Back in college I felt like one of the cool kids. I had a huge group of friends and there was never a shortage of things to do or people to hang out with. Fast forward to now and this wheelchair seems to act as some type of friend repellent. I was an adult now and making friends is hard enough. Add in the wheelchair..and it makes it damn near impossible.
We all know that making grown up friends isn’t easy, but I can think of a lot of missed opportunities because of my disability. If I were able bodied I would have been in stroller fitness groups, out there on the floor for mommy and me gymnastics classes, or joining different groups and clubs for families that get together for activities.
We have to find friends that are accepting of our full disability. They have to not be weirded out that you have things like a catheter bag or an ostomy bag. They have to be ok with potentially needing to help you while viewing you like they would any other friend. But, they have to not CONSTANTLY offer help or pity you in any way. They have to be ok with the process of making sure that wherever you are going out to, it is fully accessible. For some, they have to be ok with coming to you more than you going to them. Annnnnd that’s pretty hard to find.
I think independence plays a huge role as many people do not have access to an accessible vehicle. And it’s difficult because we can’t always independently get into a friends house. Society’s judgement of what people consider “normal“ plays a factor as well. With some disabilities, speech could be affected, the look of someone can be affected… I think people just steer clear of what they do not understand. In many cases, disabilities just make people uncomfortable. This is some thing I strive to combat on my social media.
There’s the time I was the only mom left on the playground after school while everyone decided to do a play date at someone’s house instead. They picked up there things as it started to rain and everyone was invited except me. Then there’s the time our family went to the pool for kaylees swim lesson only to find who I considered my neighborhood crew to be having a pool party without inviting us. Then there’s couples Chris and I were close to that just stopped reaching out to us.
Another weird friend loss story.. We met a guy friend and along with Chris, we were SUPER close. We were both really there for him in more ways than one. Then one day he told a mutual friend I was never there for anyone. We did so much to be there for him And he did a lot for us too. I thought no way in hell our trio would break apart. Then new neighbors moved in and I was out. I am so social, love going out and it was just sad to see pictures all over Facebook of these people getting together when I live just a couple of houses away.
I often find myself being the only one reaching out to hang which makes me feel like a clingy weirdo. You want to bring it up and you want to talk about it, but bringing it up will just make it awkward. I mean saying…why aren’t you texting me? Why aren’t you wanting to hang out? Why are you always too busy?”…doesn’t exactly make people want to hang but, in fact, it pushes them away more.
There is just this barrier that seems to be there that keeps me from being part of a regular group. Some of my best friends have gotten annoyed making accommodations; friends I’ve known for over a decade. So while it’s true many people are put off by the wheelchair, sometimes I think the barrier is my head. It might be experiences I’ve had with my old friends that makes me pull back or not be as outgoing. I can’t always put my finger on it. Why is it that I can get close to somebody, make a friend, but then it fizzles?
I’m just not always seen as an equal and I don’t even think it’s intentional. I went to a thirtysomething meet up one time with Chris and this girl came up to me and put her hands on her knees to crouch down. And in her super squeaky kindergarten voice she said “hello! What is yourerrr name?“ I’m thinking “girl… I’m 30. Not 3.” I need to be a little bit more savage and just give people the kindergarten voice back so they can hear how dumb it sounds LOL. And I kid you not y’all… I have literally been pat on the head before.
I just want my readers who may be struggling socially, to know that I get it. I feel like people look at my me on Social media, see the follower count and assume I’m “popular”. There’s plenty of wheelchair users on social media that I envy who seem to have the perfect looks, a huge girl gang and not a care in the world. I wish that was me but it’s just not.
I have been burned so many times by people I thought would never burn me. I’m Kind of like a chick that got cheated on by every dude she’s ever been with and now has trust issues. But, it’s whatever the friend equivalency of that is
I asked a bunch of my followers to talk to me about their experience with friends. There were actually a lot of wheelchair users that said they had no issues making friends and they did not lose any after their accident. I think the more independence you have, the more likely you are to make friends and keep them. Others shared their comments with me on how difficult it is
I am grateful for the few people that are still there. I’m grateful to have found my friend Ali (check out her blog!) who is also a quadriplegic. The logistics of us hanging out are not always easy but when we get together we have a blast. Same with my girl London! Finding “wheel” friends is my best advice
I definitely suggest starting a group. If you’re able to, find meet ups that center around a hobby you love. I started a local mommy meet up and it almost has 1000 members now. If you’re able to physically get out there then do it! I don’t really have a hard time meeting people but I just have a hard time making very close friends. For this reason, I have a very hard time trusting that someone will stick around. But I’m a social person and I just have to at least get out and hang
I have to point out that, over the past couple of months, I have met some really cool people that are actually really accepting. I also still text with some of my mom friends that are unable to hang because of Covid.
This blog would not be complete if I didn’t give a shout-out to my very best friends and biggest support system. My mom, dad, Chris and Kaylee. Without them I wouldn’t be here and I’m forever grateful for them.
As someone with a disability, what have your friendships been like? What barriers have you had?
Disclaimer: I know y’all want to hear about my bridesmaids; particularly the girl who caused my accident. That is a blog for a whooooole other day. It’s really painful to talk about but I promise I’ll get the nerve to do it soon!