Dear Madame Ms. Meniscus,

All the time people advise me to join online support groups. I've joined three online support groups for my rheumatoid arthritis over the past years but in each group things always fall apart when a small group takes over and becomes the "in" group and controls the conversation. My sister says it must be me and not them and to give another support group a chance. Maybe I will but what healthy people like my sister don't understand is that just because people are sick it doesn't make them nice. Why do healthy people think sick people are nice?


Dear Bridgette,

Madame hopes you've got your spy glasses on as we've got a thicket of issues to untangle, Bridget-Double-O-Seven!  

Right off the bat Madame is wondering who and why people are advising you to join support groups. Let us take the high road and assume the best of their intentions: they believe that companionship and camaraderie will do you good. That goes for all of us, doesn't it? And since a little company never did anyone too much harm, is there any reason why you can't join a group which meets in the flesh? Goodness knows that for persons living in remote areas or for whom travel is a challenge, an online support group can be a blessing. Yet Madame is under no illusion that a support group (online or in person) comes with a guarantee of good behavior of its members. Why your sister does not understand this is a mystery to Madame. Has sister never experienced a rude incident online? Well Bridgette dear, at the moment we can't change her opinion, but we can agree that neither illness nor cyberspace precludes people from behaving with good manners and dignity. Of course, there are extreme cases whereby the person at hand is not capable of behaving as they normally would. We are not talking here of dire cases.

It sounds as if most, if not all, of your support group experience has been with online groups, and from the sound of things, will continue as such. Your description of a small group taking over and controlling the conversation is something that cyberspace renders with ease.  There seems to be something about cyberspace that emboldens certain individuals to behave aggressively, however, as we've witnessed in social settings, there's no dearth of people who take over conversations, or gobble up more than their share of attention. Naturally, in a physical setting, certain unpleasant behaviors can be potentially curtailed with an icy stare or with a polite interruption. 

 As with any group, in real or cyberspace, there must be rules of etiquette or the group cannot function in a manner which supports all its members. And what about the other members of your group? There must be some who felt similarly sidelined. Perhaps those enthusiastic-talking members did not realize that they were flagrantly ignoring the rest of the group. 

So here are a few suggestions. Before you join the next group, inquire politely about their system of participation. Ask about the topics of discussion. Do they entertain other subjects or is the group focused on RA issues exclusively?  Are all members given the chance to participate? Are some content to simply to follow the conversation?  If, after you join a new group, and you find you cannot think of a thing to say, perhaps you can ask a question or two.  That would help you to enter the conversation and feel less isolated. Secondly, if you notice certain members are quiet, try to bring them into the conversation as well. Your consideration toward a silent group member may just be the overture they needed. 

Lastly, we haven't answered your question of why healthy people think sick people are nice?

That's a broad and difficult question and only the most general response can be given. Perhaps the healthy people you speak of perform a dozen kindnesses for the ill, from running errands, offering driving services,  preparing or delivering food, and so on, and for their efforts they are thanked and appreciated.