The Social Media Cure

By AMANDA HESS: For More Info, Go Here…

How people with chronic illnesses use memes, selfies, and emojis to soothe their suffering.

Pain is subjective. For nurses, the standard definition is “whatever the experiencing person says it is, existing whenever the experiencing person says it does.” But diagnoses and treatments require mapping that experience onto something approaching an objective measure. And so doctors and nurses will often ask patients to pinpoint their pain on an 11-point range—how bad does it feel, on a scale from zero to 10?

For some patients, pain is not just a number. It hurts, but it can also alienate their friends and family, prevent them from achieving their goals, and make them feel misunderstood, dejected, or depressed. For a paper published last month, London School of Economics ethnographer Elena Gonzalez-Polledo studied communities of chronically ill people on Instagram and Tumblr. She found a cluster of “pain worlds,” places where people suffering from invisible illnesses like fibromyalgia, migraines, Crohn’s disease, and arthritis can express themselves not on a numerical scale but through a network of selfies, confessional diary posts, and memes. These networks have created their own “alternative pain scales” that measure “social over physical aspects of pain that are often unacknowledged in clinical pain assessments,” Gonzalez-Polledo writes. Social networks “offer opportunities for people without pain to better understand the experience of having pain,” she continues, but they also offer chronically ill people the chance to convene with others who understand what they’re going through. They offer relief, if not from the symptoms of pain, then from the burden of explanation.

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