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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Twitch Support Groups Are an Unlikely Source of Solace

During her Twitch show Church of the Infinite You, rapper Jean Grae delivers sermons that could uplift pretty much anyone, regardless of their religious or spiritual beliefs. “If I can remind someone to keep pursuing a dream, to get toxic people out of their life, or to embrace who they are, I’m happy,” Grae explains.

Oliver Blank, an artist in Oakland, California, discovered Grae’s show during quarantine. “I was isolated in my apartment and I wanted to find an intentional, hopeful community,” Blank says. The show helped ease Blank’s loneliness and also illuminated how online spaces like YouTube Live, IGTV, and Twitch can be more than virtual distractions—they can be sources of legitimate human connection.

From crumbling relationships and job loss to death, illness, and increased overall stress, the pandemic has triggered what feels like an avalanche of suffering. “We’re all facing loss,” says Abigail Levinson Marks, a psychologist in San Francisco who specializes in grief. Covid-19 hasn’t just taken the lives of nearly 1 million people worldwide; it’s also resulted in missed career opportunities and derailed our sense of security. Left unaddressed, grief can morph into depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder, which makes finding a supportive community essential for our well-being.

Support groups, therapy groups, and wellness retreats are ways to connect with those who share similar struggles. But in the current absence of in-person outlets, people are increasingly looking for support online, says Claire Bidwell Smith, a grief expert and author of Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief.


For Blank, the pandemic altered his career plans, but it also opened a new opportunity. Earlier this year, he planned to turn his art project The One Who Got Away into a museum exhibit. His project, which was featured in 2014 on the PBS show The Art Assignment and later became a podcast, invites people to answer the question “What would you say to the one who got away?”

Due to museum closures, Blank’s exhibit was sidelined. But his recent interest in Twitch led him to transform The One Who Got Away into a live call-in show on the streaming site. “We all have a missed connection, lost love, or a lost opportunity that got away from us. The show is a space where we can reflect on these feelings and set aside time to grieve,” he explains, noting that people who call into the show can share anything they’d like to say to their “one who got away.” Since 2014, Blank has received thousands of messages from callers around the world, and he plays those older messages too.

In one message, a caller laments, “Regrets are scars we carry forever. My scar is a reminder to do better next time.” Another person shared, “Friendship is not an easy thing. I’m sorry for disregarding you.” Afterward, Blank mentions that most of us have probably experienced this feeling of regret. He says, “Take a step and reach out. It’s OK if you missed your chance. The trick is learning how to carry your truth.”

If you’re searching for an online community, Blank says the first step is to decide what type of support you need. Often, people long to meet others who are going through a similar experience, such as a break-up, a mental health struggle like depression, or the death of a loved one. Others may need a safe space to discuss dysfunctional family relationships or issues related to race, gender, or sexuality.

If you’d like to find Twitch shows similar to Church of the Infinite You and The One Who Got Away, tap on the Discover icon and search under categories like Talk Shows and Podcasts or Just Chatting. You can also find support on YouTube live, Instagram, and pretty much any social media outlet. For instance, on IG, The Sad Girls Club provides people of color a safe space to candidly discuss mental health concerns. Inspiring mantras, such as “Nothing ever leaves us until it teaches us what we need to know,” as well as journal prompts like “I need to forgive myself for …” are shared.

Whatever type of support you’re looking for, it’s crucial to feel safe. “The downside of online grieving is when someone feels judged or criticized for their grief process,” she says. While public displays of mourning can thread communities together, they also present an opportunity for “grief shaming,” which is harmful.

Finally, if you can’t find the right group, consider starting your own. To start streaming on Twitch, you’ll need a webcam, your computer, and some free software. For IG Live, you’ll need a microphone and a selfie stick or tripod to hold your phone. If you’re looking for something simpler, Zoom may be a good choice.

Once you choose a platform, decide what purpose the group serves. Perhaps you want to discuss pandemic-induced anxiety or use a shared activity, such as painting or drawing, to invoke healing. Unless you’re a licensed therapist, be sure to mention that you’re offering a peer support group and spell out the ground rules for attendees, such as maintaining confidentiality, responding to group members with kindness, and refraining from shaming and judging others.

During quarantine, music lover Damon Ferrara missed seeing his favorite bands perform and spending time with family and friends. As a solution, he started The Listening Club, an online community held via Zoom. “During each meeting, we listen to songs such as “Death by a Thousand Cuts,” by Taylor Swift, and “Life is Sweet,” by Natalie Merchant, says Ferrara.

The songs’ lyrics prompt vulnerability in a “very easy way,” says Ferrara. Themes of self-love, authenticity, and forgiveness have emerged, he says. His group is open to any music lover looking for meaningful conversations and new friends.

“One of grief’s biggest hurdles is feeling like no one understands our pain,” says Levinson Marks, and this can keep us stuck. A big part of grief work is getting past this feeling. “When another person says, ‘I feel that way too,’ it helps us realize we’re not alone.”

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