A Letter to the Friends That Left When I Got Sick
By Cassie | @cpwithcp | Dec 29, 2018
As a kid, my Cerebral Palsy never stopped me and I always felt the need to keep up with you all. Growing up, we played outside, went on adventures, and as we grew, so did our friendships and our bonds. I used to be so active. I’m sure you remember. Making friends in college was easy and the amount of joy you all brought me will never be forgotten. I wish to thank you for all of the fond memories: the coffee shop meetings, the endless hours of homework dates, enduring high school together, the midnight runs to Steak and Shake, the birthdays, the movie nights, the tears that came from laughing, the tears that resulted from heartbreak. Those memories bring me so much happiness; they also provoke a kind of sadness that only those in my situation can comprehend. The sadness that comes from loss. The kind of loss that is entirely my fault and, at the same time, is in no way my fault at all.
Some of you were there when it started. When my back started going out. When it got so bad that I was screaming to the top of my lungs and you had to take me to the ER. I started having to leave get-togethers early because the pain was too bad. You assured me that you did not mind having to help me more. You promised, “I’ll be here for you!” But the reality of chronic illness and disability is not what you see in those viral videos dubbed ‘inspiration porn’, where a girl in a wheelchair gets asked to prom by the most popular kid in school, and disability is portrayed as all rainbows and unicorns, existing solely to make ableds feel better about their lives. The reality is much more sobering. What you didn’t know, friend, is that when I altogether stopped getting your invites out because I could never go due to pain or being sick, my confidence took a hit. With every unreturned or less than enthusiastic response to my texts to see how you were doing, my self-esteem would shatter a little. Before chronic life, I felt I had it all: heaps of good friends, a Bachelor’s degree, I was pursuing my Master’s at my alma mater, I was living on my own, and I felt I really knew myself as a strong and independent woman. But as my body started to fall apart, so did our friendships, and with that, my confidence and sense of identity. When I needed you all the most, I was shown how thin the veil of friendship really was. Not that I blame you, friend. You didn’t know what being friends with the Disabled Girl really meant until you saw past the inspo-porn illusion. You saw the tears from the pain, you heard about the days and days I had to spend in bed due to what I now know was a Hashimoto’s flare-up, and you didn’t know how to handle me asking you, “how will I get through this?” So you backed off. You decided to keep going forward with your life even when I was forced to put mine on hold for....who knows how long? I’m still figuring this chronic life out. And, friend, I’m proud of you for moving on and living life. I don’t blame you.
But then there’s me. My situation forced me to drop out of my Graduate program with only my thesis left because the pain got so bad I couldn’t sit through class, get my shoes on to get there, or concentrate through intense brain fog to get readings done. I rely three times a day on a nerve medicine, a strong muscle relaxer, and a high-dose opiate just to function. I celebrate when I hit below a seven on the ever-hated pain scale by doing chores I can’t get done when I’m in too much pain. I spend most days in bed because I don’t have enough energy to be productive (but I can recommend what’s good on Netflix!) Partners have left me because I’m “too sick” or their parents taught them “better than to date a crippled girl.” I regularly am called lazy and a waste-of-space. I won’t even begin to tell you what others say about disabled people on the internet. I have learned the world is not welcoming or accepting of disability and chronic conditions.
But the real reason I write you this letter is not to invoke pity or make you feel like a bad friend. No, I write this letter because I started thinking about the complex relationship between disability and friendship after recently being called a liar and told that I use my disabilities as an excuse by an old college friend. This person once said they understood my plight and they would help me through it. They witnessed me at my worst; they saw me, tear-stained cheeks, in the fetal position. They saw me fall, both physically and metaphorically. They saw me frustrated at my own body. They saw how I fought. They saw. And they ended up saying what others don’t dare say, but only think and show through their actions. These words especially stung because they came from someone who was by my side at my worst, someone of whom I loved and trusted, and they still could not accept me as I am. While finding and keeping genuine friends is certainly not a problem solely found in the disabled community, I’ve found that it is exponentially harder for us and I began to think, “if they couldn’t accept me . . . who will?”
Now, I know all of this may sound a little . . . bitter. And, to be honest, maybe some of it is. But friend, I had to talk about the ugly to get to the truth: I appreciate you. Yes, you read that right. Losing you hurt. The reason I lost you is even more painful. However, I appreciate you because you, at one time or another, brought me laughter and happiness and you showed me kindness and love. You gave me precious memories to hold on to on my darkest days. My childhood was wondrous and explored and boisterous because of you. My high school days were dark because of the bullies and missing school for doctor's appointments, the boys who would trip me just to watch me fall, the girls who whispered, “her and all the freaks like her should be dead,” and the eventual rumors that started after I was raped by my boyfriend. But you helped me through and were a shining light that guided me all the way to College. In college, so many of you graced me with the fondest memories of our first attempts at really growing up. You praised my successes and loved me through my failures.
But more importantly, friend, losing you made me realize the utter pricelessness of the friends who have stayed through it all. Those friends who have visited me in the hospital and at home after surgeries, bringing me flowers and stuffed animals, the ones who picked up the phone and listened while I cried in pain, and laughed at me while I rambled on about something ridiculous after taking my pain medicines. I truly love you because you have taught me the difference between seasonal friendship and unconditional friendship, and that all friendships have their worth. You have reminded me to refine pain and hurt into formidable life lessons. Because of you, I understand forgiveness a little more. Because of you, I've learned to never compromise my innate sense of vulnerability just because I'm scared of losing another friend to disability and chronic illness and pain. Because of you, dear friend, I now know the nature of loss and mourning. I still mourn the loss of my body, my independence, and (for now) my sense of identity; I mourn our friendship and the unique radiance it filled my life with; I grieve for the vivacious life I had. However, I've learned that there is quite a lovely appreciation that is naturally birthed from the cycle of grief. An appreciation for what's in front of me, for who is beside me, and for the hope that always seems to carry me forward through the most trying of times. So, while the beauty of our time as friends may have passed, I hope you know after reading this letter that I forgive you, I love you, and I think of you often.
the Disabled Girl
Cassie Strickland is a 27 year old woman that lives in Carrollton, Georgia with her best friend and emotional support cat, Mattie. She has a Bachelor's degree in Sociology and loves to learn, especially about the strange and enigmatic aspects of social life. She is a horror movie aficionado and is an amateur cross-stitcher. She has a slew of medical conditions, including Cerebral Palsy, Hashimoto's disease, Spina Bifida Occulta, Acetabular Dysplasia, chronic pain, and chronic fatigue--to name but a few. She is dedicated to disability activism and awareness, spending her time learning about how disability fits into our ableist society. She hopes the words she writes will always be open, honest, and vulnerable and she hopes they open many
hearts into but one of millions of disability narratives.