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Yesterday, I posted about the daughter of an online friend. It might not make sense to some people, but my online message boards have offered me and many others some of the best support imaginable. This may sound silly or crazy to some, especially some of my older readers, but for people of my age and younger, this may not be so crazy after all.

I joined several of these boards around the time when I was planning my wedding (so, um, 10 years ago. Wow!). At that point, the conversations were actually mainly around wedding planning, but that didn’t stay true for long. Once we were old married biddies, conversations naturally expanded. When we moved to Colorado, I used their collective genius to help me source restaurants, good neighborhoods, and basically all the things you need when you move to a new place. I also read their posts on children long before I had one of my own, and their views and experiences gave me experience far beyond what I could have gathered on my own.

As tends to happen, Life happened to many people in my groups. Through it all, divorce, serious illness, infertility, loss of jobs, and even loss of babies and children, we were there for each other. Sometimes it might have just been encouraging messages. Other times, it was real, tangible support in the form of financial support, or even coffee dates. Over the years, the real support that was given and received through these “virtual” communities has been astounding.

I saw it in action last year when our dear friend’s little girl passed. People came from all over the country to her memorial, many of whom had never met her mother IRL (in real life) before, but who likely knew her better than many real-life acquaintances.

I’ve felt it in action myself. One of my groups raised money that has been used to buy our deep freezer (allowing us to preserve our organic veggies from the garden, saving us money now!), a housecleaner several times (hallelujah!), and a “baby” carrier for my not-so-little baby, so we can now go on hikes (or will do so again when the weather and my health allow). Not to mention the swell of joy and love I feel every time I let them know about a big scan and I can see all of the people out there rooting for me. It literally got to the point where one board’s “TPJ” (thoughts, prayers and juju) became my superstition: every time I asked for TPJ, I got good results, and the few times I didn’t, I got mixed or bad news.

I’ve also found some support from online boards for melanoma fighters. Why try to reinvent the wheel when I can ask questions and crowdsource some of the most knowledgeable non-doctors out there (never using their advice over a doctor’s, of course). I haven’t formed the same kinds of bonds with these people yet, but it’s still nice to know that there are other s out there who understand what I’m going through, even better than any doctor could.

Online forums provide a place of semi-anonymity where it can feel safer to vent about people and situations than real life. (Of course, this is not necessarily true, if you are new to forums, especially if they are open and anyone can read them!). For those who have never experienced this, this might make no sense whatsoever, but know that this is real and that these friendships are real and sustaining in their own special way.