Blogging for Strength

Not long ago, a guy I deeply respect joked derisively in conversation that too many people “blog for therapy.” His evidence: a recent AOL survey in which nearly half of respondents said “they write a blog because it serves as a form of self-therapy.” My friend said (and I’m paraphrasing), “Oh yeah, that’s just what everyone wants to see.”

Well, of course it’s not what everyone wants to see, but so what?

I’ve gotta admit, the tone of my friend’s comment (and the AOL press release, for that matter) really rubbed me the wrong way. In our culture, we tend to dismiss personal topics, experiences, explorations, and perspectives as inconsequential – or at least as unworthy of public discussion. I believe this objectivist bias is, in fact, a costly and tragic type of isolationism. Many, many times I’ve seen pride or a reflexive fear of vulnerability prevent people from reaching out to gather the context and support they need, or to offer theirs to others in need.

It’s damn hard to gather or share strength in isolation.

Yesterday, I was proud to see one of my favorite bloggers, Steve Rubel of Micropersuasion, reaching out to gather and share his strength. In “Why I am Blogging About My Skin Cancer,” he discussed that he has just been diagnosed with a common and treatable form of skin cancer. Part of his plan to combat this illness is to create a new skin cancer blog.

As I read his reasons for launching a new blog, I understood that even though this would mean more work for Steve just when he needs to focus on treatment and recovery, a project like this can be an excellent way to gather and share personal strength…

Steve wrote:

“Each year some 800,000 Americans are diagnosed with this kind of skin cancer. Much of it is preventable if you take care to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays… It’s clear from the statistics that many people still don’t take the risk of skin cancer seriously enough. Perhaps they need to hear more about it in a human voice – a blog voice. I recognize that I can help here (or at least try to). I have a blog with 5,000+ daily readers as well as a significant media profile. I am in a position to help in ways others can’t. I can do greater good. If one person starts wearing sunscreen regularly because of what they read here then I have done my job.

“…I plan to not only track my progress (which hopefully will go quickly), but more importantly provide links to helpful information and stories from others. I am sure once the site is up we will hear from many others who have experienced the same or worse.”

That explanation mainly focuses on helping others, but I’m guessing that reaching out in this way also will help Steve gather the strength he needs to combat his illness. (Steve, correct me if I’m wrong here.)

Gathering strength is not about asking for sympathy. It’s about a person making an overt, conscious effort to connect with a larger community in order to experience that community’s strength. It’s about not feeling alone. It’s also about the boost you feel when you know you’re strong enough to contribute to a greater good, despite obstacles. All of that is very personal, very human, and very valid.

…And yes, it’s therapeutic. This is a significant, admirable, and good thing. Snicker if you must, but think it over.

I’m not a big fan of the catchall terms “therapy” or “self-help” because of the unfortunate whiny, trivialized overtones they’ve acquired. But I am a big fan of therapeutic communication and action: People participating in the public conversation to help themselves and work together to figure things out, share strength, and create meaning.

I’ve been wrestling with this topic myself. My brother was recently diagnosed with leukemia, and has begun treatment. His chances for remission are good, but the process of treatment simply sucks.

When I first found out about his diagnosis, of course I wanted to help. And of course, being me, I thought about starting a leukemia blog. I decided against that, at least for now, because I thought it was more directly constructive to help my brother stay in touch with his vast and strong network of friends while he’s in the hospital.

I may revisit the leukemia blog idea later. In the last couple of weeks I’ve mainly been focusing on learning about leukemia and its treatment, and on being there as much as I can be for my brother and my family.

However, now that I look around, I’m not seeing many genuine weblogs focused on leukemia or with a leukemia category. I’m not talking about strictly informational sites, and of course not about spam blogs. Rather, I’m looking for blogs written by and for people with leukemia and those who care about them. One example is Michael Krolczyk’s blog, which chronicles his life, including his ongoing leukemia treatment.

So please, if you see examples like that, comment below and supply the relevant links. If I’m going to do something like this, I’d like to see what’s already out there. (UPDATE: I’d also like to know about good patient/family-oriented leukemia discussion forums, like those offered by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Thanks.)

…Anyway, I wish Steve well, and I’m sure his new blog will help many people as well as his own sense of focus, motivation, and outlook.

7 thoughts on Blogging for Strength

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  1. The personal not being taken seriously is the prime reason that “Mutha Bloggas” (a term I like far more than “mommy blogger”)are not taken at all seriously. We obviously never learned the feminist lessons that our mothers fought so hard to establish: The Personal Is Political.

    Hope your brother weathers his treatment well. May his inner strength be eclipsed only by the love of his family.

  2. I can’t speak from any personal experience of skin cancer, nor really with much credibility on the subject of leukaemia – but on the subject of blogging for therapy, I feel qualified to throw my hat into the ring. Over the last year, I’ve learned that four distinct groups are involved, namely 1) the blogger, 2) people who have the same condition as the blogger, 3) people who are immediate associates (family, friends, colleagues) of either 1) or 2), and 4) anybody else.

    When I decided to blog openly about being transgender, I was trying to produce a public record which might help people in 2). I hoped it might prove beneficial to those in 1) (i.e. me) but that would be a bonus. I thought there was a possibility that what I wrote might benefit some of those in 3) – I didn’t expect to have any impact on those in 4).

    I was wrong – from personal experience, and direct feedback (i.e. conversations, email, blog comments and posts by other bloggers) I *know* that I’ve had a positive impact on people from each of those groups. Not by whining and moaning about being transgender – but by chronicling what I’ve learned, and how I’ve tried to apply it, in a no-nonsense (and, where possible, light-hearted) way.

    So, writing my “blog as therapy” has helped me (enormously), others like me, others who care about people like me, *and* raised awareness and increased understanding about the simple reality of being transgender (rather than the typical lurid tabloid treatment) among some people who may not otherwise ever have given the subject much thought.

    And this is bad… *why*, exactly? Your friend doesn’t care to read about such matters? Plenty of other blogs out there for him to read. For myself – how often can one person make a positive difference, not just to their own life, but to the lives of others, simply by writing? Not often enough – and when the opportunity arises (as it did for me) then I’d sooner people took it than held back, for fear that others might denigrate them.

    Blog, Amy – just do it! 🙂

  3. Hi Amy, I too was moved by Steve’s commitment to put a human face on a preventable disease. I have a friend right now whom is a great writer just diagnosed with advanced form of lymphoma whom is now spurred to start a blog to get her journal writing out to others. I’ll let you know when it is up.

    I have two posts recently on research regarding therapeutic effects of “expressive” writing and open sharing and support networks (it’s part of my prep research for the tsunami anniversary citizen journalism trek in yikes! five weeks). This may be useful for you and your brother:
    http://evelynrodriguez.typepad.com/crossroads_dispatches/2005/10/writing_heals.html
    http://evelynrodriguez.typepad.com/crossroads_dispatches/2005/10/for_every_lynch.html

    Loving wishes for you, your brother and your family to be healed.

  4. I was diagnosed with AML 5 years ago and had a bone marrow transplant although I don’t write much about it. I wasn’t online when I was going through the worst of it.

    One blog I am aware of is Leukemia eh? Hope this helps.

  5. FYI, I started a bookmark on this topic:

    http://del.icio.us/evelynr/naked

    Serving as my research notes for the upcoming tsunami anniversary citj trip as well as notes for SXSW panel on naked blogging.

    Here’s one link to MSNBC story on a hospital ENCOURAGING patients to blog on their site , see http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9889617/ for more:

    “So after chemotherapy, came a new prescription: online therapy, in the form of an internet journal.

    Kairis’ doctors now encourage patients to help themselves, and others, by writing about their experiences on the hospital’s website.”

  6. http://mary-elizabethsbump.blogspot.com/

    My 12 year old was diagnosed with ALL on August 13, 2004. I have written long and short items almost every day. We are in a very quiet time of treatment but may be some of the information might be helpful.

    The posts from September 2004 to March 2005 are the most intense. Each person has a different reaction
    to treatment but none of it is fun and all of it is hard. I wish your brother only the best.

  7. I started a blog about my leukemia (ALL)(http://johnsleukemia.blogspot.com/) and how I responded to treatment, starting back in Feb. 2005. Since the beginning of treatment was in an isolation room at Stanford, 200 miles from where I live, it was a way to keep in touch with friends and family. It also meant I didn’t have to repeat the mundane details of what I was going through. As time went on, I realized that my blog would show others that chemotherapy did not have to have devastating results, as I have had a relatively easy time of it. Blogging is also therapeutic, allowing me to gather and reconcile all the thoughts you have when you get something that may kill you.