One of the discussions at #MayoInOz turned to the divide between personal and public social media use – especially relating to our loved ones. ABC National Medical reporter, Sophie Scott, explained the rules she’s put in place to define her professional and personal life, trying to keep the two distinct to protect her children.
It’s something I frequently think about. I use social media a lot. But despite possibly appearing to be a (social) media whore, I have rules about how I use it when it comes to my family – especially our child. The first photo I posted of her was when she was three years old. She is standing in the front garden of our old house, under the weeping silver birth tree, dressed in one of the fairy dresses that was on frequent rotation at the time. She has a cheeky smile on her face and looks quite delicious. I’ve since posted baby photos of her – usually around her birthday and on the pregnancy diary I recently published.
These days, she gets to veto whether or not I post a photo of her. If she is happy for me to share, I do. If not, I don’t. She often asks who will be able to see the photo before deciding if it is okay for me to share it.
But when she was wee, I had a very easy rule for sharing photos of her. If I wouldn’t share a photo of me doing something, I wouldn’t share a photo of her doing the same thing. So, no photos of her in the bath, naked on the floor on a towel, throwing a tantrum, crying, when she was sick, doing something embarrassing or looking grumpy. I don’t want photos of me in any of those situations online, so how could I justify it as okay for me to post photos of her like that – even if she is a kid?
This isn’t necessarily about me being worried that someone is going to do something nefarious with the photos. It’s about how she’d feel knowing others have seen her like that.
The same goes for sharing stories about her. I would never tell a story that would embarrass her – now or later in life.
The discussion at the conference turned to how parents of children with health conditions and disabilities share photos and stories of their child, perhaps not thinking about the repercussions for their child. I have commented on this in the diabetes world, and been told in no uncertain terms that I don’t get a say in this discussion as my child does not live with diabetes.
I understand that my perspective on diabetes – diagnosed as an adult – is very different to that of a child’s or the child’s family. But I am an adult with diabetes. And when I see a photo of a kid in hospital with tubes coming out of them because they are in DKA, all I can think about is how that child is feeling at that exact moment.
I’ve had a couple of DKA hospital admissions thanks to gastro bugs. I am not being melodramatic when I say that I felt that I was about to die. Between the throwing up, unstoppable nausea, desperate need to quench my thirst, weakness, rapid heart rate and feeling terrified, all I wanted to do was curl up and feel better. Or die. I would be horrified if someone shared photos of me at such a vulnerable time. I don’t want anyone to see me like that – ever.
The same goes for when I am having a weepy hypo, unable to stop the tears or the unintelligible stream of consciousness babbly coming from my mouth…or a giggly hypo where I am borderline hysterical. I don’t want that recorded for all to see. (I once filmed myself having a scary low and when I watched it back a couple of days later, it was truly shocking. I deleted the video, terrified that it would somehow find its way onto YouTube or Facebook – probably posted by me when I was next low!)
When I’ve asked parents of children with diabetes about this, they say that they do it as an awareness-raising opportunity. By showing their kid during the more serious diabetes times, they feel they can give an accurate picture of life with diabetes. It shows the pain and the fear and the relentlessness of it. I understand that – trying to tell the story of diabetes in a way that resonates with those not actually living with it is important. It’s one of the reasons I share my story.
But how do we do that without it seeming almost exploitative – especially if the story or photos we are sharing is actually not directly ours?
I was glad for the discussion at #MayoInOz, because I’ve started several posts about this issue, but have always felt clumsy and as though I am overstepping. I still hear the words ‘You don’t get a say’ and delete whatever I have written for fear I will be chastised and told to step away.
But after the conference, I decided I did want to write about it and, perhaps, start a discussion that points specifically to the diabetes world. Where is the line drawn between showing the world what diabetes is about and exploiting or exposing our loved ones? And who gets to decide? Is consent an issue here? Or is the child’s story inextricably tied up with their parents and therefore there is no line?
Thankfully, someone has written about this in a far more eloquent and elegant way! One of the other scholarship winners at the conference was Carly Findlay. Carly is a well-known blogger, writer, speaker and appearance activist, and this piece she wrote last year is definitely worth reading. (She’s also a genuinely nice person who didn’t even flinch when I once accosted her in Lygon St, almost yelling at how beautiful she looked at her recent wedding because she absolutely did and I just needed to tell her, in a ridiculously excited and animated manner. She was most gracious to this bumbling mess!)
I don’t think I have really done this issue justice. I do know that some of my favourite bloggers are parents of kids with diabetes and I think that is possibly because I have never felt uncomfortable about what they have written. While Annie Astle is a very, very, very good friend of mine and my family’s, she is also a brilliant writer and when she shares her family’s story, it is never at the expense of Pumplette’s dignity. (Annie’s own dignity is often given a bashing because she is so bloody self-deprecating!) I recommend her blog to every parent with a newly diagnosed child because her posts are beautiful, honest and never manipulative.