Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Internet Cult of the Special Needs Mommy

This weekend, I did what I periodically do (and I suggest you do as well): I Googled my name and home town and did my best to clean up public links that included them. It's amazing how quickly things like comments at newspapers can snowball and it's never a good idea for a future employer to think one's entire life consists of funny "Caption This!" contests.

However, in the course of deleting innocuous comments, I ran across one that stopped me cold. Several years back, I had written into Time magazine in response to a (very slanted) article they ran about food allergies and they published my response. The comment itself is long gone from the Time site. However, my name, hometown and a single line from the comment were now part of a support site for moms of diabetic children.

The original comment was, I thought, innocuous. It was about how food allergies are not thought of as a real disease, and how schools protect, for example, diabetic children but don't always extend the same protections for food-allergic children. But man, did the fur fly! You can read it if you like. (But PLEASE don't stir the pot...she'll probably put my name back in just to be spiteful!)

After several emails, the original poster did finally remove my name. I explained (nicely) that I have a sister with Type 1 diabetes and that I was in NO way dissing the severity of the disease. My comparison was made solely regarding the social status of the disease, not the severity.

She did not care at all. In fact, she doubled down in her response, telling me that my experience with my sister was not the same as having a child with the disease. I was clueless and her public raking of me over coals was totally justified.

All of this is like looking through a wormhole. As I mentioned before, I ran a board like that for several years, and yes, people outside the "culture" were regularly taken to the woodshed and trashed. I tried hard to stay about the fray and give people the benefit of the doubt, but I do recall one famous incident where I named and shamed someone (a public figure, but still). Now that Karma was biting my butt, the pain was, well, painful.

I quit running that community for a number of reasons. It's an amazing amount of work, day to day. (My children complained that I loved the chat board more than them.) But, more important, opinions on a chat board always seem to devolve to the most strident and the most conservative. Eventually, people with moderate opinions give up and drop out and the really out-there thought is continually reinforced. I decided that, despite the good of sharing information, the bad (and it was very bad) was actually creating anxiety in people and perhaps even mental illness. I was doing more harm than good.

This blog was born of that realization. I wanted to see if education makes a difference. If I pointed out all these overly-anxious thought patterns, would people see the patterns and want to change? Would they use my own experience as a cautionary tale?

I think it's been a failure.

Yes, a few people have pursued new testing or food challenges as a result of what I post here. And, a few of those have found out their child either no longer has or never had an allergy. That's a huge win, and one of which I'm very proud.

But, for most people, there's just no way to take my experience and transplant it into the consciousness of someone else. As with so many things in life, I think you just have to live it in order to get it. I'm sad that there's apparently no short-cutting the years of anxiety and crazy precautions for most moms...but I've concluded that information not only doesn't help, it often is just more polarizing. The more I talk about anxiety, the more these moms double down on their precautions. I've watched it on chat board after chat board where this blog is discussed.


We need to feel special when our children are young and dealing with food allergies is hard. We need the blue ribbon. We get it from these communities, even if it's at the expense of insular thinking and rampant anxiety (and sometimes dissing others). We're willing to get pulled further and further and further in. It's not ever obvious that gravity has us in its grip until it's too late.

People don't like to be told about this. (It has not escaped my notice that dryer lint has had about the same success building traffic than I have with this blog.) I've become a scold, and who wants to be scolded?

I don't know if I'm totally done, but I definitely need a break. I know a lot of you are interested in FAHF-2, so I'll try to post about that as we go through the challenges in October.

Peace.