A Dusty Keyboard

I don’t remember how to do this.

Has it really been a year since I tried to look ahead? For months I’ve been battling ideas that seem great on paper, or even within the relatively safe space of a “test the waters” Facebook post or Twitter message, but an equally crippling inability to act upon them with any certainty. For months I’ve seen stories and issues arise that generate plenty of thoughts, but no formal sentences worth sharing. For months I’ve thought about this blog, what it’s done for me over the years, what I think it’s done for others over that same time, and how I don’t want this URL to become a distant memory of blogrolls across the diabetes online community.

I think there’s reason to be proud that I’m paying more attention to topics like transgender rights, race issues, domestic violence, and validation within various patient communities. It speaks to a maturation of sorts. But if I still believe at my core, I’m a diabetes advocate, why is it so hard for me to prove it to myself that I still have what it takes to contribute?

Why have I been thinking about writing this blog post for three weeks but only now have the strength (is it really strength?) to say something?

I’m not going to make any promises about posting frequency because, quite frankly, I can’t stomach the disappointment when (if?) I don’t live up to that timetable. But I’m here, right now, to say that I’m still around. I still want to contribute to the discourse, and I will try to be more visible.

So, the task for now is to dust off my keyboard and start a figurative cleaning of sorts. Not a fresh start, but comfortable return. Until then, here are a couple of links to bide the time. Continue reading

About My Multiple Sclerosis Secret

Two years ago I created an online space for people to anonymously share their thoughts, fears, and experiences about their life with diabetes. Since then I’ve expanded this idea to other patient communities including mental health, cystic fibrosis, chronic pain, arthritis, and lupus. Today that expansion continues with the debut of My Multiple Sclerosis Secret.

When I look at the conversation around MS online, the majority of tweets, status updates, and gifs revolve around the struggle to validate the experiences of an invisible illness. Because there are not many external manifestations of your disease, a lot of time and energy goes into defending basic truths about your health and wellbeing. My hope is that My Multiple Sclerosis Secret can become a space to help explain the realities of multiple sclerosis. My goal is to build a safe place for sharing within the multiple sclerosis community while simultaneously providing an opportunity for others to learn from people impacted by MS.

My Multiple Sclerosis Secret is safe place to share your multiple sclerosis secrets. No judgement. No shame. No stigma. Merely catharsis through honesty.

Continue reading

About My IBD Secret

Two years ago I created a site designed to host anonymous secrets from the diabetes community. The goal was to provide a safe place for people to share what they were feeling and experiencing without fear of stigma, shame, or judgement. But battling stigma and judgement is not unique to the diabetes experience, and that is why my expansion of the My Disease Secret platform brings us here, to the launch of My IBD Secret.

In my conversations with IBD advocates, I’ve learned a lot about the struggles for acceptance and validity not only within the broader patient community, but with society at large. The common “you don’t look sick” trope often comes into play as I read the horror stories of people being accosted for using disabled parking spaces despite being legally afforded the right to use them, or the dirty looks received when preboarding a flight because you need extra time to make sure everything is in order. Your struggles are real. And while I may not have the same experiences as you, I certainly understand what it’s like to live with a disease that people generally don’t understand or have a wildly off-base perception of the realities of what it takes to live a “normal” life.

My hope is that My IBD Secret can shed some light on what it’s really like while also offering the IBD community a safe space to share their experiences and emotions – a safe place to share your IBD secrets. No judgement. No shame. No stigma. Merely catharsis through honesty.

To help make sure I get this right, I’ve partnered with some of the smartest and most passionate advocates I know, Carly Medosch (diagnosed with Crohn’s at 13), Duncan Cross (diagnosed with Crohn’s at age 17), and Kelly Crabb (diagnosed with Crohn’s at 16). With their knowledge and experiences, together we will do our best to make sure this site treats the IBD community with the respect it deserves.

If you would like to share a secret of your own, you can use this submission form.

If sharing and reading these secrets is not enough, this resources page includes links to other community and non-profit sites within the IBD ecosystem. I will continue to add new links to this page as necessary. If you have any suggestions to make, please send them to myibdsecret at gmail dot com.

Having launched sites like this for the diabetes, chronic pain, arthritis, lupus, cystic fibrosis, and mental health communities so far, I know there’s something to this “me too” philosophy that powers the sharing and connecting behind each of these sites.

I hope this works.

 

A Response

“It is deeply disturbing that creating new ways to be anonymous or show how ashamed being sick makes you feel is something you’re growing. This is not advocacy. This is making self hatred an expectation of being sick.” (Submitted to My Disease Secret)

I created My Diabetes Secret because I saw an opportunity. I saw a chance for people to share how they really feel without needing to tie their words to their identity. Like screaming at the ocean, sometimes it’s simply enough to get something off your chest and move on. I didn’t see this form of sharing as hiding behind the anonymous logo that heads these sites, but as a collection of individual moments of realization, of self actualization, of owning their lives for better and worse. The likes and reblogs each submission receives are not a digital statement suggesting the pain and struggle shared is a good thing or one to be expected, but respecting and appreciating the act of sharing itself.

I’ve never claimed to be an expert in all of this. I think Tumblr is a pretty neat platform, and I believe the Internet has a tremendous role to play in the well-being of each and every person impacted by a chronic disease or illness. I feel that promising anonymity to anyone who chooses to share whatever they are feeling not only builds trust among all who visit this site, but it ensures the utmost sincerity with each and every character, word, sentence, and submission. In asking people to open up their hearts, minds, and souls, I’ve been greeted by hundreds of examples of the raw emotion associated with diabetes, or cystic fibrosis, or arthritis, or depression.

But you’re right, anonymous. This is not advocacy. This is merely a small component of what patient advocacy needs. Beyond the fundraising and the facts and the politicians, the voice of the patient is paramount to what all of us hope to accomplish be it passively or actively. The voice of the patient comes in many forms. Written testimony and perspective via email to a local state representative, participating in local fundraisers, literally calling upon Congress to increase funding for crucial research, changing your profile picture to sync with an awareness campaign. All of those examples have their place in the broader advocacy effort we all engage in. Just because someone’s identity is hidden, and their name is Anonymous does not mean their input is any less meaningful. The sum of these sites may not equate to any form of advocacy you are partial to, but each one of these secrets adds to the broader narrative that we are not doing enough.

We do, however, disagree on your last assertion. These sites do not promote self hatred, or indicate that self hatred is an expectation of being sick. These sites remind anyone and everyone who visit that it’s okay to not be okay. These sites remind anyone and everyone who visit that you are not alone.

I appreciate your concern, anonymous. And I value your feedback. If you want to get in contact with me to make sure we are all doing right by the broader patient community, you can find me at mydiseasesecret@gmail.com. I welcome a continued dialog on how we might improve the experience on these sites and take what is shared to make lives of all patients and patient communities better.

This is not advocacy. This is connecting the dots between what we know, what we think we know, and what we feel. This is learning from people with life experiences wildly different from our own and coming to the realization that we’re all in this together. This is compassion and honesty. This is empathy in its purest form.

(Published alongside said criticism on My Disease Secret)

About My Lupus Secret

Two years ago I created a site designed to host anonymous secrets from the diabetes community. The goal was to provide a safe place for people to share what they were feeling and experiencing without fear of stigma, shame, or judgement. But battling stigma and judgement is not unique to the diabetes experience, and that is why my expansion of the My Disease Secret platform brings us here with the beginning of My Lupus Secret.

I recognize that lupus is a big deal. I recognize that there can be struggles to legitimize your pain, your emotions, and the medication it takes to live a “normal” life – for however you define normal. I recognize that the recent revelations about Selena Gomez mean there’s an opportunity for acceptance and advocacy on a greater level while her story remains fresh in the public eye. But beyond that, I recognize that there’s a chance for the lupus community to help dispel some myths and misperceptions about what you all are going through with your words and actions each day. My hope is that this site can help with that effort.

So here is My Lupus Secret. A safe place to share your lupus secrets. No judgement. No shame. No stigma. Merely catharsis through honesty.

Continue reading

About My Arthritis Secret

Two years ago I created a site designed to host anonymous secrets from the diabetes community. The goal was to provide a safe place for people to share what they were feeling and experiencing without fear of stigma, shame, or judgement. But battling stigma and judgement is not unique to the diabetes experience, and that is why my expansion of the My Disease Secret platform brings us here with the beginning of My Arthritis Secret.

I’ve had the pleasure of becoming friends with a number of advocates from the arthritis community. And while our experiences may be unique, it is not without some curious similarities. The stigma of a disease typically portrayed a certain way by the media presents stereotypes that you have to actively choose to battle each and every day. This misperception of what the medication required to manage our respective diseases means to us personally, and how these medications are interpreted by the unknowing public can incur a range of judgement and misinformed assumptions.

I know there is a strong arthritis community online. My hope is that this site offers a chance for a wider audience to truly understand what living with arthritis is like. If you’re willing to share, I want others to see what it takes to manage the pain, surgeries, relationships, medications, work, and often compounding diagnoses, along with the rest of your lives.

So here is My Arthritis Secret. A safe place to share your arthritis secrets. No judgement. No shame. No stigma. Merely catharsis through honesty.

I’ve partnered with Britt Johnson (@HurtBlogger) and Alan Brewington (@abrewi3010) to help me get this right. If you’re reading this, then you probably know the Arthritis Foundation identifies 60 different types of arthritis, and over 100 specific diagnosis within those categories. (I had to look that one up, and was quite surprised at the final tally.) That diversity provides a great challenge for a site simply called My Arthritis Secret, but I’m hoping to seize this opportunity to unify the arthritis community. Continue reading

Today, I Launched My Cystic Fibrosis Secret

I’m a firm believer in the power of the Internet’s ability to build social connections among diverse groups of people despite the most isolating situations. Since it was created two years ago, My Diabetes Secret exists as an extension of that philosophy, providing people impacted by diabetes an opportunity to share what they are feeling in a safe space, free of shame, stigma, and judgment. But as isolating as diabetes can be, I’ve met a number of advocates impacted by cystic fibrosis that deal with isolation on a much more concrete level.

This may not come as news to most of you reading this, but I was surprised to learn that people living with cystic fibrosis are advised not to hang out together. They can spread dangerous bacteria to each other (but not to healthy people), which is why the Internet is vital for finding and engaging with peers in similar circumstances. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr are essential building blocks for social support and finding people who can relate. My hope is that My Cystic Fibrosis Secret can help contribute to that “me too” factor and become a reliable component of the cystic fibrosis online community.

My Cystic Fibrosis Secret is a safe space for you to share your thoughts, feelings, and fears about how cystic fibrosis impacts you – anonymously. No shame. No stigma. No judgment. This site offers catharsis through honesty.

Because I want to get this right, and there’s only so much my personal experience with type 1 diabetes can bring to this specific site, I’ve partnered with a few of the most passionate advocates in the cystic fibrosis community I know: Emily Kramer-Golinkoff, Erin Moore, and Breck Gamel. I am relying on their experience and expertise to inform how sensitive issues are managed, and when necessary, how to best communicate with the rest of the cystic fibrosis community.

If you want to share your own cystic fibrosis secret, please use this submission form.

This resources page includes links to mental health and cystic fibrosis-specific sites if you’re looking for additional information and support beyond this anonymous site.

From the beginning I’ve strived to provide a safe space for people to anonymously share what they are feeling knowing that for some, sharing is the first step to healing, understanding and connection. This mission continues with the launch of My Cystic Fibrosis Secret.

I hope this works.