Finding Community in Diabetes Blogs
Sharing struggles, whether it’s a light-hearted anecdote or a glimpse into one’s darkest hour, produces connections that affect the writers just as much as the readers.
You might think that having a disease is the last thing you would want broadcast over the World Wide Web. But for some writers, getting the word out there is the main idea. In a world inundated with celebrity gossip and angst-ridden posts, a few people rise above the online mess and use their blogs to foster a sense of community in what could otherwise be an isolating dilemma: living with diabetes.
Despite the worrisome topic, a trip through the world of diabetic blogs is anything but a downer. Hannah McDonald, author of the upbeat Dorkabetic, tries to keep her posts conversational—even if that means letting her sarcastic side take over. “I enjoy making people laugh,” she says. “But if I make a serious post, I want it to be equally engaging.” McDonald is likely to talk about anything from music videos to gang sign jokes to daily life with her husband—oh, and she talks about her diabetes, too. “I always talk about whatever I feel like talking about, whether it’s diabetes-related or not,” McDonald says. “I think letting other people read about the ‘normal’ things that you do in your life is really important. People need to know that they can be just like everyone else, and their own mental health is just as important as their physical well-being.”
It’s a philosophy shared by most who feel comfortable enough to put their story on the Internet. Sara Nicastro, author of Moments of Wonderful and contributor to the Flickr Diabetes 365 Photo Pool, says, “A person with diabetes is so much more than just a lack of natural insulin, so I talk about all the parts of my life.”
Besides letting the authors sound off on whatever is happening to them, sharing these personal moments can help others—even strangers—deal with their own issues. Kerri Marrone Sparling is the author of Six Until Me and was one of the first diabetes bloggers. “People who comment on diabetes blogs are often sounding the ‘me, too!’ alarm,” she says. “They read a post that they identify with, and then they chime in with their perspective. I receive emails and blog comments from people very often. Sometimes they have a diabetes moment they want to share. Other times they have a question like ‘Where can I hide my insulin pump in my prom dress?’ They are always so supportive and insightful, and I don’t think they realize how much of a difference they make in my life.”
The effect truly is palpable. Sharing their struggles, whether it’s a light-hearted anecdote or a glimpse into their darkest hour, produces connections that affect the writers just as much as the readers. Andy Bell, 28, has blogged about his diabetes since September 2007. “I try to keep it light and chill for the most part, but some days, after lost battles and feeling defeated by diabetes, you just feel like getting on there and screaming your head off,” he says. “I have had some pretty dark moments published to the world. I think it’s nice for people out there to be able to read that stuff because somewhere, someone is really connecting with it. I love reaching out and connecting with all types of people.”
Bell and Sparling both participate in Blogabetes, a network of blogs about diabetes. The site provides a community and safe place for sharing personal details and connecting with people dealing with diabetes. Many of the writers use the blogs to keep tabs on each other. For example, Sparling and McDonald always read each other’s blog. “Since the diabetes blog community is so sizeable, it's pretty uplifting to be instantly accepted into a helpful group just by stringing some sentences together,” McDonald says. “If you say, ‘Oh, I had the worst day ever because my blood sugar went from 60 to 345 in two hours,’ you're going to hear ‘I know how that is! Let me tell you about my terrible blood sugar day’ instead of something like, ‘Well, that sounds crappy. Wish I knew how it felt.’”
Nicastro feels a similar bond with other bloggers. “I think sharing my experiences on the Web makes me feel a little less alone,” she says. “I don’t know or meet too many people in my daily life with type 1. To blog about a difficulty I may be having and to have people comment that they have had the same experiences helps my spirit.” Nicastro says that this online community can also progress to a more personal sphere, evolving into friendships and face-to-face meet-ups.
Left-handed Eskimos with diabetes just a click away
The ease of the medium has also contributed to the popularity of blogging. Most journaling Web sites simply require authors to type in their thoughts and click “Submit.” “It’s an easy and cheap way for people out there to get connected and grow in whatever way they want,” Bell says. But for the most part, the online community becomes a place to empathize with and learn about struggling with diabetes. Carey Potash, another Blogabetes author, says, “I’d say [blogging] strengthens the community. If you are newly diagnosed or a loved one is newly diagnosed, it’s a one-stop shop.” Potash says that the variety of topics discussed, from medical advancements to nutrition tips to stories about the hard times, proves that no matter how hard things get, there are always bloggers who can relate. “There are a gazillion unique subgroups within the blogosphere,” he says. “Looking for other left-handed Eskimos with diabetes into roller disco? They’re probably out there blogging.”
So far, the effect of blogs about diabetes seems to be positive. By bridging gaps in every other aspect of their lives—including distance—bloggers are proving that in the fight against diabetes, no one is alone.
There are lots of diabetes blogs. Here are links to the blogs mentioned in the article, as well as a few of these bloggers’ favorite blogs.
Flickr Diabetes 365
B.A.D. (born again diabetic)
Moments of Wonderful