For those of us in chronic pain, it’s especially challenging to move to a new place and make friends. Doing so requires going through the process of educating people about chronic pain and figuring out how to work friendship around the condition.
Often, we may endure disappointment, hurt, and loneliness in the process; because while some people are fun and great conversationalists, they simply may not have the compassion or depth to cope with someone’s disability.
Even if someone is da bomb (or for you old timey folks, the cat’s meow), there still may be a steep learning curve involved in the relationship, which can be frustrating for both parties. I recently had a series of hurtful interactions with a new friend here — someone whom I totally adore.
I took the risk of writing him this letter below. I was scared to send it, because I had no idea how he would react. I’m pleased to say that he responded very thoughtfully and immediately changed his behavior, which only served to strengthen our friendship.
There are still some kinks to work out – having to do with my own fear and trust issues, based on a decade plus of shaming – but I’m happy that this friend walked through the fire with me, as it were, and came out with me on the other side.
As you know, I think you are totally groovy, and I enjoy spending time with you. I also know that you respect and care about me in turn. For these reasons, it is not only hurtful, but also confusing, that you continue to make snarky comments that shame me for being disabled.
It is especially disconcerting, considering that I already have, in response, directed you to my blog (in case you just didn’t “get” my condition) and straight-out told you that I needed you to show more sensitivity.
I question what motivates you to ridicule me. Would you behave the same way if you could see my disability — if I were in a wheelchair, for example?
All day, every day, I am faced with the never-ending choice to succumb to pain and limitations or to transcend them. I choose the latter. This choice requires a radical commitment to self — a steadfast alignment with the forces of positivity, light, healing energy, and love.
For this reason, I simply cannot be around energies that threaten to undermine this delicate balance. Being around a negative vibe is akin to walking on a tightrope with no net underneath, while someone shakes the rope back and forth.
I may look totally normal. I may even seem stronger, happier, and more energetic than the average person. That perception is simply a testimony to how hard I work on myself. I am managing untold minutiae 24/7 — mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, energetic.
The closer someone comes into my personal space, the more it will become apparent where I nonetheless struggle with limitations. For this reason, the people I let in must be those who have compassion for those struggles, who applaud my accomplishments, and who cheer me on as I climb the next mountain before me.
If you think it’s a pain in the ass to be around me when I’m walking slow, running back to the car 50 times [to get another health-related item], or asking for help, take a moment to think about what it’s like to be the one who has to do those things every day. I have learned to take it all in stride. But it drags me back into a dark space when you make pissy comments about it.
Or take your repeated “grandma” comment. Stop and think for a moment what it must be like to spend a decade as a young woman who does in fact have many of the same limitations as an 80 year old. Consider what it might be like to go from being an athlete to being someone who struggles to crawl out of bed each morning. How do you think it feels to have someone shoving that in my face, on top of having to deal with the reality on a daily basis?
I don’t want to be in a position where I have to put distance between us, so as to protect myself. I want our friendship to keep growing, because as I said, I really like you. For that to happen, I need you to do some self-reflecting, to be conscious of how your actions have been impacting me, and to approach me with sensitivity. I welcome a call from you, to talk about this more in person.
Meanwhile, I ask that you read a few of my blog posts that speak directly to this issue — to help you understand where I’m coming from. I have included just five, to keep it short & simple. If you’re interested, I would be happy to share a few more relevant posts and/or to direct you to some first-person books on what it’s like for a young person to navigate through the world with chronic pain and disability.