I realised soon into my loss that there’s a world of people out there just like me … bereaved of a child. While alone in my personal loss, I was suddenly thrown into a club I had no idea existed until that point. The grief club. Social media became a lifeline as I sought support and advice from people who were further down the road in grief, as well as comforting new members to the ‘club’ who connected through my blog or social networks.
Reading about death offers a balanced perspective on reality, bad things do indeed happen to good people, but it can also become a burden to the bereaved. Just like the saying ‘you are what you eat’ … ‘you absorb what you read’. With your emotions and vulnerability wide open, you can easily start to take on the emotions of another suffering parent, your empathy levels go off the scale and before you know it you can’t sleep or leave the house, and are left wondering why you are struggling to heal from your own loss.
The grief club is without a doubt beneficial. It makes those dark days that more bearable to know there’s a friend out there who can say the right thing. It’s admirable also to channel your grief energy on charitable work and supporting others’ causes. I now follow a select number of accounts run by bereaved parents and bereavement charities. I find I am drawn to those accounts where grief is part of life, that it’s talked about openly but good moments are shown as well as the bad. I relate more to people who are focusing on a new life that includes grief – not where grief has taken over.
While the community helps me, I realised I have to be ruthless about who I’m following. As much as I want to follow accounts that have shown me support in some way, or who I want to give support to, I find when I do my feed becomes flooded with images of babies and children now departed, stories of rare deaths, deaths from common illnesses, slow painful deaths, sudden deaths… I found it created an overwhelming sense of despair as my heart bled for my own losses as well as other people living with the same thing. I became jittery, nervous that my family would succumb to another fateful illness. Paranoia replaced what was a natural grieving process.
It is too easy (and flippant) to simply say ‘turn it off’. In grief, the online community is a life force where professional support is lacking (which it often is). You can still be part of the social community, it’s about being careful not to let other people’s grief add to your own, no matter how much you want to show support.
Using social media to benefit your grieving process:
- Follow because you want to, not because you feel you should. Find people who you can relate to in some way, and who you want to engage with regularly as a friendship, who offer you more than just a common bond of childloss. Avoid ‘vanity’ accounts that lack substance or realism, as well as those that seem full of anger or despair.
- Focus on a ‘tribe’ of grief friends. Following a load of accounts about stillbirth, for example, will mean your feed will be flooded with images and heartbreak. You can’t possibly connect with them all; be aware of how it affects you.
- Mix it up a little. It’s okay to still be interested in fashion, books, crafting or whatever you enjoy looking at. I like nature photographs and faith quotes. My feeds are blends of hope, life, and loss.
- Look for hope. Life is a mixture of highs and lows. Find like-minded accounts that share positive and meaningful posts. I share things that make me laugh or interest me as well as the difficult times, and I appreciate other accounts that do the same.
- Switch off. It’s easy to shift your focus to the virtual world, as a distraction from the difficulty of life in front of you. Keep in touch, but don’t put social media before the family around you. Give yourself time away from the screen, regularly. Some networks like Facebook let you turn off a friend’s posts for a month. I have used this in the past when I’ve been having a hard time and don’t want to see a friend’s ‘perfect’ life or another mother’s difficult grief. Sometimes dancing grandmas and kittens playing are just want the soul needs!
I hope this has helped you think about how social media might be affecting your anxiety. I would love to follow more of your accounts, but I also have to be mindful when I do. I hope you understand.
Picture credit: Wordswag