When I was in high school I thought surrounding myself with others in wheelchairs would create “negative” energy. I’m not sure why I made this assumption but I did. Perhaps, having friends in wheelchairs would draw more attention to my own disability? Maybe other people in wheelchairs were bitter and angry? These were a few false assumptions I had made. And honestly, it was out of ignorance and lack of acceptance of my own injury. I had been injured almost my entire life but never was exposed to others in wheelchairs. I had found my own identity by my high school years and my wheelchair was not part of that identity. So, why did I need friends in chairs? I was doing just fine surviving without spinal cord injury peers (At least that’s what I thought).
Before I meet Clint, a C6 quadriplegic, I only had friends that could walk. I gained confidence through this friendship. Clint introduced me to quad rugby. He encouraged me to start working out and making sure I was in shape. Through this friendship I meet others that were newly injured that enjoyed my companionship. This was very rewarding to me.
I thought having friends in a wheelchair would change me. In fact, it made me more myself! A circle of friends in wheelchairs provided me with a support system that knew exactly what I was going through. My friends and family can try to relate but Clint knew exactly what life with spinal cord injury was truly about. My friendship with Clint gave me a level of independence (and encouragement to gain greater independence).
Whether you are newly injured or have been in your wheelchair for years the value of connecting with a mentor is priceless! A healthy relationship with a peer is one that is based on a sharing of experiences, mutual respect, and understanding. Peer support can be either a one-on-one or group relationship among individuals who share similar lifestyles and experiences. Mentors help others to build their own self-confidence or get through a difficult period of life by serving as role models, sharing experiences, and offering support.
My personal experience with connecting with peers was an empowering opportunity to acquire and share valuable mutual support skills. I now realize that my life is greatly enriched by friends that share my experience as a spinal cord injury survivor. I seek every opportunity I can to surround myself with others in wheelchairs. I just wish I had seen the value years ago.
Know the facts:
- Social support is associated with better health and functioning in individuals with SCI.
- Individuals with spinal cord injury report that their primary social concern is isolation and loss of social contact. This creates a renewed dependence of the survivor on his/her family.
- Find resources and get connected!
The opinions and experiences presented herein are for informational use only. Individual results may vary depending on your condition. Always consult with your health care professional. This individual has been compensated by Bard Medical for the time and effort in preparing this article for BARD’s further use and distribution. 1501-05