Thursday, September 20, 2018

My Virtual Life

by Ivan Homeless (writer), SFV, December 12, 2007

How online support groups have helped me get through the toughest times in my life.

I am not a basement dwelling, 22-sided dice throwing, standing outside the comic book store at 9:59 am on Wednesday mornings, no ability to carry on a conversation with a live person nerd. I have no basement in my home, I haven’t played Dungeons and Dragons since I was 15 and the last comic book I read was the Sandman series. However, I do watch Battlestar Galactica, I miss Firefly and Buffy, and I think Empire was by far the best Star Wars movie. That being said, Geek is not a derogatory term for me, call me geek and I will agree with you.

I spend a fair amount of time online, not as much as I used to but a good chunk of my day is spent either in email, instant messaging, or on the most effective time wasting website ever posted, Myspace. My virtual life began in 1998 when I was going through my first divorce and was simultaneously diagnosed with a bipolar disorder. I found a support group online called FyrenIyce and I have been an active member now for almost 10 years. I have made more and better friends from this support group than I ever made IRL (in real life). The two friends I had in high school I still have beyond that people have tended to come and go with tidal regularity. My BP friends are mostly Australian and I can count on them to be awake and online when I am having a tough time in the middle of the night, the time difference works in our favor. One of my friends called me over the weekend when I was having a particularly bad night and stayed on the phone with me for about an hour until I fell asleep. That’s a friend!

Insert montage here fast forwarding to the present

I have found another online support group that has been equally helpful in this new stage of my life. Another divorce down and a few messy relationships later and in 2006 I found myself dating a wonderful man and getting pregnant. Getting pregnant was not my idea, nor was it his, apparently the baby had it planned all along because 4 doctors on different occasions have told me I either can’t or shouldn’t have children. So, I had given up on the idea of having a family, it was never a high priority of mine anyway. Yet, there I was, all knocked up and needed some friends to lean on. Enter the So Cal AP Families support group. This is a collection of mostly moms whose children range from almost born to starting college. These moms are dedicated to attachment parenting, breastfeeding, homeschooling, vaccination research and education, co-sleeping, baby wearing, cloth diapering or elimination communication, organic living, never letting a child just “cry it out” and home birthing. Some moms are entirely AP and some take the pieces they like and that work for them. When it comes to child rearing questions, there is someone on the list who has an experience to share. I prefer talking with people who have walked the mile rather than reading a book that was written years ago by someone who has never raised a child.

For the past 8 months these women have become friends, confidantes, and allies. They have built networks in a matter of hours to hold nurse-outs in support of nursing moms who have been asked to leave restaurants or other public places because they are feeding their baby. Did you know it is illegal in California to address a nursing mother in the course of feeding her child in public? A nursing mother has the right to feed her child anywhere at any time without being harassed. Don’t think it’s appropriate? Don’t look. It’s not our problem that you never told little Johnny how babies are born or fed. These women selflessly donate breast milk to mothers who are having trouble breastfeeding their own babies for any reason. They have advice on treating infections and illnesses due to breastfeeding that most medical doctors have never heard of yet are more effective than anything western medicine has come up with. They can talk you through a nursing strike, the oh so frightening event of your breastfed baby refusing to nurse, there are women willing to share their stories of extended strikes lasting over a month and how they got through. They are the village that is helping to raise the next generation. They are the support that many of us do not have from family or friends. The well meaning mother-in-law who tells you that you are spoiling your child by breastfeeding him or the good intentioned friend who tells you that it’s OK to stop breast feeding after the first few weeks when it gets tough because she quit then and her kids are fine.

I am passionate about breast feeding my baby I am passionate that all babies should receive breast milk for as long as possible. These women have taught me the joys of raising my baby and of feeding my baby. They are cheerleaders, they are wise beyond their years, and they welcome you into the group as family from the minute you send that first email introducing yourself.

Just like FyrenIyce where you can find someone online who has taken the medication your doctor is suggesting, you can find someone who has found a way to go med free and you can find someone who has been locked up in a mental ward and can tell you the ins and outs of hospital life when you are too scared to go. These are the ones who will make the call, even from overseas, to get you the help you need.

I will take my virtual friends any day; they are the true friends of which Oscar Wilde once said, “A true friend stabs you in the front.” They give it to you straight; they walk the walk and talk the talk. They do the research and they are not afraid to tell you what they have learned. They are opinionated folk – both groups and they preface many things with IMHO, IMNSHO or YMMV (in my humble opinion, in my not so humble opinion, or your mileage may vary). They understand that each experience is unique to the person living it and they understand that saying to someone, “I will throw you a life saver but I will not jump in and drown with you.” is sometimes the best help money can buy.

Knowing that there are people out there who are living shared experiences helps. I don’t have time to attend in person support groups. My virtual life keeps me in touch with friends all over the globe and it keeps my world very small indeed. Call me a geek, that’s fine by me, but friends that I have never seen in person have save, my sanity, my relationships, my life and the life of my baby and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

About the Writer

Ivan Homeless is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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5 comments on My Virtual Life

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By Mistress Doctor on December 12, 2007 at 04:51 pm
I'm so glad for you that you found a therapy that works for you. Talk-therapy is still the most successful therapy out there. Nice story.
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By Digidave on December 12, 2007 at 04:52 pm
I am a self-proclaimed "geek" too. I can't explain it to my non-wired friends - but online communities/friends feel very real, despite how digital they are, and can really come through in tough times. You explained why perfectly.
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By 'Mean' Mike Duffau on December 12, 2007 at 06:22 pm
This piece really humbles ya! You gotta friend here champ.
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By Ivan Homeless on December 14, 2007 at 07:05 pm
oh, how I miss the Tick! I do still occasionally shout SPOOOOOOON! before tackling a difficult task like doing the dished.
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By Keely on January 07, 2008 at 10:55 pm

I'm with Mean Mike; amazingly honest, and encouraging.

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