What is digital self-harm?

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Last year I was looking for medical advice online, which most medical professionals would deem a bad idea, but is common practice within rare disease and “invisible” illness communities. When a new symptom appears out of the blue, people turn to forums, Instagram pages, and internet communities to avoid a trip to accident and emergency for the third time that month. It is a risk chronically ill people often take to put off medical intervention out of fear of acquiring further medical trauma. For me at least, crowdsourcing for advice often yields better results than the doctors who believe I am wasting their time. 

What started as seeking help from others who had experienced debilitating pain and worrying symptoms, led me into a dark pattern of late-night meltdowns after hours of online scrolling, I now know that repeated desire to make myself feel awful was a form of self-harm — just digitally. 

As I trawled the internet in search of others who were experiencing periodic numbness of their hands and leg, I fell into Reddit. The forum plays host to thousands of micro-communities talking about everything from electric bikes to raising picky eaters, as well as large gatherings of people supporting each other through chronic illness and disability. This time, however, I didn’t find myself in communion with other sick people, instead, I was exposed to R/illnessfakers, a place with hundreds of people who have made it their job to prove that sick people, just like me, are always lying.   


https://helios-i.mashable.com/imagery/articles/00qf3MOgUphcIMpIC23Vad7/hero-image.fill.size_1248x702.v1679494758.jpgCredit: Getty Images / Oscar Wong



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