When I first lost Catherine I was out of my mind with grief. I searched desperately for anything that would get me through the hours, days, weeks. Quite quickly I discovered The Compassionate Friends and I signed up to their online forum.
It was the first time that I had participated in a forum, and I was a bit nervous about privacy. But the fact that you had to sign up and confirm that you were a bereaved parent gave me some confidence. I then also discovered it was moderated – an important feature when writing about personal and sensitive topics.
The forum turned out to be extremely helpful for me for the first couple of years. After then, I visited periodically. Depending on how I was doing at the time, it wasn’t always as helpful as it had been at the beginning, as I was getting reminded of feelings that I would rather not return to. Now I’m at a different point in my journey, and I visit the forum now and again.
(If you are a bereaved parent or sibling, you can find out more here: https://www.tcf.org.uk/content/online-support-forum/ . I do recommend this as a very helpful source of support.)
When I was diagnosed with cancer 3 years ago, I discovered once again how helpful it could be to find a community of people who are going through something similar. This time it was cancer forums for me. Describing my journey, finding out about other people’s experiences, comparing notes, trying to encourage those who were at an earlier point, were all part of of this.
Next week I have my annual CT scan check-up, but due to some other problems, they are needing to investigate further. (I’m not expecting anything serious, but because my earlier cancer was stage 3 I’m considered high risk, and they are not taking any chances. Once again I need to give a loud shout out to our incomparable NHS!)
In any case, that got me back onto some relevant forums, reading up about the test I’m going to have and how it is likely to feel. I haven’t read too many comments about this particular test, which is a good thing. If people haven’t needed to write about it, it can’t be too bad, can it? I hope not! By this time next week, I’ll know – at least I’ll know how it was for me.
Should you sign up to a forum?
There are advantages in using forums as a form of support:
- You can relate to each other, realising you’re not alone in what you’re going through. It is so helpful to discover that what you are going through is not unique.
- It’s possible to make new friends, often lasting relationships.
- It can provide a safe outlet for deepest feelings, without overburdening those around us.
- Sometimes the relative anonymity of a forum helps us open up in ways that we can’t in our daily lives.
- Forums can be sources of useful information.
- In-person support groups can be great, but with the internet forums, it doesn’t matter where you are or what time zone. You can visit 24/7.
- As you gain strength, you can help others along the path.
On the other hand, there can be some pitfalls:
- You can find yourself comparing yourself unfavourably to others.
- The presence of people who are new on the journey can send you back to your own earlier pain.
- Even on a moderated and private forum, there is never complete assurance of who is taking part.
- Forums are places where personal experiences are described, and many comments are about something that was bad or difficult. Not as many people will take the time to write up their good or okay experience, although it does happen. Unless you take this fact into account, you can end up thinking that things are worse than they are.
- If you’re accessing the forum from your phone or tablet, it can be very easy to check for the latest posts, but this can mean that you’re continually thinking about the subject (your grief, illness, or whatever the subject) which isn’t a healthy balance. Even in the midst of the deepest grief, we sometimes need to give ourselves a break.
Personally I think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
If you’re looking for support, and you haven’t already tried it, you might considering signing up for a forum that is appropriate to your situation. But try to ensure that you only join a forum that is moderated, as that gives you a bit of safety.
(This could also could apply to social media groups too, especially private groups that have some moderation.)