Have you ever been to a meet-up? Well, the other night we hosted one to celebrate and honor caregivers during National Family Caregivers Month. We wanted to give those who had been active on our Caregivers Speak Up website and Facebook page an opportunity to share their experiences face-to-face. But we also wanted to see how the social world we helped create would converge with the real world, and what difference it might make to caregivers.
You’re probably familiar with Meetup.com, which aggregates people with common interests to meet up in person. It’s a live experiment, and I imagine the meet-up experience differs greatly based on the common interest, whether it’s hiking, cooking, or caregiving. When it’s a hobby-like interest, the experience has a very positive bonding effect. You make friends, compatriots. But what happens when you’re gathering people who are going through some really challenging times?
Bonding over common hardships
At our caregivers meet-up, it was amazing to see how much people opened up and gave of their heart on behalf of each other and their caregiving experiences. This meet-up clearly filled a need, as it gave caregivers a “safe” forum to speak up about their daily challenges. We can’t underestimate the value of hearing from one’s peers who have gone through similar experiences.
Sharing caregiving experiences in person makes the whole caregiving experience more real. In a forum or on Facebook, you can conveniently share your story via some form of post and then receive real-time feedback from other folks in that same channel.
But in person, things get real. Looking someone in the eye, sharing tears, triumphs, and receiving true support can leave one feeling empowered to take on the next challenge. It’s human, it’s visceral, and it’s powerful—and its impact is not to be ignored. It can help drive new behaviors, because when you’re with other folks discussing challenging situations, there’s power in sharing and feeling like you’re not alone in your struggle.
The power of converging real-world events with social platforms
At our first Caregivers Speak Up meet-up, we learned that while social is powerful, sometimes there’s just no substitute for the catharsis of sharing hopes and fears face to face with someone who understands. Social platforms provide a more accessible type of bonding that caregivers can engage in as their busy schedule allows. Providing the option to connect in both the social world and the real world gives caregivers and communicators the best of both worlds.