The Disconnect Between Disabilities and Real Friendships

Hello, this is my story of living a disabled life and trying to maneuver the confusing world of friendship.

HEALTH

Shilynn Marshall

9/24/20234 min read

Today’s blog post is about a sensitive subject, the disconnect between disabled people and authentic friendships we so often yearn for. I am Shilynn Marshall, a disabled woman living with numerous rare bone and connective tissue diseases. I am also neurodivergent, with ADHD and a suspicion of being on the spectrum.

Recently, I have myself yet again in another cyclical cycle of dead-end friendships. Let me explain, since I was a child, I found myself trying to fit-in wherever I could. This made me feel terrible, so then I did the opposite, I quit trying to fit-in and decided to be a lone wolf. While I am an introvert, and I surely do love my alone time, I’ve learned that human connection is kind of a necessity to a happy life. (Afterall, human beings are social creatures.)

Well, as I’m learning to accept myself more and more, I am seeing certain patterns arise, where I am overextending myself to all extents just to please people I’m not even true friends with. Sucks, right?

A common symptom of autism is rumination, obsessive thinking about an idea, situation, or choice especially when it interferes with normal mental functioning.

This isn’t necessarily something I can control, believe me, I’ve tried. The best I can do is manage it with mindfulness and compassion for self. I also struggle a lot with sudden change or excessive responsibility, I work best with a predictable schedule.

There are many traits of mine that have always made me stick out like a sore thumb. When I was in school, more times than not, I couldn’t participate in P.E. with the other children. This was one of my first experiences of social isolation. I couldn’t play any sports due to my rare diseases, and I oftentimes opted out of school clubs too, out of fear that I did not fit-in. (My peers and school officials made this very clear at times.)

So now, we fast forward to the present. I have internalized this inner shame of my true self and I choose to suffer in silence. Most days, as I spend excessive time with certain people who are not good for me or my health, I am dissociated, a disconnection between a person's sensory experience, thoughts, sense of self, or personal history.

Unfortunately, when you are on the spectrum, it’s not always easy to tell when your unique personality is being appreciated, rejected, or taken advantage of. During my observations, allistic people would rather lie and pretend they behave a certain way, than be honest and show their quirks and weird habits or even share their special interests with one another.

I’ve always struggled with managing friendships, or even building them to last. Yes, I understand no one is meant to stay in your life forever, and some people are just here for a season, but believe it or not, folks on the spectrum cherish close relationships too- we just don’t appreciate artificial ones.

How do I personally know when a friendship is artificial? I’ve had many friends in my twenty-one years, but here are common signs they are forced or one sided:

  • When sharing your special interest, the other person does not seem to be interested, at all.

  • When you are doing things together, or with a group, you are oftentimes left out or forgotten.

  • You tend to do all the heavy lifting in the friendship.

  • They only seem to want to hangout to use up your time, energy, or resources.

  • They leave you feeling drained, sad, and most times angry that you wasted your time.

These have been my experiences for most friendships in my life, but I cannot neglect the true friends I’ve had. Although their friendship lifespans are not always long, there were some people who didn’t care if I walked slow, because they walked slow too. In highschool, I became friends with a person who had EDS and needed a wheelchair. Of course highschool isn’t a pleasant place to be for disabled individuals, but we made it work for each other, meeting each other between bells and taking the elevator together to avoid the crowded halls and nerve-wracking stares. Now, I have a best friend who is also on the spectrum, has ADHD, and Ehlers Danlos syndrome (just like me). We have a connection like no other. I believe she is part of my soul-tribe.

I guess the lesson here for me is clear: I need to build connections with more people who are like me and pour less time into people who are just here because it’s convenient. Maybe then, I can discover what a rich social life feels like.

Sincerely,

Shilynn Marshall.