Chronic illness affects us all in different ways. 10 years ago I was working, dating, and hanging out with friends. I was almost as active as most of my peers. 2 years ago I only left the house two or three times a week, or sometimes less. Some people are as active as healthy folks. Some people are completely housebound. Some people fall somewhere in between those two extremes. But we all have limits of one kind or another.
There’s a lot of talk in psychological analysis of social media about FOMO, which stands for Fear Of Missing Out. This isn’t a new phenomenon, but it’s more pronounced now that we can regularly see the wonderful and spectacular things our peers are up to on Facebook and other social media platforms. I now see pictures posted by people I would have otherwise lost track of years ago. There are children, pets, vacations, jobs, and so many other activities. There’s the occasional complaint about too much work, kids who aren’t sleeping through the night, or the morning’s commute. And of course there are the political and entertainment postings. That all sounds normal to most people.
The problem is, when you’re already feeling isolated and limited, seeing everyone else’s activities can be a bit jealousy-inducing. I’m happy for my friends. I truly am. But I’m also really jealous.
Worse than the jealousy, though, is having nothing to post yourself besides the generic entertainment and political postings. Sure, some people just read the posts and don’t post their own because they’re too busy, too lazy, or prefer their privacy. That’s just fine. But it feels different when the reason is that you have nothing new to post. No job, no travel, no kids, no relationships, no outings…. nothing. This is FOMO to the extreme, because we don’t just fear missing out; we really are missing out. And it feels like it’s obvious to others that we’re missing out, too.
If you have a chronic illness and are active, you’re probably still missing out on something, and it might feel really obvious to you when you see all of the postings by others. When you’re not leaving the house much or at all, you’re missing out on everything.
This is the point in the post where I’m supposed to tell you that it’s ok. There are more important things in life. It is and there are. But it still sucks. I won’t patronize you or myself by saying that we shouldn’t be upset by this, that there’s no point in comparing ourselves to others, etc. We know this and sometimes it helps and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I read Facebook status updates and just feel happy for my friends. Other times I wish I could have joined friends at a concert or posted my own vacation photos. Sometimes I feel so lonely and isolated that I just avoid social media for a while. But inevitably I return.
I’m not offering a solution. I am only offering this one thing: you’re not the only one who feels this way. You’re not alone. And it’s ok. Go ahead, feel bad about what you’re missing. Then go do something fun for yourself, even if it’s something not considered Facebook-worthy, like watching your favorite movie. I’ll be here watching mine.