Social Media and Isolation at Christmas Time
Pippa is a recent graduate with multiple long-term conditions. She blogs about accessible theatre, lifestyle and fundraising at Life Of Pippa, and talks to us today about the impact of social media during the festive season.
Isolation is a year-round problem faced by disabled people, but never seems more prominent than at Christmas time. Whilst the rest of the world prepare for fun and festivities, it can take some serious strategising to get yourself through the season. For me, my personal battles involve meticulously planning how many activities my chronically ill body can cope with, pacing gift preparations (please don’t judge me when I tell you I started on my Christmas Cards in October…) and the most difficult task to date: finding Christmas Dinner components safe to eat with my severe allergies.
Although all of us face our own unique health battles, one thing that I can safely say is that social media at Christmas time can be an utter nightmare. It’s difficult not feel down about your situation when you’re sitting in a waiting room scrolling through a feed filled with exciting photos: friends beautifully made up and flouncing off to Christmas parties, cute couples on festive dates, people travelling up and down the country to spend time with their families… Whilst we’re all aware that what social media portrays is not at all a representative insight into people’s situations, it’s still a reminder that people are out there living their lives, whilst I’m here wondering whether I’ll be well enough to wash my hair today.
However, social media has also been a blessing in disguise for myself and many others in my situation: it’s allowed us to find other people like ourselves. Some of my closest friends are people I’ve met through the online chronic illness community (known colloquially as the ‘spoonie’ community), and I wanted to find a way of using social media to reduce our feelings of isolation, rather than letting it have the opposite effect.
In 2015, I introduced the SpoonieXmas hashtag to Instagram for the very first time. I explained to my little network of online friends that this would be a way for us to share our festivities with each other: simply snap a picture of whatever you’re up to, write a little caption if you feel like it, and upload it with the hashtag. Then you can scroll through the hashtag and look at other people’s photos: give them a like, leave a comment, and have a chat. This allows people to share how they’re celebrating Christmas, regardless of how that may be, and still connect with others in similar situations.
The hashtag rapidly became one of my favourite things about Christmas time: even whilst I was stuck in bed, I could scroll through people’s posts, and the nosey part of me revelled in finding out what everyone else was up to. More often than not, there would be somebody else also stuck in bed or under the weather, and despite feeling sad that they were facing it too, this massively helped to reduce my Christmas-oriented FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).
The best thing about the hashtag was that it became a ‘glorified Instagram free’ zone: whilst people were welcome to share beautiful edited photos of their celebrations, and many did, they were just as welcome to share a photo of their dark room or their medication, and tell people that they weren’t feeling so chipper today. For me, an ultimate advocate for the little things in life, it was the perfect platform to share my home comforts. No, I might not be going to a crazy Christmas party, but look! My socks have Christmas Puddings on them! Any day involving Christmas Pudding socks is an EXCELLENT day.
The best thing of all was that other disabled people were quick to jump on board. Last year’s tag, SpoonieXmas2016, had 455 photos uploaded over the course of December. The posts ranged from selfies in Christmas jumpers, to festive bakes, to decorated medical equipment, even to somebody’s pet pug in his woolly little Winter hat. This year, I’ll be making a point of promoting the hashtag SpoonieXmas2017 at the beginning of the month, and I can’t wait to see what people post this year.
Do you use social media? Do you see it as a positive or negative thing with regard to disability? If you’d like to share your own experiences, leave a comment below!