Vanishing Friends After a Spinal Cord Injury

Vanishing Friends After a Spinal Cord Injury

Friendships all change with time. Some grow stronger and sometimes people drift apart. There is a different kind of friendship for those who experience a chronic illness or permanent injury. It’s called where the hell did they go? Oh you’ve heard of it? Yeah, you didn’t see that one coming did you…

Now I don’t know if it’s because people are unsure about how to talk about or rather not talk about your situation but it’s pretty hurtful. People who have been a part of your life for years will disappear without a trace. No calls or visits. It’s like the bible rapture happened and you weren’t invited. Thanks a lot guys.

I experienced this after my own accident and it took a big chunk of my self esteem when these so called friends abandoned me. I mainly brushed it off and focused on the ones who were still there. They cared and wanted to be with me no matter what my physical state was at the time. They didn’t care that I couldn’t speak or function. They loved me and held my hand while I tried to find my way back. Those are friends.

As my wife’s health has deteriorated with the cancer I noticed the same thing slowly happening with her family and friends. There were less visits to the hospital. Less people popping in to say “Hey, how’s it going?” We weren’t invited to as many functions. You see them out while you’re grocery shopping or running errands, but you’ve almost become invisible to half of the population.

I wish that people could understand that a disability or chronic disease isn’t contagious. We don’t need to talk about it all of the time. I don’t expect you to somehow save me. I guess it was good while it lasted?

The friendships that survive a disability are often deeper and real. I don’t know how to explain it otherwise. The friends that have stayed with me are friends for life. I know I can call them at 3am when I can’t handle the world. I could also call these guys to dispose of a body if needed. Yes, those are the real friends. The ones who see you at your lowest and carry you through it. It’s hard to find those friends, but you see them as family when all is said and done.

As the years have passed I have gone back home to visit and will run into these people who vanished. Oh wow, look I guess he wasn’t dead after all. They see how well I am doing for myself and suddenly there is an interest in rekindling things and hanging out. “I am not wasting a beer on you. I don’t have time and I have plans to hang out with my friends later. Take care.” Wow, I guess it was easier than I thought to walk away from that relationship.

Moral of the story? Don’t feel bad about people who didn’t care enough to want to be a friend. We can all find people who want to suck the life out of us. Who needs more of them? Concentrate on the people who want to be a part of your life. It makes it a much happier place.

9 replies
  1. The Disabled Foodie
    The Disabled Foodie says:

    Yes, thank you for this! This happened to me. As my undiagnosed, autoimmune disease progressed causing me to use crutches and then start using a wheelchair, my friends ran for the hills. It hurts a lot. The worst is how they claim to be my friends to others to this day. I know otherwise. Thank you for this.

  2. The Disabled Foodie
    The Disabled Foodie says:

    Furthermore, to add on to my previous comment, if it wasn’t for my husband and his friends, I’d sit at home alone most of the time. None of my so-called friends make any true, concerted effort with me.

  3. Craig Doninger
    Craig Doninger says:

    I felt this way after my spinal cord injury. I started reaching out to my friends and making plans. We now meet up at least monthly for beers and sports or cook outs. Once I decided to stop waiting on them to reach out and I did it, my social life got a lot better.

  4. KC Bob
    KC Bob says:

    I so resonate with your journey.Luke. My wife was was wheelchair disabled in 2007 and we rarely see the friends we had back then. I think friends find it a bit too challenging. I get it though. We cannot visit them at their homes – we either invite them to our place or we go out to a movie or a restaurant. Our friends are usually required to make accommodations for us. Not that it should be a big deal for friends. Yet perhaps voluntarily entering into another person’s suffering is what separates the different levels of friendship?

    Either way, thanks for writing this post with such vulnerability and transparency. Much appreciate it.

    Cheers, Bob

  5. Ruth
    Ruth says:

    Yeah. I can reach out all day. Can’t make people answer a phone or an email. After a while its time to change towns and find new friends.

  6. Carolyn
    Carolyn says:

    The saddest part is, those of us with a disability always found time for family and friends before we were struck down but then they all seem to run a mile when we are of no use to them.

    Thank you for this, it makes me feel a little better for cutting contact with many I once called friends.

  7. Christine
    Christine says:

    It’s so true I’m glad I read this …I was always running around helping out everyone and now

  8. Cheryl Bianchi
    Cheryl Bianchi says:

    it can be more complicated than this…depending on age, circumstance, etc…my son lost his girlfriend months after his accident at the age of 20…when he was in hospital and recovering and weak, all his gang around…as he got stronger and more brash (he was determined to change the ‘face’ of those in a chair), they hated that he was so arrogant (to my eye, whatever he had to do to stay out of that bed was a good thing)…said he was “over compensating for being in a chair”…duh……bizarre…he made sure to expand his circle…but now that he is having a new wave of issues HE is the one who has withdrawn…it’s all a complicated mess, no doubt…
    this was made just before he took his psychological and physiological dip…about 3 years in and a year and a half ago…

  9. Steve Payette
    Steve Payette says:

    Luke, thanks for sharing. Cheryl, no doubt it’s more complicated than this but the issue, I think we can agree on. People drop you after you’ve had an accident or illness. They will rationalize it on something (ex your son’s perceived arrogance because it doesn’t conform to the victim stereotype or being busy). It’s not usually out of malice, but the disabled person gets isolated nonetheless.

    A consequence of things equally-damaging is the coping habits we can develop as a result(like social withdrawal). People propose that we do something together but when I followed through, they’ve been unreachable or have made excuses, always putting it off and hoping you’ll get the picture. It’s happened so many times that I now don’t take any such proposal to be authentic and politely nod “sure.” And even when someone convinces me that the invitation is legit, I might not go because I’ve developed social anxiety wundering about it. So I relate to your son’s experience. I’m fortunate to have a few friends still around but I’ve been erasing myself socially.

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