People with HIV often experience isolation as a result of stigma, fear, depression, and the list goes on. Thus, social media can become an attractive medium in which to engage in social activity because it removes us as individuals from any real or perceived threats when interacting directly with others.
I soon realized that I spent all of my time on facebook or other social media as a result of my own experience with stigma. While social media provided a sense of community, it is only superficial because most human beings are capable of maintaining roughly five or six close interpersonal relationships(1) and I learned that people on facebook only "moderately care about their facebook friends"(2). While sitting at my computer I also realized that I was physically isolated from the rest of the world. Indeed, the only real connection I had made was with the laptop sitting before me.
Realizing that I was isolating myself unnecessarily from the real world I soon began to reevaluate the people I "interacted" with both within social media and the real world. Part of what contributed to my isolation was HIV related depression as a combined result of discrimination, stigma, people telling me that "you can't do anything", implying that I should "give up", family members believing they can get AIDS from the food I prepare, and my ex partner believing he could contract AIDS through sex despite years of proof to the contrary when taking into account an undetectable viral load, and some GLBT leaders who may not really care about people living with HIV. These experiences forced me to take look at who I was interacting with. Soon, I began to create supportive and inclusive friendships with people that actually cared and supported one another. Soon, that one friendship led to another, and another friendship based on unconditional positive regard.
One benefit of social media is that when a person is interacting with others using social media, a person's behavior tends to reflect who they really are. The differences between gender, sexual orientation, and race begin to break down because there are no public pressures to conform to prescribed behaviors or stereotypes. However, social media may prevent us from direct interaction and may lead to the extinction of our ability to recognize when our behaviors become intrusive on others. This may be because we cannot see the body language that occurs with direct interaction that indicates when our behaviors have gone too far. When this happens, our relationships begin to suffer and the relationships we build with others can become dysfunctional.
I began to reevaluate my friendships both in the real and social media world. I soon realized that some of the relationships I had been maintaining were toxic. I ended the relationships with the people who engaged in the behaviors I described in the previous paragraphs. It was certainly difficult, but I had become mindful of their behaviors and how those interactions affected us in the relationship. I also began to force myself to engage in healthier activities. I also changed the way in which I engaged in certain activities.
Instead of working out at home or running alone I joined a gym instead because there were more people present, which increases the opportunity for social interaction. Furthermore, I started urging facebook friends to physically meet for coffee, shopping, or other activities outside of facebook. It was challenging at first because I live with PTSD and social anxiety/phobia, which can cause me to avoid social interaction altogether.
Finally, these changes did not occur overnight, it can take a long time. I now use social media sites like facebook, twitter, and others as a tool for communicating and coordinating activities with friends instead of allowing social media to be the activity. I also want to share a website a good friend shared with me. It is http://www.meetup.com and I highly recommend it. I joined a GLBT group and am attending the Pennsylvania Renaissance Fair on October 21st and I hope I will make some new friends. If you read this and you see me there, be sure to stop and say hello! Don't hide in social media because it may actually be doing more harm than good. Again, remember that for every one person out there that tells us that we can't do something, there are 100 more people that will tell us that we can. What is the point to all of this? The point is, we can do it and we can find those supportive people, we just have to look. There is "no shame in being HIV positive" and we've "got this".