In February of 2016, a room on the pediatric oncology floor of the hospital became my very own. It’s where I would live for the next 5 weeks while undergoing rounds of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. The goal was to replace my crappy immune system with one that actually works. I’d be able to fight infections and become less of a regular at the ICU. I was absolutely terrified. Crippling anxiety and a deep fear in my gut filled every moment leading up to my hospitalization.
Yeah, I was worried about inevitably losing my hair and the physical trauma my body was about to experience, but I never anticipated the toll it would take on my mental health. I knew it would be bad, but there’s so much I couldn’t have prepared for, especially how lonely I’d be while isolated from the rest of the world.
At least I had my phone, I thought. At least I can check my apps and feel connected to what was happening outside of my hospital room. My phone turned out to be a source of pain as much as it was my lifeline to the world outside.
I had visitors from time to time, and my family stayed by my side but I wasn’t myself. In such a bad place mentally and physically, I was barely able to mumble a greeting when visitors arrived. I had my phone, though, and this allowed me to reach out to my friends at my own discretion. If I was having a good day, I’d get on the phone just to hear my friends’ voices.
I checked Snapchat daily although I didn’t post a lot of my own content. Scrolling through Twitter and catching up on headlines was another way to pass the time and stay informed. I used Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and even Timehop so I could remember a time outside of the hospital. I could go for some walks on the floor but even the windows were locked, preventing me from breathing fresh air for over a month. The Internet was there for me, providing me with horrific news (you all remember 2016, right?) but also my connection to life beyond the oncology ward.
While I’m thankful for social media, I also experienced an unheard of amount of FOMO. Most of my friends were either living their post-grad lives or finishing up their senior year of college. The only way I could remain involved was to watch from the outside. I began to feel bad for myself, desperate to get back into the world and be a part of all the fun I saw on Snapchat.
I felt really conflicted. Part of me wanted to throw my phone at a wall and never have a notification again, but I knew the disconnect would be even harder to deal with. My friends had every right to post, and I know now from talking with them that they were also in a complicated position. They’re all so loving and compassionate that they agreed amongst themselves to slow their roll on social media, especially during times they knew I desperately wished I could be with them. But, there were still posts I saw that made me feel bad and there was no way to avoid it unless I avoided my phone altogether.
Life was happening on my iPhone and I wished I could leap through the screen and join the party. This continued on for the 100 days of post-op recovery. During this part of my journey, I was cooped up with my dad at his house. I was too sick and too immunocompromised to leave. This time, there were no locked windows but medical restrictions. Instagram posts of parties and hangouts seemed to sting even more from my dad’s couch. I was so close, but still so far from the freedom I longed for.
I’m appreciative of social media during a time when I had no physical access to the outside world. At the same time, I also became a bitter spectator, desperate to re-enter the world I saw through Instagram filters. If I had to do it all again, there’s no doubt I’d have my phone by my side. I still would pick the fear of missing out as opposed to missing out entirely. Plus, I am able to see clearly now what I couldn’t before. Social media shows all the fun, excitement, and glamour that people want to highlight. Yet, at the same time, we all have our own struggle going on behind the scenes. We scroll through Instagram and mostly see the best of other people’s lives and compare that to our own.
It’s hard to not compare yourself to others whether you’re in a hospital bed or not. We have to remember that everyone is fighting their own battles despite how they present themselves on social media. While it didn’t always feel this way, social media also gave me hope. It served as a reminder of life outside of the hospital. I clung to the fact that time would pass. I’d emerge from the darkness, ready to enter the world and see it with my own eyes, #nofilter.