A woman looks hopefully through a grid of glowing lights.

Building Virtual Community

When I was a child, I wasn’t allowed to have a private email address, let alone any social media accounts. Back then I thought it was unfair as all my friends had social media. Now, I’m really grateful for that time in my life before the internet took over.

Growing up online

But of course, I had older friends and eventually made my secret not-so-private social media accounts. At first, I really enjoyed socializing with my friends at the click of a button, sharing pictures, and seeing what they were up to. But over time, it became more anxiety provoking and stressful to see all the things my friends were up to that I was not part of for various reasons.

Mental health

It got to a point where it was pretty negatively affecting my mental health and I had to get off all social media. Sometimes, I felt limited by my strict parents. Other times it was my health or a surprise sickle cell crisis. And other times still, it was just the grueling social dynamics of adolescence.

Chat rooms

Then I found a new type of community: online chat rooms. They could be quite dangerous as everyone was anonymous and able to hide their true selves. I tried to stay away from the creepy ones and found some cool people I could anonymously relate to on Reddit channels and the like.

Feeling alone in a crowd

In college, GroupMe became a big part of my social life. Every class and group of people had their own GroupMe. At the same time, everyone had an iPhone by now and group iMessages were a big part of the culture. I started to feel a new kind of isolation within the confines of these group chats. How was it possible all of these people were in the same conversation as me but no one could hear me – or at least they didn’t respond to my messages?

Towards the end of college and into medical school I found new online communities specifically catered to my interests. There were all kinds of Facebook groups of people like me, with sickle cell, trying to connect. I got added to sickle cell specific group chats and was starting to meet so many people who could relate to me in ways I had never experienced.

Discovering virtual opportunities

And somehow, in medical school I got the privilege to become a paid contributor to really amazing online sickle cell community platforms. It still blows my mind that not only do I get to be a part of the best community I have yet to find, what I have to say is so appreciated that it’s compensated. That is really a dream come true for me. I hope to always be part of this community and ones like it.

Building my new network

As I near graduating medical school and prepare for the next part in my training, I look forward to the new communities I will find and hope to take them in person. I’ve started taking a salsa class for fun and for my health. I’m proud of myself for putting myself out there.

I may be moving this summer and I’m eager to take everything I’ve learned from here and apply it to creating a new community for myself wherever I end up. Who knows, maybe I’ll end up closer to my virtual community as well.

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