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…
“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.