It wasn’t all that long ago that the internet wasn’t even a thing. Most of us can remember getting our first computers (and the excitement of those first chat rooms), and many can even recall the days when MySpace was the place to be.
Now, Facebook is the reigning king of social media, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t loyal followers congregating happily at Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, and the many other meeting places online. These social media options give people a way to connect, both with friends and family and with virtual strangers who they may have a lot in common with.
I was first diagnosed with stage IV endometriosis in 2009. I was told at the age of 26 that I was infertile and would need to pursue IVF if I ever hoped to have a family. At the time, I didn’t know anyone in my real life who could even kind of relate to what I was going through. The internet turned out to be a savior for me, connecting me to women who could relate and provide support that my friends and family didn’t know how to give.
So I am the first to recognize the value in sharing online, particularly when it comes to health struggles that might be a bit taboo to discuss with those who haven’t been in your shoes.
That being said, there are some topics we should all be able to agree are better kept offline. Here’s my list of information that borders on T.M.I. (too much information), that’s probably best not to share with the world.
1. Rated G for graphic
After five major abdominal surgeries, I have some really graphic pictures of my insides. I find them fascinating, but most of my friends and family probably wouldn’t agree. If there’s blood and guts, don’t share it. The same goes for overly graphic birth photos. You might find them beautiful, but your Uncle Harry may be a bit more squeamish.
2. Let’s (not) talk about poop
As the mom of a 3-year-old, I know all too well how all-consuming the topic of poop can be in the early potty training years. I also know that most people don’t care to hear about how big my daughter’s poop was this morning, or where she hid it when we were still transitioning out of diapers. You might find the poop stories hilarious (I think it’s a mom thing), but not all your friends and family would agree. To that same end, no one needs to know if you got hit with the big “D” yourself after the stomach bug swept through your home! Some things are best kept private.
3. Why didn’t you say so?
Not too long ago, Timehop reminded me of a post I shared after landing in the hospital for a burst ovarian cyst six years ago. It was a picture of an IV in my arm (breaking rule #1) along with the words, “No big deal, just spending the night in the hospital. Again.” There were loads of, “Oh no, what’s wrong?!?” and comments that followed, none of which I felt the need to respond to until the next day.
This is now commonly referred to as “vaguebooking,” and most people find it annoying. Posting something with shock value can alarm people (sometimes unnecessarily) and even come off as a cry for attention. Yes, I’m calling that 27-year-old version of myself out. Essentially, it serves no purpose beyond inviting even the most basic of acquaintances on your “friends” list into your medical drama.
4. Period details
This is another one I’ve probably been guilty of in the past, particularly because I used to write a blog about dealing with endometriosis (a condition that causes excruciating periods). But in general, most people don’t want (or need) to know it’s that time of the month for you. If you need to lament, text a friend instead of posting about it online.
5. Can you diagnose me?
Having been on the receiving end of the support and answers that can be found online when dealing with a medical concern, I know firsthand how valuable the experiences of others can be. But I’ve also seen calls for diagnosis go very, very wrong. I understand the drive: When doctors are dismissive of your symptoms, or when you can’t really afford to see one, it’s tempting to turn to the internet for help.
Unfortunately, listing off your symptoms and asking strangers to diagnose you online not only puts you at risk of oversharing, it also puts you at risk of receiving, and taking, potentially dangerous advice. If your doctor isn’t listening to you, find one who will. And if you can’t afford medical treatment, seek out a clinic or practicing physician who is willing to work with you.
Bottom line: Don’t rely on novices online to do the diagnosing. They aren’t psychics, and without a medical degree and the ability to actually examine you, they can’t provide anything more than guesses.
6. Labor updates
People tend to have vastly different views on the sharing of pregnancy and labor information, from those who won’t post a thing until weeks after their baby is safely in their arms, to those who live-stream their delivery for all to see.
This is a tricky one. It’s perfectly normal to want to share your joy. That said, intimate details on how far dilated you are may not suit everyone, and because complications can sometimes arise, it may be best to follow a “less is more” approach. If you want to share that the baby is coming and all is looking good, go for it! But keep the play-by-play reserved for those close enough to already be at the hospital with you.
7. Anyone else’s medical information
There’s never (not ever) an excuse to post anyone else’s medical details online. I’ve personally seen excited grandmas break rule #3 when it comes to their own daughters giving birth, and ignoring the fact that those same daughters had been intentionally quiet about sharing pregnancy details online.
I’ve also witnessed people sharing detailed information about a friend or family member’s medical crisis in posts asking for prayers. It’s fair to share small updates (like that same excited grandma simply letting her friends and family know her first grandchild is on the way). However, the details are not only unnecessary, they could also be considered embarrassing or intrusive to the person you’re posting about. If it’s not explicitly about you, tread very carefully in terms of what you share.
So, what can you post online when it comes to health and medical information? First, it depends on where you’re posting. If you’re just wanting to provide a quick update because you know your friends and family list will care, go for it. But always ask yourself if what you’re sharing is something every single person on your “friends” list really needs to know.
If not, here are a few alternative ideas.
Personal blogs: Blogs can be a powerful way to connect with others dealing with your same medical issues, without overloading all friends, acquaintances, and colleagues who connect with you on Facebook. If you find yourself wanting to share medical information frequently, a blog may be the way to go.
Email or group text update: If you want to inform a group of family and friends about a medical or health update, consider emailing or texting your inner circle group instead of posting a Facebook update.