I’ve always been an introvert at heart. I don’t dislike people, it’s the opposite in fact. But when I spend a lot of time around people, by the end, I’m all peopled-out and need some quiet time to be with myself and my thoughts. My brain gets time to relax, no longer needing to be prepared for small talk or matching names with faces. Despite this, I am like every other human, I crave companionship. I don’t need to be with others constantly, that’s hard to do anyways, but if I go awhile without seeing anyone, I get lonely too. Humans are social animals after all. We rely on one another, we learn from each other, we make connections, we need each other to survive.
When I got sick, the nature of my friendships changed significantly. The things I used to be able to do with my friends, I no longer could. I spent most of my time in my bed, doing the best I could to keep up with school and my other commitments while resting in between. I no longer was able to go to parties, eating really wasn’t my forte at that time so going out to get food was off the table, I walked slower than a herd of turtles, and I spent most of my time sleeping anyways. I was (and am) living with a huge lack of energy which really limited the time I had to spend with friends.
My friends at school were amazing at adapting to this new life with me while I was at university. They deserve so much recognition because I don’t think I would’ve made it through the year without them. These guys did so much for me: from just being a shoulder to lean on, to helping me clean and do laundry, picking up food and prescriptions for me, picking me up from appointments, and I could keep going for pages and pages. I’m not going to list names, you guys know who you are, so a humongous thank you to you all. I digress, but I really did find an amazing family in Newfoundland.
At the end of the school year though, we all had no choice but to go our separate ways, with our hometowns spread all over Canada. Though I left with hopes of returning in September, that clearly didn’t happen so friendships became long distance, maintained through social media. As the years passed, we kept in touch but it was different than when I was living there. It was different because it was long distance but it was so different because we were now in completely different stages of life. It became harder for me to connect with others because our lives looked so completely different; they’re all graduating school and getting engaged and good jobs and having kids and I’m living at home with my parents, needing a lot of help with things, and spending more time in hospitals and doctors offices than most. I still enjoy talking to them but it was different, they didn’t really understand my life which I don’t blame them for whatsoever, it’s just that most people don’t understand the experience of being chronically ill or disabled until they or a very close family member go through it.
Especially after I got my feeding tubes and wheelchair, I was really looking to find some different friendships, to find someone who is experiencing the same thing. These were both big changes, physically and self-esteem wise. For a while, I filled that void through the internet. I connected with people from all over the world who were living through several of the same challenges I was. Doing this, I met one of my best friends and have made so many friendships with amazing people. But it still wasn’t the same. Posting on an instagram feed and commenting on others posts is different than having a friend who you could do things with out in the real world. These friendships changed my life tremendously but I still felt that something was missing.
A few months ago, I had a last minute doctors appointment in at the hospital. When we got there, we saw that the accessible parking lot we normally park in was full so my dad dropped me off at the door before going to park in the boondocks. I went in through the doors and went to grab my number to wait for registration and, on the way over, I noticed a young women off to the side in a wheelchair with her service dog. I first got momentarily excited like “whoa, cool! Someone like me” and thought of saying hi but then I got nervous. Sometimes it gets frustrating when I’m out with River and just want to get things done but we end up chatting with every stranger we see so I didn’t want to inconvenience her. Anyways, I thought about it a bit, I put my big girl pants on and I pulled out all the bravery I had within in and went to say hello. From then on, the rest is history!
We exchanged cell phone numbers and started chatting by text and then ended up hanging out a few times with more plans for the future. We don’t share the same illness, there’s a bit of an age gap between us, but we also have a lot in common in terms of hobbies and characteristics and just who we are as people. Our life stories are different, she was disabled from the time she was born, I was able bodied for a while first. Our symptoms are different but our challenges are similar. Living life through the lens of disability definitely gives you a different perspective and it’s great to have someone in person to share that perspective with, to share the “cancer eyes” gaze we get being disabled in public, and to share how we live our best lives despite our challenges.
I like to believe that everything happens for a reason, and, that day, things most definitely did. Had we left the house a few minutes later than we did, had we had gotten a parking spot in the accessible lot, had I not had the last minute appointment, I wouldn’t have met this person who I’ve been able to connect with and hope to continue in the future. Some things happen because you’re in the right place at the right time but that doesn’t mean you can be passive and life will bring you everything you deserve. Sometimes you have to take a risk, jump off into the deep end, to see where you’re going to land. Life can bring you opportunities, but you need to take the next step to get what you can out of it.
Navigating life can be challenging, especially when life throws you a curve ball like becoming newly disabled, but I couldn’t be more thankful for the people who help me do it and that continue to support and encourage me through my journey. Yes, I do like my quiet time and being on my own but sometimes we need someone to lean, someone to throw us a line when we’re in the deep end, someone that we can share lives up and downs with. But sometimes, you need to go out of your comfort zone to get there.