sit with at lunch. I'm not that person. I know lots of people who attend, and I always make a point to have at least one roommate to keep my costs down, but I mostly do my own thing. I don't worry about making plans ahead to sit with someone at meals or whether I'll know anyone in the sessions I attend. But in the past I'd just keep to myself rather than using that opportunity to meet people.

I was terrified and extremely anxious before my first BlogHer conference in 2009 in Chicago. I sucked it up and went and met some awesome people I'm still in contact with today. But I didn't completely dive in and embrace the opportunity to put myself out there. I didn't go to a single party. I just wasn't ready.

The following year BlogHer was in New York, and I again went on my own, though I had two roommates I had/have a lot in common with. Yet again, I mostly went it alone, but felt a little more comfortable introducing myself to people and striking up a conversation at cocktail parties and meals. I was definitely getting better and feeling less controlled by social anxiety, though I don't know that I realized it at the time.

This third year (I skipped last year) was a huge change for me. I tagged along to go to parties with people I didn't know and made great connections with people I'd just met because I was confident enough to put myself out there and risk rejection. I hate risk, but I just kept telling myself it's no big deal if I don't click with someone. It's really not. And you have to put yourself out there to have any chance of getting something good back. I can't control someone else's reaction to a friendly attempt to chit chat, but I can control whether I let myself be so scared of the tiny possibility anyone will hurt my feelings that I stay inside my anxiety protective shell. After all, I'm a pretty tough chick.

HealthMinder Day © Diana E. Lee
I'm proud of myself. Becoming more open and confident is a big deal for me. I never had to learn how to make new friends because I lived in one town from kindergarten through high school. I never built the skills of starting over and making yourself vulnerable to new friendships. I'm thankful that an unexpected benefit of my interest and involvement in social media, the perfect hobby/career for an anxious introvert, has allowed me to break out of the self-conscious shell I've left myself stay trapped in.

As an aside, I learned a ton of great, inspiring stuff at BlogHer's HealthMinder Day that I can't wait to share with you guys. There are some amazingly talented people using the web to work toward change in the health system in many ways. I think I'm only at the tip of the iceberg of how I can use social media and my advocacy and legal skills to make a difference for people in my situation on both the individual and macro levels. I can't wait to explore some new avenues, and I'll be sharing everything with you guys as new projects develop.

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DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this site constitutes medical or legal advice. I am a patient who is engaged and educated and enjoys sharing my experiences and news about migraines, pain and depression. Please consult your own health care providers for advice on your unique situation.