Visually-Impaired – 5 Tips for
Reaching Out in an Online Support Group
Reaching out to other members of a like-minded online group may bring comfort when sharing similar drives, fears and challenges–whether it’s a professional group that focuses on a mutual interest or life experiences (divorce) or support (medical). The best way to reach out in any group isn’t always clear-cut. It might even be good to step back and evaluate what we know about a situation before responding.
*Melody’s words ripped into my gut. She posted how bereft of hope she felt at being told after all she and her family had gone through with multiple rare diagnoses, one piled on top of the other, nothing more could be done for her son.
She crumbled, heart-worn. Melody, so upbeat for the year or so I had known her, had typed out terse words like “finally losing it,” and “unbearable.” I could feel her desperation through the Internet lines. It had to be really bad for Melody to break down.
I belong to multiple support groups that focus on losing vision and hearing, both of which I, too, suffer from. This post especially broke my heart. Melody and I shared a common goal to educate others about Usher Syndrome (an incurable hereditary disease marked by progressive vision and hearing loss). Melody has a ringside seat to witness the challenges her son, who is profoundly deaf and losing vision as well, goes through. They shared a dream of a cure one day. If anyone needed to download on a support group, that day it was Melody’s turn.
What could I say? What could I do?
Over the past few years, I’ve developed a system of responding when I reach out to a hurting group member. Before I type out a response, I first pray about it. I ask God for wisdom with my words. Then I apply the following tips.
- Be genuine. When tempted to throw out pat answers that offer no real comfort, don’t do it. It’s better to simply provide a virtual hug and even voice your own bewilderment at the situation the person is facing than to oversimplify an answer. There is no substitute for true compassion.
- Ask questions. Sometimes we don’t have enough information to offer an opinion or support because we don’t really understand what has happened. Or there are missing details. I’ve often had to clarify the problem or what the person is seeking.
- Read other responses. That might trigger an idea or experience you’ve had that will help and add to his or her comfort. But limit your comments by answering concisely. Remember, it’s not about all about you. It’s the other person seeking understanding.
- Research. Sometimes the situation is out of range to give a thoughtful response because of lack of experience. For example, when someone asked what a signal cane was, I had no idea. So I looked it up and posted a link–and I learned from other responses. There are many eye diseases I have discovered in the same way. Becoming informed makes me a more valuable support member.
- Be kind. If it’s possible, look for ways to turn the situation into a more positive, teachable moment. If the situation is one that can be lightened with humor, do so. Use your judgement.
These tips might seem basic, especially the last one. However, in the years of belonging to support groups, I’ve seen incidents that have become ugly where people lose respect for each other by baring negativity, fighting over opposing beliefs about healing, and attacking each other about the most sensitive topic of all, religion. While faith is sometimes my answer of how I deal with a similar situation, I ‘m careful not to push it onto others. If someone takes offense to my faith-based answer and posts something scathing to me, I simply move on rather than retaliate or retort. My goal is to build up, not tear down.
In today’s multi-faith, multicultural support groups, it’s important to respect each other and use tact in our online interactions.
Facebook provides a wonderful forum to have various support groups. I love being able to encourage, offer my experiences and insights, understanding, consideration and humor to lighten the load we all carry. I learn a lot and grow stronger as I interact with others.
In Melody’s case, I shared in her sorrow and researched the new eye disease so that I could develop a better understanding of what her son is facing. I will walk alongside her and offer encouragement and prayer. I’ll take my cue from her.
Share any additional tips you might have. What do you consider to be the most important rule to remember when offering support of any type in an online forum?
*Not her real name
You have just read, “Visual Impaired/5 Tips for Reaching Out in a Support Group.” by Amy L. Bovaird. Copyright March 22, 2017. Don’t be shy! Leave a comment!
For more insights into coping with vision and hearing loss, check out Amy’s recent release, “Cane Confessions: The Lighter Side to Mobility” here