I’m a Chicago girl by heart and birthright. I was born in the northwest suburb of Woodstock and attended my first Cubs game before I could walk. Our radio and television were tuned to WGN as a default. And from the time my grandma attended nursing school at the University of Chicago to the time I found work at the Alzheimer’s Association on Michigan Avenue, Chicago has been a source of pride and joyfulness for our family.
Yet I have not always lived in Chicago or its suburbs. For instance, I spent a very strange period of my life in the hills and canyons of rural Utah. No, I did not enter a fugue state that rendered me living in a cave among coyotes. Actually, I was freelance writing in the tiny town of Paragonah (population 451, thank you very much), just a few hours drive from Bryce Canyon National Park.
Sounds beautiful, right? It was, but it was also intensely lonely. For one thing, I could find no one within a 75 mile radius with similar religious or political beliefs. I got along fine with everyone but hell, it was really, really lonely.
This prompted me to venture for the first time into the world of online communities. I found a wonderful message board for moderate-to-left leaning Christians who didn’t have a brick-and-mortar church to attend. Through this medium, I was able to connect with those in similar situations any time, day or night, share my thoughts and feelings, ask questions, and support others. Having this outlet meant the world to me and palliated my isolation so I could focus on my writing.
Online communities are perfect for those who want to connect with others in similar situations but who are more comfortable communicating online. They are also ideal for those who cannot find in-person support groups near them and/or cannot attend such gatherings due to health, work or transportation issues.
If you’ve never participated in an online community before, here are some basics:
- Most online communities allow you to browse/read their content without registering, but you will most likely need to register in order to post comments and replies.
- Some online communities consist only of message boards, which are online places for people to post questions and comments under designated topics. Other online communities offer additional features such as chat rooms, which operate in real time, and opportunities to communicate with people privately as well as in the public space.
- You can share as much or as little as you like. You can take your time to respond to someone, or choose not to respond, if you wish. You can participate every day, once a month, or at whatever level works for you based on what’s happening in your life.
- You can find other Chicagoland caregivers and compare notes about doctors, services, and senior living options. You will also meet caregivers from all over the country who can provide additional perspectives.
Most online communities for caregivers are specific to a health condition, but there are some general sites too. Here is a sampling of online communities available for caregivers:
- The Family Caregiver Forum (National Family Caregivers Association)
- Careliving Community (National Stroke Association)
- Lung Connection Community (American Lung Association)
- ALZConnected (Alzheimer’s Association)
- Cancer Survivors Network (American Cancer Society)
- NAMI Discussion Groups (National Alliance on Mental Illness)
- MSWorld (National Multiple Sclerosis Society)
I sometimes think of earlier times before technological tools such as online communities existed, and I wonder how people without nearby support made it through the fog. Online communities certainly aren’t perfect, but for the millions of caregivers in the United States and around the world, they can be a true blessing.
Please share with me your experiences with online communities, including additional online spaces dedicated to caregivers. And if you decide to explore some of the communities I listed above, I’d love to hear about it.