Behind the Blog: The Community You’ve Never Met

Behind the Blog – The Community You've Never Met

I need to tell you something.

Two weeks ago, while walking through my local East London park on the way to see my therapist, I opened up Instagram Stories and I started to talk.

I told an unknown number of potential viewers a truth: a collection of facts which I’ve been keeping quiet for months now.

  • My dad is really sick.
  • He’s not getting better.
  • My mum died eight years ago, and now the same thing is happening again.
  • I’m scared, obviously – but more importantly? I’m done with not being honest.

Over the next twenty-four hours, dozens of messages popped into my Instagram inbox. Some were real life friends, some were acquaintances and many were strangers. All of them said the same thing, and all of them were so kind and concerned that it made me want to cry.

We’re so sorry. If you need anything, please just ask. We’re here for you.

Behind the Blog – The Community You've Never Met

The world of the online community

This online world we inhabit is a strange one.

For the last decade I’ve lived out a large part of my life on the internet – and I don’t just mean professionally. Nowadays, many people would define their own personal communities as being both the locally-based friends they see each day or each week, and those who live far away enough to require staying in mainly virtual or digital contact.

As a traveller, many of my closest friends either live halfway around the world or are off traversing different countries to the one I’m currently in. It means many of my friendships are maintained thanks to a combination of Facebook chat, Instagram Stories, pre-organised Skype dates, delayed WhatsApp messages and lengthly emails.

Behind the Blog – The Community You've Never Met

Friends I met in India are scattered all over the place now!

Those of us who cultivate a version of ourselves online see just as much value in our digital communities as our real-life ones.

But when you’re a blogger, or someone using their online self from a business perspective, suddenly the concept of community can shift. 

What is our real goal for building a community?

Behind the scenes of social media, one of the most important things we look at is our numbers. It’s a community made of statistics: unique visitors and newsletter subscribers, Facebook followers and Instagram commenters, all compiled into Google Analytics bar charts which dictate whether or not a company will want to work with us.

For bloggers, ‘community’ has become something we chase after because we know it’s important – but I’m not sure what our ultimate end goal is anymore.

Surely it’s more valuable to simply have a community itself, rather than obsessively counting the members within it?

Behind the Blog – The Community You've Never Met

I’ve always been scared of being alone

Growing up in London, I never really knew my neighbours or hung out with the kids on my street. Our family was always small and I’m an only child, so I knew it was basically up to me to expand my social circles.

When I first started blogging, I was really excited by the prospect of fostering some sort of online community with strangers-turned-readers. I remember noticing the same names in the comments sections of different articles of mine, and I realised that some people were regularly invested in what I had to say.

But I didn’t know (or perhaps, didn’t quite believe) that their interest stretched to actually caring about me.

Behind the Blog – The Community You've Never Met

The other result of becoming a blogger was the discovery of hundreds of other bloggers who I was able to network with: people who shared my passions for travel and writing, and who understood how to navigate this online world more than I currently did.

As my blogging readership grew, my virtual community on this site and social media became more apparent. I’m in no way a big blogger, but I do occasionally get recognised – and it’s always really bizarre.

Once it was a curious expression on a girl’s face in a London yoga class before she whispered my name across the room; another time I heard a joyful shout from a backpacker when hitchhiking along Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

People who read you think they know you.

And thanks to the internet, I guess to a certain degree they do.

Behind the Blog – The Community You've Never Met

Of course, do they know the ‘real’ you or the version you’ve decided to present? Since publishing a recent article about that very topic, I’ve had a lot of fascinating perspectives from different readers which have made me think deeply.

Who we are online is one thing. Perhaps a more pertinent question is why we’re actually online in the first place. 

At our most basic level, we all crave interaction with others. It might be because we’re seeking validation, sharing an opinion, bolstering our insecurities or venting our grievances: but it’s still predominantly about being connected to people.

So sometimes, when real life pushes itself sharply into focus, our immediate reaction is to be brutally honest with our communities.

A problem shared is a problem halved

Everyone has their own methods of coping with life-changing situations. But although many people have told me I’m being brave for talking publicly about all this, I honestly don’t see it like that. It’s an intrinsic need to speak up.

During the two weeks when my mum was dying in late 2008, my house remained virtually empty. This isn’t necessarily either a bad or a good thing: I just didn’t know I was allowed to ask people to be there for me. I was twenty years old. My dad’s way of coping was to keep things private. I went along with his decision.

When my mum died I felt like an outsider in too many situations: I knew my tears would drag a conversation down and make people feel awkward, but I also knew I couldn’t avoid talking about what had happened. It was too all-consuming. And it wasn’t fair to me, or to her memory.

So when I first heard my dad was going into hospital back in March this year? The first thing I did was message my closest friends. My core group. They needed to know, so they could help me carry this weight.

Behind the Blog – The Community You've Never Met

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been talking to a therapist since last year, but at this point in my life I’m very conscious of my mental health and my own specific needs.

So.

I’m moving out of my East London flat and back in with my dad. I’ve suddenly taken on a huge and unexpected amount of responsibility. I’m facing a heart-breaking, life-changing event. Now I’m asking for the help I know we both need.

Even so, it’s not something that comes too naturally.

I’ve had to pull myself firmly into adulthood, making phone calls to solicitors and hospitals and palliative care teams. I’ve set up a network of neighbours and my dad’s friends who can help me manage things.

And by doing this – by making myself vulnerable, asking for help, and realising that help is actually appearing – it feels like people actually care. Like my dad and I matter enough that people are willing to go out of their way to make sure we’re as OK as we can be.

And I feel like I’m not quite so alone because of it.

The importance of asking your community for help

I’m growing increasingly aware of the pitfalls of an online world. Attached to our phones and our screens like we are nowadays, I feel strongly that our virtual connections often eclipse our real-life ones, meaning there’s every chance that we forego strengthening the latter in favour of the former.

But because I’m acutely aware of how my dad’s situation is affecting me, every time something happens, I tell someone. It might be a vague tweet or a suggestive Instagram post — it might be a copy-and-pasted text message I quickly send to my core friends, my own little personal army — or it might be an urgent impromptu phone call to hear a real voice of someone I love calming me down.

Hold onto those moments which make you feel something. Even if you’re sitting in a London kitchen with barely any time to think, keep hold of that mental image which illustrates your ability to FEEL. Perhaps you’re holding onto the red walls of a Spanish island, dressed in a gold silk skirt from a Rajasthan market, giving a slightly awkward smile because you don’t know how to pose. . . It doesn’t actually matter, you know. You’re probably not a model being told to stand there. Most of us aren’t selling aspiration for a living. In fact, usually we’re just walking, travelling, breathing, feeling, and looking for a record of that moment in a photograph or a memory. That’s it. . . So feel bright. Feel happy. Feel awkward. Hell, feel distraught and cry and shout out about it from time to time. Just make sure you keep on feeling every speck of it. Feel alive. Live it.

A post shared by Flora The Explorer (@florabaker) on

Until very recently, I’ve felt alone and overwhelmed by all of this.

It seemed like I was expected to know how to handle it – and moreover, that I should automatically be strong enough and able enough to handle it, which of course made me feel worse.

But even a few minutes of confession on Instagram has been enough to reassure me that there are people who care. It’s amazing how supportive an online network of virtual strangers can be – but I guess we’re all people behind these screens, and we all understand what it’s like to go through pain and fear.

So what I really need to say is thank you.

If you’re reading this, you’re part of a community I didn’t really realise I had – and I feel so incredibly privileged to see the full importance of that.

This community, this support network,  is waiting in the wings for you. For all of us. It’s just a matter of asking for help.

Behind the Blog – The Community You've Never Met

NB: This article is part of a new series called ‘Behind The Blog’ — where I delve into all the bizarre elements of living out your life online. Keep an eye out for further articles on this topic!

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Behind the Blog: The Community You've Never Met

About Flora

Flora Baker is the founder and editor of Flora the Explorer, where she writes about her travels around the world, her volunteering exploits and her ongoing attempt to become fluent in Spanish by talking to anyone who'll listen. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.

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41 Responses to Behind the Blog: The Community You’ve Never Met

  1. thegirlwiththepinkbible July 20, 2017 at 12:31 pm #

    Bless your heart. 💖 My husband just recently went through this but 14 hours away from his father for 5 years. We will keep you in our prayers. You are brave and strong to take that step and major kuddos. And mostly you are not alone whatsoever. My husband and I best advice to you is: Just make sure everyday with your father is a good one. For him and yourself. Laugh atleast in one moment. Cry if you need to. But mostly smile and love him now while he is huggable and attainable. Much love sent your way! Bless you! 💖

    • Flora July 21, 2017 at 8:15 am #

      Thanks so much <3 Your advice is really great to bear in mind - particularly about daily laughter 🙂

  2. Toni July 20, 2017 at 12:56 pm #

    Beautiful woman – I am digitally wrapping my arms around you to say both, “I’m sorry for the situation” and “well done for being so brave to share your vulnerability”.
    There is so much wrong in this post for its topic; that you are losing your father and that you have felt so very alone but so much right in the sense that you have come to the realisation that however difficult it is, vulnerability can often forge the strongest of support networks and I really am so pleased to hear that you’ve allowed yourself to ask for help and to receive it.

    My community has forged some incredible relationships and friendships over the years that have carried me through some very dark times. Is it scary to be so publicly vulnerable? Absolutely! But what you almost always find is someone thanking you for having that courage when they haven’t necessarily been able to find it themselves. Pain, in whatever form it comes to us, can be extremely isolating but knowing that others are going through similar problems can in of itself, create the most heart-warming comfort blanket for our souls.

    Much love to you beautiful one. We really are sorry for the situation you find yourself in and, however intangible a link may be, we really are here for you.

    x

    • Flora July 21, 2017 at 10:20 am #

      Thanks so much Toni – I really do feel bolstered by this community (and I’m totally feeling the digital hug!). It’s such a strange truth that being at our most vulnerable in public has the ability to inspire support and solidarity — but I’m so grateful that it does <3

  3. gary cartzdafner July 20, 2017 at 1:11 pm #

    all you can do is the best you can do…
    you’ve got the online community as a 2nd family too
    gary

    • Flora July 21, 2017 at 8:16 am #

      Thanks so much Gary 🙂

  4. aterosin July 20, 2017 at 1:49 pm #

    Flora, anytime come spend some time in my garden to refresh yourself. You are a wonderful daughter and these moments with your Dad will be treasures you pull on in years to come. Enjoy and savor them and remember to take care of yourself too. Love in Oregon, Gerry

    • Flora July 21, 2017 at 8:17 am #

      Thanks so much for such a kind offer, Gerry 🙂

  5. frederick hayward July 20, 2017 at 5:40 pm #

    Dear Flora thank you for your blog well I care along life`s way I have lost loved ones it hurts deep when you need a loved one but they are not there for you to see and chat too.Also at times when you need a hug..You are now on my prayer list. I hope it helps you.Regards Frederick

    • Flora July 21, 2017 at 8:18 am #

      Thank you Frederick – I really appreciate it! 🙂

  6. Jen July 20, 2017 at 7:37 pm #

    Lovely lovely Flora. Sending you so much love and hugs, you’ve been through so much already this really isn’t fair! To me whenever I see you have always been such a shining bubble of positivity so I thank you for that, even if underneath you didn’t feel what you always seem to portray.

    Keep writing, keep talking and yes you do have sooo many people who care. Here for a drink, dinner, hug, chat, whatever if you need it and if you ever fancy an escape to the countryside I know a ‘soon to be finished’ lovely little flat on the edge of the Peak District 🙂 xxx

    • Flora July 21, 2017 at 8:19 am #

      Ohh that gorgeous little home is definitely calling my name at some point! Thanks so much lovely – it’s fantastic to hear I always appear to be positive. Going to need to keep on channelling that for a while yet! xx

  7. Dave O July 21, 2017 at 2:04 am #

    Flora, My wife passed away unexpectedly 6 years ago. If it hadn’t been for emails, texts and chats,..I would have lost it. I’m a regular church member but people have busy lives and a lot of times when I needed to talk, everybody was at work or on their way home. The electronic community kept my going, my hopes up, and my outlook bright. Don’t be afraid to ask, or talk to your electronic friends.

    Dave

    • Flora July 21, 2017 at 8:23 am #

      I think that’s exactly the concern I’ve found too, Dave – that each moment I’ve needed to really connect with someone and unload has been the most inopportune time! My friends have been utterly fantastic throughout this so far, but they all still have their own lives and I’d never want that to be sacrificed unduly. The online world is always here, however — hence my need to begin talking about this situation here 🙂

      I hope you’re doing ok at the moment, too <3

  8. Helene July 21, 2017 at 3:45 am #

    Hello Flora,
    I’m sending you a big virtual hug! Like many said before you have a virtual community to help you, even if it’s just listening ! As I’ve told you before, even though we have 25 odd years difference (& when I travelled the internet didn’t exist), I truly feel a kindred sapirit in you. Big hug!

    • Flora July 21, 2017 at 8:27 am #

      Listening is such a fantastic help though! Thanks so much for your hug across the virtual waves, Helene 🙂

  9. Katie July 21, 2017 at 12:01 pm #

    You are incredibly strong for being this vulnerable. I just found this community of your’s today, and I can already tell that you’ve got a lot of people looking out for you. I’m so sorry that your father is sick, and I hope that you can connect with individuals who understand. Otherwise I hope that you can find assistance and love from those who can only empathize.

    • Flora August 11, 2017 at 8:20 pm #

      Thanks so much Katie 🙂

  10. Rachel July 21, 2017 at 2:05 pm #

    Look after yourself Flora, you are so brave to share your story and feelings with everyone. It looks as if you have lots of support online and I hope it brings you some strength.

    • Flora August 11, 2017 at 8:41 pm #

      Thanks Rachel 🙂

  11. Ladies What Travel (@LadiesWTravel) July 21, 2017 at 6:38 pm #

    Ah Flora, so sorry to hear about your dad. It’s a tough road ahead, but as you now know you’ve got a (not so) invisible support network to provide love, encouragement and guidance whenever you need it. Sending a virtual hug and much love K xx

    • Flora August 11, 2017 at 8:42 pm #

      Thanks so much Keri 🙂

  12. ineslr July 22, 2017 at 12:24 pm #

    Dear Flora, I absolutely love your blog. Your narratives are inspirational, rich and honest and thi has been my favourite blog to read for a while now. I’m really sorry you’re going throught something so hard and I’m sending you much love.

    • Flora August 11, 2017 at 8:49 pm #

      That’s so lovely to hear – thank you for being so kind about my writing! I hope you keep enjoying my articles 🙂

  13. Abby Fitch July 23, 2017 at 4:51 am #

    Flora, I’m so sorry about your dad. I will keep him in my thoughts and send as much positive energy as I can his way (and yours, too!). I know that the online world gets a lot of press about the “haters” out there (and they are there, nobody can dispute that!), but I really and genuinely believe that there’s more of us out here trying to help each other – we’re just not as interesting to talk about. There’s an invisible army out here just waiting to help.

    Hugs, hugs, hugs.

    • Flora August 11, 2017 at 8:43 pm #

      Thanks Abby 🙂 I definitely think our invisible online community is much more caring than people first think!

  14. The Common Wanderer July 23, 2017 at 1:19 pm #

    Hi Flora,

    What a truly wonderful post. You so eloquently put into perspective the weird, and often wonderful online world were apart of.

    Despite all that’s bad with the world, the fact that your online community are so supportive really speaks volumes for who you are, and what you’ve created.

    We hope you’re able to share many more wonderful memories with your father, even if your time with him may be limited, and we’re sending you massive virtual hugs (and hopefully real life ones soon).

    Much love
    Mark + Mim

    • Flora August 11, 2017 at 8:45 pm #

      Thanks so much lovelies 🙂 There are definite hugs on the horizon!

  15. Golden Triangle July 26, 2017 at 10:26 am #

    Thanks for your exclusive experience. Really This is amazing truly article. Thank you so much for your experience.

    • Flora August 11, 2017 at 8:47 pm #

      Thanks for reading 🙂

  16. johnwreford July 30, 2017 at 11:42 am #

    Wonderfully inspiring words Flora, thank you

    • Flora August 11, 2017 at 8:52 pm #

      Thanks John 🙂

  17. myearlywork August 3, 2017 at 8:22 pm #

    Thank your this. Best wishes

  18. HUESOFDELAHAYE August 16, 2017 at 3:41 pm #

    This is such a lovely post about community, sorry to hear about your dad and I hope that he is on the mend. This really shows and goes against what people think, that being online your are (alone or lonely). But this shows that we are all humans and we need a supportive community arounds and that they’re are people that care. Also I’m from south east London and a new blogger and your post has re-affirmed what a wonderful community is online.

    • Flora August 25, 2017 at 1:12 pm #

      Thanks so much for your well wishes 🙂 Unfortunately he won’t be getting better but I really appreciate the positive thoughts regardless – and you’re right, regardless of being online or off we’re all humans who need each other!

  19. giusipezzotta August 16, 2017 at 6:44 pm #

    Hi Flora, I am the girl (well… for as flattering as it is…let’s say woman) who whispered at the yoga class. I have lost my dad in my 20’s and it was the most profound (in the good and bad) experience in my life. My only regret was, and still is, not being more open about it at the time (especially with him). I closed up and grief took a toll on me. An unnecessary one. I admire your courage and love your writing.
    On a different note…if you are in London in the next couple of weeks and fancy having some magic needles (yes I do realise it sounds dodgy but I am an acupuncturist), well they are on me! Take care!

    • Flora August 25, 2017 at 1:16 pm #

      Ahhh how amazing that you’re the girl/woman from yoga!! I’m so sorry about your dad, and the resulting emotional toll, but it does sound like you’ve come more to terms with it (which is always good) 🙂

      Also I’d LOVE some acupuncture – what a fantastic suggestion! I’ll drop you an email on the address you used for this comment 🙂 Thanks so so much!!

  20. BB November 3, 2017 at 9:30 am #

    Well at least you realised you need to ask for help. . . I did the complete opposite. I just closed up when my dad passed away. I thought I needed to be strong and I did not want people to feel sorry for me , so I took the worst decision ever by trying to get over it by myself. Nevertheless, even bad decisions can be fixed, you just need more time and endurance I guess.. So here I am in a small coast village trying to find out who I am .. 😛
    As said before keep strong, as you see you are way ahead to some of us and you are doing things right. As you said you are not alone 🙂
    Un abrazo guapa!

    • florabaker November 7, 2017 at 3:17 pm #

      Gracias chica 🙂 I hope you’re doing better now xx

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