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8 Things I Learned From Being Ill and Having an Able-Bodied Best Friend

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I believe often times in the disability community we cherish our friendships with those who have like — bodies and who understand our struggle, but fail to recognize the beauty in our relationships with those who are able bodied.

My freshman year in college I met a girl named Kayla who would become my best friend. She was thin, tall, had an exuberant amount of energy, enjoyed being active, and danced gracefully through life. Basically, everything that I was not. I was awkward, afraid (chronically ill and living on my own for the first time = a nightmare) baby-faced and exhausted. But we clicked. We quickly became “those two.” The friendship combination between able-bodied and not-so-much taught me a lot of things I never expected. Here’s eight lessons learned by having an able-bodied best friend.

1. You are going to be asked a lot of questions. 

When any person is getting to know another person, they ask them a lot of questions. They ask them about their family, their hobbies, favorite foods, and whether they’re a dog person or a cat person. In a growing friendship, they will need to ask you about your disability. Help them understand and let them know that they’re allowed to ask the uncomfortable questions like “Is there ever a chance you might get better?” or “How does your body feel on a bad day?”

2. There will be a weird stage. 

There will be a time when your friend has yet to learn what your limits are and what you can do with ease. There may be a time when you two need to get to the second floor and there will be an awkward moment of your friend trying to determine if they should head to the stairs or the elevator. There might even be a period where your friend looks to you anytime the pair of you are invited somewhere. They aren’t sure if you can ride roller coasters, or walk around downtown for an hour, or drink a glass of wine. Eventually, they will know by the expression on your face and the tone of your voice if it’s a good day or a bad day and what exactly you can and cannot do. And if they are a true friend, they will be content with whatever that may be.

3. It is OK to be seen on a bad day. 

For a while you may attempt to avoid your friends on your bad and horrible health days. You might tell them you would love to go out for sushi, but you aren’t feeling great. But you wish them well and tell them to enjoy themselves. Eventually you will get the text saying “We can just order in and watch movies!” Do not run away from this offer. You will often find that bad days are far less horrible when accompanied by a friend.

4. Body jealousy is totally a thing. 

But remember, it’s not your fault that your body is broken and it’s also not their fault that their body is not.

5. A friend fights for you. 

There were often times when my best friend would be pitied for being my best friend. I personally loved the “You are so kind for being her friend. The world needs more people like you” comment. But my friend did not dare say, “Oh yes, I’m such a good person. Feel sorry for me.” That is not friendship. Your friend may be a superhero, but you are not a charity case. A true friend speaks of your value and your humanity. They talk about you like they would any one of their friends, with integrity.

6. Do not discredit their temporary illness or injury. 

Having a chronic illness, something is always hurting and something is always wrong. It is important not to forget that this is not the normal for your average person. When they’re sick or hurting they will likely be anxious and not know how to be an upright human being while being uncomfortable. Learn to empathize and comfort even when you don’t believe it compares to your average day.

7. Learn to make fun of yourself. 

Admit it, pretty much everyone with a chronic illness, disability, or any medical condition has probably made fun of their health at some point. It’s what we do, it’s how we get through it. If you are comfortable with it, let your friend know that it’s all right for them to laugh at the jokes or even make a joke themselves. It’s not natural to make a joke of that nature (unless your friend is a pretty terrible person) but it can release a lot of unnecessary tension and create much needed laughter.

8. Ask for help.

They’re your friend, after all. Do not feel like a burden. If anything, it’s likely that they have wanted to help. But they’re not sure how to help. Friends without any medical condition help each other out, so this isn’t really different. It’s just a different kind of help. So go ahead, ask them to open that pill bottle, ask for their hand for stability, or whatever you need. A friend is a friend, and your disability does not denote you from being allowed to need a helping hand.

Originally published: September 16, 2016
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