The Challenges of Making Friends as an Adult With SMA
Making friends as an adult is hard. At least, it always has been for me. After all, I’m an introvert. I like keeping to myself. But friendships are important to my emotional well-being, and I cherish them deeply.
However, once I graduated from college and started working from home, the challenge of making friends as an adult only grew. In addition to this, living with SMA can make cultivating friendships even more difficult.
Making friends while living with SMA isn’t impossible. It doesn’t mean someone isn’t friendly or capable of developing deep, meaningful relationships with others. A person with SMA simply faces a different set of obstacles from an able-bodied person. Tack this onto being an introverted adult who’s out of college and working from her living room couch every day, and trying to make friends is one challenging feat.
Alas, this doesn’t stop me from wanting to connect with others. I just have to learn to overcome the obstacles in my way.
For me, the most challenging aspect of making new friends is building trust with someone. Due to the nature of my disability, I am completely dependent on others for my physical needs. Because of this, I need to trust whomever I’m with at any given time. And trust takes time to develop.
At the same time, I also can’t gauge the other person’s thoughts as to whether or not they’re willing to take on the additional role of caretaker in the first place. After all, they are by no means required to do so. There is always the possibility that they don’t feel comfortable taking on that kind of responsibility. Maybe my medical needs are too complex, and they’d prefer that one of my caregivers tag along each time instead.
These are some of the thoughts that run through my mind as I begin to connect with others. Perhaps I may be overthinking and overcomplicating things, which I have the tendency to do. However, regardless of both parties’ perspectives, I would never want to push the two of us into something that we both aren’t content with.
That being said, a couple of years ago, I became friends with a girl who had recently moved to town by some twist of fate. She knew nothing about me or my disease. She didn’t know I would need an itch scratched while we were out, or that I tire easily and am a homebody for that reason. She didn’t know what it was like to have a friend who is a frequent resident at the hospital, or that caregivers may tag along at times to be my hands and feet. She didn’t know my story, and I feared if she did, I’d scare her away.
To my surprise, she stayed. She offered to help from the early beginnings of our friendship. And she also validated me whenever I brought caregivers along on our outings. Over time, our bond strengthened, and I gently let my guard down and allowed her to do things I knew she was capable of all along. (Sometimes I’m stubborn like that. I know anyone can easily feed me, pull my hair out of my face, or drive my car.)
It was through her kindness and willingness to help, though, that I realized something profound.
True friends will stay.
True friends will meet you in your mess and lend a hand. They’ll laugh with you, cry with you, and assure you that they are always a phone call or text away. Most importantly, they will never run in the opposite direction, even when your own life becomes so hard to handle that you feel like running yourself.
Through every hospitalization, illness, flare, wheelchair mishap — you name it — people have gone and people have stayed. The people who stay are the ones you want to keep close. With or without SMA, I know this is a fact of life. People will come and go. They will hurt you. They will humble you. They will support you. And they will love you.
Keeping this in mind has assured me that, even though making friendships as an adult is more challenging, I’m still capable of being a good friend and having one (or many), too. I’m still worthy of one of life’s greatest gifts.
Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.