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Friendships After a Spinal Cord Injury: Personal Experiences with Paralysis
Family Life and Friendships
As far as friendship goes, so many people said, “oh, I’m going to be there for you.” It wasn’t that many people that were there for me. As far as friends, my family was there. Friends—one of my friends I’ve had the longest, she and her mom came and saw me in the hospital. And, it was so hard to see her because everything was so fresh. We had just got our hair done, spent a fortune to get my hair done, and like the next day was the accident. We had just got our hair done. It was just—I’m one of those who has to wash my hair at least every other day, and on the second day, it looks like crap. So, when I had to come to Shepherd and we only washed our hair every three days or whatever, I felt disgusting. And, anyway—friends weren’t around as much as they said they would be. I had several friends come see me, but this is not right down the street from my home. It’s probably about an hour from my home. So, my friends were not around as much as I was hoping. It was kind of hard at first but thank goodness I had my family support. When I did get home, it was better. I mean, people did come to see me and stuff like that. So, Shepherd not being right down the street was hard for people.
People in the beginning were like, “oh, we’ll always be there,” “just a phone call away.” And very few, like, our best friends—I wouldn’t trade them for the world—she’s actually my aunt and she’s my age, and her husband, who is my husband’s childhood best friend. I mean, they’ve been best friends since they were 10-years-old. They are probably the most devoted people in our lives, and they would never turn their backs on us, ever. I can literally call them at any hour and say “hey, I need a gallon of milk.” And they would drop what they were doing, three o’clock in the morning, bring me a gallon of milk, you know, they have. But they’re the kind of people that, that’s pretty much the people that we can depend on the most are those two people. We have a very small bubble. And, we used to have a very big one, but the bubble got much smaller. I guess, they say that when tragedy strikes you find out who your friends are. We really did.
I was lucky, my friends really stuck by me. And, it was important to them that they learned and they included me still, driving me to all events because I could transfer out of their cars when they learned to drive. I was carried up and down steps to still get into people’s houses for social events. I don’t know that I would say those were a big change. And then, a big bonus was I got to be very good friends with a lot of other people with disabilities that I met through playing adaptive sports that I met through the Spinal Cord Injury Center. A big part of my life was also when I was in college, I worked at an Easter Seals camp for people with disabilities, and I found that being around other people with disabilities was a really enjoyable experience.
People are less likely to approach me just across the board, but I’ve always had a small group of close friends rather than like a really large group. So, I don't know how much of a difference it really makes.
In the beginning, like I said, everybody is all around you, and they’re there. They come to the hospital every other day, you got friends that are on a schedule that are coming. When you go home of course they start to think, “okay, she is fine now,” so they’re not coming every day. But then I got to think about it, “well, I didn’t see them every day anyway before.” But my friendships have been still strong, the girls I had that were there for me then are still there for me now if I pick up the phone. When I got very depressed interestingly enough, I remember feeling just down like everybody forgot me so I sent out a mass text and said, “help.” That’s all I said and they came, full force. I started having slumber parties, they were bringing me guacamole to drown in my sorrows. It was fun.
No, with everybody knowing everyone, it was really cool. And the newer friendships, even in the eighth grade, before I got beat up by this guy, and after the accident, he came up and wanted to be friends. And I’m like, “you beat me up in eighth grade. I’m sorry, I’d love to forgive you and go on, but it’s kind of hard for me.” So, in my mind, after you get over the initial trauma, people with accidents, or with a spinal cord injury revert back to being the same way they were, the same joyful, whatever person. Or, they may do a 360, and become something totally different. Maybe they find religion or different aspects, new things in life. I was told I was the same person, so I didn’t change, and mom told me that, so with mom, everything is right because she is mom. And it was easy for me to make friends, and I think it’s easy for people to remember me. One, because of the chair, I won’t lie, but two, the personality. And like I said, I’m a people person, and it’s all built on relationships across friendships, business, and personal relationships.
You know what, I don't have time for fluff, I don't have time for unimportant relationships. I have associates at work, but I also have some friends at work, and I choose to spend time with my friends. And then when I'm with my friends, I choose to connect with them. It's, I don't know, more satisfying relationships.
What’s been remarkable has been the amount of people that have crawled out of the woodwork that we had never met, that we had never heard of, who came out and supported us, who are kind, who just really have been there for us in many ways. Some more in our face, some more than others, but they’ve been so incredibly supportive. So, I would say that’s been a huge, wonderful breath of fresh air. As terrible as a spinal cord injury can be, I think there’s this massive silver lining, which is how lucky are we.
Some people have difficulty dealing with people who are injured. They don’t know how to interact with them, what’s appropriate. So, what they may try to do is just avoid contact. It’s really up to you to push them into a circumstance where they can see that you are still the same person. You have wheels instead of walking, but you’re still the same person.
I probably got, since the accident, I probably have two solid friends right now, the rest of them have all dispersed. They’re all in party life and I’m not into that. Before the accident, let’s see, I was very over caring, so I had six different people living in my house. And then once I got into the hospital, at first they would come up a couple of times, and then it was just like they just disappeared. And then when I finally came home, I would hear people like asking them about me, and they’d say, “oh, we don’t talk to her no more.” So, it was like they all just—I guess they couldn’t handle the situation, so they all just tried to slowly drift away without me noticing. It was very noticeable.
I'm closer with my friends now, definitely very close with all my friends. I'd say I'm with them probably every day, and I changed their minds about it. I came out and just said, you know, "Hey guys, I wear diapers sometimes, I pee my pants sometimes, you know, and I'm going to need help doing this, help doing that," and they just kind of accepted it. And, after two years, it's normal now.
I thought there was something wrong with me because I used to have a ton of guy friends before my accident, and I had girl friends too. But, interestingly after my accident, I found it really difficult to make new guy friends, and I had a ton of girl friends. And, it really frustrated me because I was like, “What’s wrong, why can’t I make guy friends?” And, I saw this study that guys actually bond over things like sports and stuff, and girls bond over emotional stuff, not to over stereotype, right. But, what I did to overcome that was I started doing all the fantasy sports things, and hosting poker games. And that’s how I’ve, like, made most of my new guy friends is through, like, those venues. And, Faith went out and learned how to play golf the summer between my first and second year at HBS. And then so she goes on all the golfing outings with my guy friends, and I caddy for her. So, it’s huge way for me to hang out because everybody plays golf, and like, you know, it’s a great way for me to make guy friends. So that’s how we do it.
They're treating me the same, I think they have more fun because they got to push me around and stuff. And, they still treat me the same, we still go out everywhere. My friends, who drive, they come and get me, and we put my wheelchair in the car; they know how to put it together and take it apart. They know how to help me cath, and get my stuff together, so that I can get ready. They're pretty good about it, and treating me the same.
Some have, some haven’t. Most of them haven’t. Sometimes people don’t know what to say, so they just back off. Some people don’t understand that it’s okay to ask questions. It’s okay to say, “I’m not sure what I should say right now, but I just want to be here for you.” People don’t really know that they can say that, but sometimes you have to let them say anything. Just be there.
True friends are still my true friends. I really, very limited contact. When we see each other it’s wonderful, but the friendship going out, meeting the girls, that doesn’t happen too much now. Friendships have definitely changed in the frequency of seeing each other. I used to go on girls’ trips every year, but it’s not that important to me anymore. I mean, I still keep close friends and you need your friendships, but it’s changed, the fact that my life has changed. I think my priority, keeping up with the girls and all is just not my interest anymore.
In some ways, we actually got much closer, we all got much closer. And it was, and interestingly enough, I thought that I would probably lose my friends; I didn't lose one. Not one friend walked away, which was, I thought, remarkable, because this is pretty life—changing type of disability. And we still did family things and fun things with our friends together. It was a little but different, but we still did them. And I still have those friends; after 25 years, that's pretty good.
At the end, I finally realized that your true friends is your family. When you get in a wheelchair those you think are your friends are no longer there; the only people there are your family, that's the bottom line. They see you in the street when you're in your wheelchair, before they're like, "hey, how you doing, this and that," but now they turn around and walk away. That was the hardest part right there.
My friends, are probably always, they’ve always been counted the deep true friends, on fingers and toes, and those haven’t changed. That group still, and there’s been a few added to it, but that group would still do anything I ask them to do. If it was 3:00 am, and I ask them to cut their foot off and bring it over they would, and I would do the same for them.
Well, I had kind of, at the time of my accident, I had a boyfriend and that quickly ended. this is pre-cellphones, so communication was lacking first and foremost. But he was the type that probably wanted a pretty girl on his arm, and I was now sitting down and just different. And so that ended. But yeah, I did, I absolutely realized who, you know, it’s funny because I watch people watch me. I don’t know if that makes sense, people in wheelchair will probably understand completely, but I watch people watch me. And I know, I can tell that person can handle the wheelchair, or that person cannot handle it. And I don’t, when there’s somebody that can’t handle it, I never look at them and judge them in a bad way. I just see ignorance and I want to educate them. So, if the opportunity arises, I try to educate because I wouldn’t have known if—and I see people in wheelchairs and I’m like, “I wonder what happened to them?” and “I wonder if…?” I’m curious and I’m in a wheelchair. So, going back and the friendships and everything, there was grace towards that, but still it was hurtful, it was hurtful to lose friends. But I gained a lot of really great friends too.
I think some of them. A couple of them that were so involved in the process, raising money, figuring out meal trains, getting my kids here and there, I think it kind of wore some people out, and that’s unfortunate. But I felt one of my best friends had kind of put some distance between us. But this is a lot to for someone to take on and participate in, and she did an absolute phenomenal job for me, but the relationships have changed.
I guess they see me as a different person, that, that I have her as a sister. And, you know, they probably know that, that it's, obviously I have more responsibilities, and my home life is a little different than theirs. You know, it's, but, you know, I mean, I have good friends, so, I know they think well of me and my sister.
You know, people that normally used to depend on me to go help them do stuff, if I wasn’t putting forth the effort, the ability to be able to help them, they’ll just kind of move you to the side. And your real true friends, everyone’s, you know, you can count them on one hand that they’re going to be there no matter what. But the others that I always thought were true friends, but they’re really, if they’re not getting anything out of you, they don’t need you. So, that’s what I’ve noticed.
I do think that I developed a bit of a shell because of it. You know, I think for a while because of, you know, being a freshman I, you know, used it as a tool to, you know, get people to notice me in school. You know, I went to New Trier, it was a huge school, and so this was something that could make you stand out. And so, I probably leveraged that, you know, in some of my relationships. But I also became, I became very dependent on my friendships for closeness, because I didn't have, there wasn't enough time for that at home. So, I think that changed a little bit. But interestingly, I'm not very close friends with anyone I was then. I have a couple of girlfriends that I'm friendly with from then, and whenever we're together we stay close, but they're all, you know, they talk three times a day, even until today, and I don't. And I think part of my ability to develop long-term relationships was impacted, I don't really know how, but I think it had to have been because of that.
Just realizing that your now is the best place that you can be. And the reason being for that is that I have lost some relationships, we can call it loss, but it’s just growing out from. Some college buddies, some individuals that I went to high school with that I don’t speak to anymore. But then there’e the ones that I have, and we always call it the “down like four flat tires.” But it’s basically saying that they’re with you through thick and thin. And I have those friends that are there, and though it may not be many, they’re significant.
I don’t think so. The friends who were friends before are still friends and nobody ran away screaming. Most of them tried to do more to help me than I would let them, and if my injury level were higher than—I was always the one to help other people and now they help me. So, that was an adjustment but friends they’re still friends.
I still see most everyone that I did before, you know, a lot of people come and go. I would say that you really need to be, which is taken me a long time, that you really need to keep your guard up, because people are going to approach you, and people are going to want to help you, they're going to want to do things for you, and you really have to be careful about who you let into your life, and who these people that who are going to help you. Because usually most people that want to help you, you know, there's a lot of good and caring people out there, but there's a lot people out there that are out for things themselves. And you know, some people who might get injured might be, you know, involved in lawsuits or things, and when there's money involved, there's going to be people coming around trying to get it, or looking to take advantage of some people. So, I would just say you need to keep your guard up for some people, not everyone.
When bad things happen, you know, you realize who your real friends are. You know, at the time, you know, I was involved in, you know, things I shouldn't have been with, and those friends just disappeared. You know, and then friends who I never thought were that close to me, they came to visit me to the hospital, bringing me food, and it was just, it was just surprising to me. I'm like, "Wow, you know, you're a real friend" you know what I'm saying? Guys that I hung out with out on the street, they're not coming to visit me, yet you're coming over here making sure I'm fed. You know, so, it made me realize who my real friends were.
After, I was home for two years, one of my best friends, he learned how to take care of me, and once he learned how to take care of me, he would bring me outside and I would be with another one of my friends. If he would go to the store or something and it was time for me to use the bathroom, then I would tell my friends, "hey man, I need to use the bathroom," and they'd say, "Okay, it's nothing nasty, you're my boy, what do I have to do?" After he learned, my whole friends learned.
Well, my friendships changed, again, dramatically, like, it's overwhelming. Because in the beginning, I had quite a bit of friends, and when the accident initially happened, I had plenty of friends at the hospital, days, and days, and days. But, as I got out of the hospital and I made it home, I would have friends come by, and friends would stop by, and they'd say, "Hey, how you doing?" And, I'm like, "I'm alright, I've been sitting in the house all this time." They'd say, "Hey, we just came to see how you was doing. We just stopping by, we're just going to get something to eat." You know, and I would think back, like, you know, you're stopping by, I've been in the house, you know, won't you just come and get me, and take me to go get something to eat with you instead of stopping by, you know, I've been sitting in the house. You know, but my friends didn't understand that, they thought that me being in the house was something that I wanted to do. So, what I had to do was was get my friends to understand that it wasn't that I wanted to stay in the house, it was that my mind and my stress was keeping me down to stay in the house. So, once we with both got on the same level, and my friends understood that I wanted to hang out, and come out, and do different things, you know, we started to do those different things. And, I'm not saying I lost a lot of friends, but the main friends that did count are still around.
A lot. The friends I used to hang around with, they're never there. My brother's friends are the ones that are. They are the ones, like, they don't treat me as a, like, a disabled person, they just treat me like a normal person. They don't see the wheelchair, they see me. And, that's how I became friends with them, and, I mean, anywhere I go, they're always with me. Those are my real friends.
Actually, I think they’ve gotten stronger. Well I said, I think the term “you find out who your friends are,” is very true when something happens. So, the people that were in my life that were good friends or good family are still in my life. And, they’re there for me one hundred percent. And the people that might have really, I don’t know weren’t really there for you that much, they kind of fade away when something like this happens unfortunately. The family and friends that I do have, I can call them two o’clock in the morning and say “hey, I need something,” and they’ll be there for me one hundred percent.
I’m assertive, I’m stubborn, I don’t communicate, all that stuff, so my friends they, like, jokingly, they hate me more now than ever. What I mean by that is that they don’t cut me any slack. You know, the friendships are tight, I got people around me that would help me—if I call them up right now and say, “I’m at Marianjoy, I need you over here right now,” there’s no question ,they would be here. But they don’t cut me any slack, you know what I’m saying, they don’t buy into a lot of, not that I throw wild cards out there. But, the friends are good, the friends have gotten closer, and I can’t say anything, you know, they’ve been great.
In a sense my friendships have. Some of them kind of have faded away as I moved from Savannah and I lost contact with some people. But there are others that we stay very close, and it’s in a way, it kind of shows you who your real friends are—the ones that will stay close even after something like this happens.
Well, I know who my real friends are. In the beginning, you know, people came around, kind of like for the attention, for the, I don’t really know to be honest. But the ones who stuck around are my friends for me, not for anything else, and that I don’t want fake friends, so I kind of filtered them out for me.
Friendships can change and people do scare away. I have friends and they were my good friends before and they still are friends now. I’ve been very, very fortunate. So, my key people before my accident are still my key people now. But, like I said, I didn’t want to scare them away, I needed them to be a part of my life, I needed those relationships to feel okay about myself. So, I made a conscious effort to really try not to scare them away, and try to be a friend, and not always sucking the relationship dry with my own needs. And hopefully, I’ve been able to do that.
I think again, I would consider myself an odd one in that I have more friends, and supporters, and family ties were certainly strengthened. I think things like this always pull families together, teach them the value. Nobody plans for something like this to happen. And, I also think with friends—I have more friends and met people that I probably never would’ve met even if I wasn’t injured. Again, I think I set the tone for that when I show people that I can live a successful life. I’m the same guy, I just do what I do sitting down, and I’m still a fun guy to hang out with.
Well, one of my buddies—I was a sophomore in college, so everybody was everywhere, and so when I was back home, there weren’t a lot of those high school friends around anymore because they were off at college. It was a gradual process for them to understand that even though I wasn’t able to walk like I used to, or walk at all, pee, or poop or whatever I used to, that I was still Mark. I was still the guy they knew, I still like to do the things I used to do, maybe do them differently or with help, but I was still. So, the relationships initially were shock, denial, but some never dealt with it, some never dealt with it.
Our friendships have remained very solid. And, our friends have also been very supportive when there’s ever been any kind of a need to go to a function that has to do with spinal cord injury. Marie has become friends with our friends, and it’s made for an interesting life for all of us. We have a wide range of people that are in our life, and I don’t know if it would’ve been this way had it not been for her injury. It closed doors but it opened up a lot too.
My closer friends, nothing really, nothing really changed. But, the guys I was associating with, of course they left, because I became more of a burden than, than it was worth, you know. You know, you decide, you decide, like, "Am I, am I still going to hang with this guy," I mean, because, like I have things to do. People have things to do. It might not be important things, but it's important to them. You know, and, if you, if you decide that this guy is no longer worth the time, then they tend to stop hanging around you. They didn't want to come over because they know that they might have to be the ones helping me up and down the stairs. If they wanted to go somewhere, they would have to help me in and out the car, and, a lot of times, people start looking at that as, like, extra baggage. You know, "I don't, I don't want to take him around," because basically, it's a drain, you know. "We could get here faster if he wasn't here." "We could have more fun if he wasn't here." You know, and those guys left. I'm glad they did leave, because I don't really need anybody like that in my life.
I think it's easy at first for them to view it as a sickness, as though you're going to get over it. So visiting you in the hospital is not that hard, sending flowers or cards or things is fairly easy to. Recognizing that it's a permanent, lifelong thing that they're going to have to deal with as well, is a lot harder. And I think, especially for people when they're younger, so when I was in college, it's very difficult you know because they do things that you can't always do. You know, they have parties in houses that are not accessible, or you get carried up and down stairs, you know, it does make it more difficult, and you do learn who your true friends are. And that's sometimes, it's good in the long run, but it can be a painful learning process.
Some of the friends that I used to have, I guess aren't really as close because they couldn't deal with the whole spinal-cord injury thing, and it kind of got awkward. But, you really do find out who your real friends are, and I still have a lot of good friends, and it hasn't changed.
Well they've been great, they were always very supportive in therapy, and once we got home, whatever I needed before we got the lift in the house, if I needed someone to help me with stairs, they would. But now it's, like, just like before I got hurt. I'm like, you know how there's that one friend in every bunch who everybody needs to get advice from, well that's me. So now everybody's always at my house—"Oh Michelle, I need to talk." So they're great, I love them, if I ever need a ride, I always have one. They're great.
What I've appreciated is that they've continued treating us the way they treated us before. Including us in things, and not making that phone call because, oh we're different now; they still call and have us be a part of things. Sometimes things have to be a little different. You know, if it's a swimming party we just need to make sure that either I or my husband are there, or just a bowling party, if he goes out bowling, if his friends are having a bowling party, it's just a little metal contraption that he needs as a ramp when he goes bowling. So, there are other things that yeah, maybe you have to put a little more thought into, but our friends have been willing to go that extra mile. It's been wonderful, we've appreciated it.
Most of my friends were great after my injury. They were around the hospital all the time, they were around when I got home, and we just hung out and figured out new ways to do things that we used to do. There were a couple people that I lost touch with, people that I was friends with before that I didn’t really stay in touch with after. I think some people were just kind of uncomfortable with the situation; they didn’t know what to do, and it was hard for them to adapt to that. Maybe it was hard for them to see me the way that I was. But, most of my friends were awesome and the friends that I did stay close throughout that time, I’m still really close to. A lot of those people are like family to me now. I think I was worried going to college that meeting people that didn’t know me before my injury was going to be weird, and there was just going to be this whole part of my life that they were missing out on, and I’d never be able to be as close to them because they don’t understand what had happened, and everything I went though and all of that. And that didn’t turn out to be true at all. It’s been pretty easy for me to talk about my injury, especially to people who don’t know anything about it. And, I’ve made friends at school that I’m really close to now; I’m as close to them as people that I knew before my injury. So, that hasn’t been a barrier to becoming close to people.
Some friends were great, they were there taking all the blows with me, and really supportive of everything going on and wanted to help with whatever they could. Other friends just kind of disappeared, started avoiding me in the hallways and not returning phone calls. So, I pretty quickly realized who my true friends were, and people who were just there for their own selfish reasons. It was a great learning experience for me, it kind of gave me a good crash course on true friendship, and the friends that stuck around me are still around me today.
In the beginning of my accident, I lost many of my friends because the wheelchair was too much of a hassle. Because when kids 16-17 want to go party at houses, many houses aren’t wheelchair-accessible. So, I learned to live a very depressed life in the beginning because I couldn’t go out and be with people and my peers. So, I learned to just kind of be alone, and learned to have solitude by myself.
I would say that's where most of the changes have occurred, you really do weed out. I have written emails to people who didn't know what happened to me, or heard back from people who did know what happened to me, and tried to touch bases, and no response. And I remember writing to this one woman that I've known for 25-years and I said, "I don't want to pressure you, and I don't want to impose upon you; but I'm hurt, we have such history with each other. I love you, what's wrong?" Nothing. One woman wrote back with the same kind of response that I sent her and said, "I feel like an awful person, I just don't know how to handle it." And I said, "I'm totally willing to help you handle it because I don't want you out of my life. I'm not embarrassed to answer anything, feel free to ask." So those kinds of things have happened a lot. But where they haven't happened is where I go, "Hmm, okay." Cause I always had to love everybody, and everybody had to love me, and I was never willing to sort that out. You know I kind of believed that I could make that happen, that was my truth. It's not my truth, but what I do have as a truth is definitely worth having, and that's, those friendships are very precious.
I would say some of my friends understand what's going on, some of my friends don't. Some of them even suggested that I put her in a nursing home. I'm like, "no, I would never think of putting her in a nursing home." And, that's okay, some of my friends have not come visit that often because of her injury and they think that I'm too busy doing too much for her, and but, that's fine. You know, I've made a lot more other friends too, new friends, yes.
I think they've pretty much gotten better, pretty much with all. My old friends that I grew up with and stuff like that, a lot of them were involved with me in the streets, so I don't stay in touch with the major of them. Now I only keep in touch with certain, maybe like four or five, and, you know, we're not on that, we're on that going out and having a good time, having, you know, being responsible, going to work on Monday and stuff like that, paying bills. So, and, all the new friends that I make, you know, I already been around the bad, so I know how to pick them to avoid the bad influences. So I would say that got a lot better.
Oh, they’re, they’re all seem like we’ve gotten closer or something, you know, and I still find occasions for us to get together. And so, I’m very blessed for that, to have supportive friends that call me, and ask about Sean, and ask about us and keep in touch.
One thing that I noticed right away after my injury is that all of the people that you say are your friends on Facebook aren’t necessarily your friends. Friends are the people who love you. Friends are the people who will come over and weed at your front yard for you when you’re in a pinch. Friends are people who sit there, and listen to you and say, “that sucks!” And then they don’t offer any advice. People who come and go through your life, I’ve learned, are more like acquaintances. Some people, not in my family, but in friend circles have just dropped off because they didn’t have a place for this in their heart. Not because they stopped liking me, but because they didn’t really know how to fold it into their life and their philosophies.
Friendship is kind of a funny situation. Friends come and go, I’ve learned that. I’ve learned that through situations like this, you find who your true friends are, and the people who really stand by you, and are there for you through a situation like this. So, we’ve lost some friends, and we’ve gained new ones, and different ones. We’ve now have become friends with people that we might have not been friends with before.
Friendships, I think that people have a hard time kind of coping with it and they might struggle more than you do actually just because they—you might be okay with your injury, but somebody else might not be okay with your injury. And so, friendships, certain friends got further away, and certain friends got closer. So, you might have people that you didn’t talk to for years, and they find out you got hurt and they’re like—I had a friend that I still talk to on occasion, but when I was in the hospital, he came in every Wednesday to see me, like no matter what. And on the days he couldn’t do it, he would send his mom. So, yeah, I mean certain friends are going to closer, certain friends might get further but it’s a transitional phase.
My friends, actually was my friends since we was little. The reason we hung together is because first, most people do what they do because traumatic things happened to them when they were younger. Like, my mother developed cancer, one of my friend's mother was on drugs, another just wasn't in the house, another drank, but we took care of each other. So, I'm fortunate enough to still have them around me, but they're around me all the time, and been there since the start, since it happened.
I would say they definitely changed. There’re certain friendships that we were closer before the accident, and they’re probably the people that I would’ve least expected to drift apart when this happened. I’m not really sure if it was—either it was too hard for them to see him that way, but there were some people that were closer to us that did drift away. But the people that we least expected, just the people that we probably didn’t see as much, really stepped up, and were there for us, and just surrounded us and made us feel really loved. So, that was really great.
It hasn't had a negative impact on any at all. But if any, with some, I think it's really given me a new appreciation for them. Some friends were, just, really, you know, incredible, and, you know, I think very family-like.
Friendships changed because a lot of them wanted to see me, and wanted me to still be the person I was, but I didn’t want to be around anybody, so I pretty much stayed away. And then as I started getting better mentally, that’s when I started letting a couple of them come to the house, or sometimes I’d pick like one day where I would go. Because my mom, she stayed in the country while all my friends and family stay in the city. So, I will pick that one day on a Friday and go and just chill with some of my friends.
I've always relied on friends way more than nuclear family to pull through on stuff. I had no gumption about starting to make assignments to my friends to help me with Mike's care. And the practical it takes a village for everything, and I reached out to my friends. The day Mike moved to Chicago, a girl friend of mine showed up with a hammer and nails and her tool kit, and said, "What can I do to help?"—either hang pictures, or get the bed moved or the rugs moved, you know, just things as one person I physically couldn't do. So I was— they've been so great, my friends have been so great, in helping me take care of Mike.
You know, I feel really fortunate that, you know, the friends I had prior to my injury are pretty much the friends I have now. You know, it's certainly again there's some environmental factors that have help shape how they've moved forward, you know. People live in homes I can't get to, so, it you know, alters the ways you can socialize. But, I've made some wonderful new friends, and have been able to maintain the friendships that I've developed over the years and, you know, I pride myself in having some very deep and long friendships that are very fulfilling.
I’d say since my injury, my friendships have gotten better because the friends I have are better friends. For example, there’s a song I’ve heard “You find out who your friends are.” Well, when things aren’t going good, and they’re still there, they’re real friends; they’re in it for the long haul. So I would say the friendships I have now are strengthened, and they’re good friendships as opposed to a lot of weak friendships. Now I just have a few strong friendships.
I think my friends—when I first got hurt and I went back to Memphis—some of my friendships were not the healthiest. And then some of my other friends that saw that didn’t want to be a part of my life with me making bad decisions. So, the friends that I went back to in Memphis kind of slowly started to dwindle, and then that was another reason I decided to move to Atlanta was just to get a new space, and kind of start over pretty much. And so, then I started developing friends on the rugby team, and racing team and stuff like that, yeah, and also friends just from volunteering at Shepherd. So, it changed my life.
A few friends that were there from the moment it happened, and have never left my side; obviously I have some really good friends that I can count on, you know, in a pinch. But, I’d say a lot of them have just, not gone—they’ve gone away. Things like Facebook, and email, and things, we still can communicate with them, but it’s not like what it was before. With going back to work full time, I don’t feel like I have time to keep those friendships as much as I used to, or as much as I would like to. That’s the hard part, that’s hard for me because I was lucky to be part-time all the years that I was, all the years that I had been, and if I didn’t feel like cleaning the house, I could hang out with neighbors, you know, we could enjoy the afternoon with the kids. That stuff has kind of changed.
When I first got injured, like I said, I was a basketball player, I had a huge amount of friends. I mean it was ridiculous, well, friends that I thought that I had anyway. But I’ve over the years watched my friend list shrink tremendously, however, I have learned that I have some really great friends, who won’t leave my side. And that’s great is the people that I don’t really need, but the people who are like, “oh, that’s just an injury.” “Whatever you need I’m right there with you, I don’t care if you’re in a wheelchair, we’re still going to the club, we are still going to the bars, come get in my car, let’s go.” So, I really value that really small friendship, that circle that I have with my friends now.