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How Having a Disability Can Make Friendships Stronger

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Friendships are integral parts of life; they’re relationships between special people who understand each other and stick by each other’s side. It is important for our development and mental health to have people in our lives who care for us and love us, and friends can provide both those things. Every person is unique, of course, and that quality we all possess makes the world go ‘round. But friendships are also unique in their own way; there are no two friendships that are exactly the same, and that is special.

For some disabled people, it can be difficult to find true friends, simply because there are some people out there who won’t take the time to get to know them. Able-bodied people, especially teens, are often afraid to make friends with disabled people for many reasons — they might not want to be seen with them, help them, or take the time to appreciate them as a person who is no different than anybody else. And that is wrong.

I am lucky to have never experienced this cruelty, but I know it happens, and it shouldn’t. I have a group of wonderful, supportive friends who have taken the time to understand me and my disability, and I appreciate it so, so much. My friends are there for me when I need help no matter what the situation, and I can count on them for almost anything.

When I met Jen in 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland when we both were at Johns Hopkins Hospital for doctors appointments, I knew we would have a special friendship. With most of my friendships, it takes time to really understand each other and become close. But Jen and I? We were close within four hours of knowing each other — and here’s why.

Jen and I both have transverse myelitis, a rare, neuroimmune disorder that damages the spinal cord, and it affects us in similar ways. While TM wasn’t a major topic of discussion when we first met, as we were only 10 and 14, it has brought us together. There are times where we need to rant about how annoying our body is being or whatever, and we’re both there for each other. I can rant about my disability to my friends at school all I want, and I know they’ll listen and do their best to understand, but they don’t truly get it like Jen does, because they don’t have TM. Jen and I can make silly disability jokes and laugh about our terribly working bodies without there being an awkward silence or chuckle, as if the able-bodied people don’t want to “offend” us.

When I get to visit Jen in person, I’m always there to glare at anyone who knows better than to stare at a person in a wheelchair, and I do it proudly. (Because, really. Little kids are fine, but teenagers and adults? My glare surely scares them away.) Jen and I complain about medical tests and odd questions we receive, and our lacking independence and everything in between.

Of course, there are times where we simply laugh together and have a great time as any “normal” friends do, and it’s wonderful. Our age difference makes us more like sisters than just friends, and I find myself going to Jen for advice more often than not, and her guiding me through stages of life she’s already completed. Like I’ve said, all friendships are unique, but especially mine and Jen’s; our disabilities didn’t hinder our friendship, but instead strengthened it. I mean, really, what friend would help you take a shower when your mom isn’t around?

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Photo by Danielle in Chicago for Flytographer.

Originally published: July 12, 2017
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