Wednesday, February 25, 2015

My Thoughts on Disabled Girls Talk Episode 3: Friendships

I just listed to a podcast about friendships and how disability impacts them.  I felt like it was a good jumping-off point for a blog post because I found myself really relating to the things that were said.

My disability (Cerebral Palsy) has definitely impacted my friendships.  When I was younger, I had a couple "best friends" through the years and different elementary schools, and we'd play at each other's houses, but it wasn't super common.

Once I got to middle school, my sister and I started making our own friends, and it was one of the first times that I had to come to terms with her being invited to a birthday party while I was not.  (If I remember right, the friend asked my sister if they should invite me so I wouldn't feel left out, but my sister said no, as I wasn't actually friends with this person.  All these years later, it definitely feels like the right call.)  Also, in middle school, I got grouped with the only other mainstreamed disabled girl in my grade which was ostracizing and irritating, even if we did become friends due to proximity.  Between middle and high school I went to camp for disabled kids and made my first real disabled friends (one of whom I am still in touch with.)

In high school, I definitely had friends, but we didn't do things together.  When I did go to one friend's house and climbed her stairs to the main level of her house...her mother clapped for me and said "yay!"  How totally embarrassing.  This was also the time when I'd start hearing from well-meaning friends, "I was going to call you because a bunch of us were hanging out, but since we were jumping on the trampoline, I didn't want you to feel left out."  Except being told about how someone was planning to include me and then decided not to pretty much guarantees that I will feel left out.

After high school, I found a nice group of friends through a church I was attending.  While they were good about including me and not doing things I couldn't do, they also encouraged me to go forward when there was any kind of prayer for physical healing, which was off putting.  I made another friend who was super accommodating but was mortified on my behalf when they told me in detail about the hiking trip they went on, because they thought they were being rude or insensitive.  (Tell me about your day!  Really!  It doesn't offend you that I roll, and it doesn't offend me that you walk, and do walking things, I promise!)  I also feel like it really is true what the ladies in the podcast said about it being harder for friends who are impulse-driven.  One of my friends from college days through my late twenties had a really tough time doing "the same thing" all the time.

I do feel very awkward asking anyone to change their plans on my behalf.  I'd sooner bow out myself then ruin the fun for the rest of the people who want to go somewhere.  And I've noticed, too, that I have become extremely apologetic and also probably overly grateful.  Because when people do consider me, I feel like it's so uncommon that I notice it and I have to thank them.

I have one able-bodied friend in particular, with whom I used to talk a lot about disability stuff.  They had an interest in it and worked in the field.  When we first became friends, I would often make self-depricating remarks, or quote other people who had said offensive things to me and make a joke out of it (as a way to take my power back, maybe.)  Over the last couple years, though, as I have become more educated on disability culture and confronting my own internalized ableism, it's become harder to hear them make the sarcastic remarks we used to make together.  I have yet to figure out how to bring it up with them, or if it's even worth it to do so, as we see each other so infrequently now.

When to disclose disability is an interesting question because for most of my life, people automatically knew I was disabled, the moment they saw me.  The wheelchair, the crutches, the braces (when I was younger.)  It was never up to me to disclose because people always just knew, and assumed things about me (positive and negative) based on that.  But with the internet now such an integral part of every day life (and with some friendships being formed primarily there) the question of disclosure definitely takes on new significance.

I remember one friend, in particular, who I started getting to know around five years ago.  They were the first person I remember making a conscious choice not to disclose my disability to right away.  Three months later, when I shared a piece of writing where I mentioned it, they responded simply, "You never told me about the Cerebral P."  That was it.  Now, they are the one helping me out with exercise-palooza and just at ease commenting about "We never talked about if you were able to do this type of movement?  Are you able to?" which I so appreciate.  Friends who are able to take my CP in stride mean the world to me.

Both disabled and able-bodied friends mean the world to me.  The deciding factor for me is, like the ladies said, if they are able to be open and at ease about my disability and don't tiptoe around it, or ask me if I want to be healed.  I don't have many disabled friends (and almost none with CP) but I am always open to meeting more, and getting to know people.

All that said, it was definitely a great podcast!  Worth a listen for sure!


  1. Found my way her via your post on What Do You Do, Dear? I really enjoyed this post. My little girl is just starting to navigate the world of friends--she had her first school friend playdate a few weeks ago (initiiated by the little girl in her class). Since she is essentially non-verbal and non-ambulatory (and very small) it was hard to navigate giving her the space to learn how to have a playdate...but also making sure she wasn't uncomfortable or overly vulnerable to a highly verbal, very active, very sweet 4 year old who is twice her size. The story of your friend's mom clapping for you is a great reminder for me to think about when Ez is with her peers at school (only 1 hour/week right now). Balancing celebrating her abilities and not pointing out her differences is a real challenge for me.

    1. Hi Hilary,

      I think, given your daughter's age (you said her friend was 4, and I'm assuming your daughter is of a similar age) and the fact that it was her first playdate, sticking close by is okay. Frankly, any 4 year olds on a play date need lots of supervision (at the very least, to be checked on frequently.) Your daughter's safety and security come first, after all.

      And regarding my friend's mom clapping for me. That friend's mom had seen me, maybe a handful of times at school events. She had never seen me climb stairs. She didn't know that I grew up in split level houses and HAD to learn to navigate stairs out of necessity from a very early age. So she assumed I wouldn't be able to. Able people can assume we are capable of very little, which is unfair to us.

      Trust your instinct. If you (or someone at school) sees your daughter doing something you know she can do, or can do fairly easily, it's not necessary to make a big deal. But if it's something you know she's been working on trying to master, and she gets it? Acknowledge that. Think about...I don't know...when you first learned to tie your shoes... It was kind of a big deal, right? Somebody probably at least said "good job" or gave you a pat on the back. Give her that same positive feedback then.