A year or so ago, I came across a zine on Tumblr that was all about being “raised by the internet.” It was an interesting, enjoyable read, so naturally, I reblogged it, only to lose the original post in one of many archive cleanings. But I’ve carried that concept, being raised by the internet, with me ever since.
Technology has made my life so much easier. But the internet has enriched it. I didn’t have many friends in high school, but I knew a few people online, and those friendships — even if they weren’t conventional, even if I couldn’t sleep over at those friends’ houses, curl up next to them on a Friday night and binge an entire season of “Gilmore Girls” — made the loneliness bearable. Whenever I felt isolated, all I had to do was check Twitter or Facebook messenger, and I’d be reminded of how much love there was in my life.
I love telling people that my best friend lives in Scotland. They always seem so surprised. And, in a way, I guess it is surprising — I grew up in an interconnected world, with instant messaging and FaceTime and, yes, even email, but for people like my parents, my intercontinental friendships are probably a tad unprecedented.
Do you ever Skype? people ask, and most of the time I just shake my head. After nine years, we don’t really need to hear each other’s voices anymore. A misplaced period — or, more accurately, a string of messages entirely in caps lock — tells us all we need to know.
When I say that one of my closest friends is from Chicago — that a mutual friend in Brazil hooked us up, that we actually met a few years back — I inevitably get a look of concern. Is that safe? A pause. They grimace. How do you know they’re not actually … you know, a predator or something? We’ve Skyped, I say. Several times, I say. She’s left me voicemails at 3 in the morning, I say. But I never actually seem to get through to them.
A lot of people seem to think that internet friendships aren’t the same as ones in real life (IRL). Which, of course, begs a definition of real life, because where do you even begin? But in any case, those kinds of arguments make me sad, because they continuously miss the point. My internet friendships aren’t the same as my friendships IRL. My internet friends don’t care about my wheelchair. They don’t see my crooked teeth, they don’t hear the exhausted waver in my voice after a long day. They’re not witness to how very disabled I am, whereas IRL my face-to-face friends get all of that, whether I want them to or not. When I’m online, I get to choose how — or whether — my disability defines me. IRL I have no choice.
Just because they’re dissimilar, however, doesn’t mean they’re unequal. My internet friendships are honest and raw and uplifting. My internet friends push me to be a better version of myself. People who decry internet friendships as fake or shallow were not privy to a Skype call between my friend from Chicago and me, during which I cried, a lot, because I was trapped in a cycle of abuse and was not ready to brave the exit wounds. Those people are not part of the countless group chats I’m in, and so they do not see the life work that occurs. They do not know all the ways I’ve healed because of my internet friendships, but I do.
I’m not saying it’s easy, being separated by land and sea from the people I love the most. It’s hard. I’m a tactile person, so messages like “I wish I was there to hug you right now” aren’t enough. My best friend and I often talk about how we just want to cuddle. Just want to feel each other’s presence, as sappy as that sounds. I love hearing my friends’ voices. I love getting videos or voicemails from them, because it’s something I can point to as evidence. But it’s not the same as sitting across from them in a Holiday Inn Express outside Chicago at 2 in the morning. It’s just not. And it never will be.
It never will be, but that doesn’t stop me from calling my internet friendships some of the most important bonds I’ll ever make. It’s just a different form of intimacy, and I could not be more grateful for them.
Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.