I think that in the case of chronic illnesses, especially RA, informal mentoring may seem like there are lower stakes involved, when in fact, I think these types of interactions can be more meaningful than ones that only exist for the purpose of mentoring. What I mean is, you can read a blog post or not, comment or not. You have the ability to decide when you want to participate, rather than feeling obligated that you have to attend a weekly meeting or some other more scheduled event.
This is to say that the efforts that take place online shouldn’t be downplayed just because they aren’t what we might think of officially as mentoring. These interactions can be transforming, as I feel they have been for me. My online community has gotten me through some of the more difficult experiences I’ve had with my illnesses.
In terms of chronic illness, the major place that I see mentorship lacking is within the realm of higher education. Given the competitive environment, neither students nor faculty are open about their illnesses. This creates a culture of fear around disclosing such information, but it also creates a sense of isolation and aloneness. This is something that I hope to address more in the future.
For now, I rely on the people outside of academia, those that I met online, who can share their experiences with me, and I with them.
So whether we call it mentoring or not, the communities that we have created online provide us with access to others like us. We can share our experiences and offer advice to one another. And even though it’s not required, there tends to be an ethic of payin