Recently, when I was having coffee with a friend someone told my friend they were a good person for looking after me so well. This sort of attitude really annoys me. It seems many people think being friends with someone who has a disability is an act of charity.
Comments like these imply many things. They suggest a person spends time with a person who has a disability only because they are a nice person. It also implies people with disabilities are hard work and always need their friends to help them. Most importantly though it annoys me because it suggests a person with a disability mustn't have a lot to bring to a friendship.
Friends as carers
Sometimes my friends help me do things. When we are out at a restaurant they will read the menu. When we are walking I will hold their arm and they will guide me. If we go shopping my friends describe what they can see.
Even though I know my friends are happy to help me I am careful I don't ask too much of them. I want them to be my friends first, not my personal carers.
Some people think my friends should do everything for me
Some people do not understand that I don't want my friends to do things for me. When I told the local council I needed homecare assistance to help clean my house they said I should ask my friends to do it. My friends know that being independent is important to me but sometimes strangers think they are being unkind if they let me do things for myself.
Getting more than you give
One problem I used to have with friendships was the feeling I get more from relationships than I give. My friends often help me in practical ways and so I used to feel as if I couldn't be a good friend. I felt like my friends gave me a lot when I gave them nothing. Once I understood what I am able to offer my friends it helped me not to feel like a burden on them.
What I bring to a friendship?
My friends say I am a good listener. They often ring me or organise to go out for coffee when they want to talk through problems. My friends also say I am a supportive person. I always try to encourage my friends. Nothing makes me happier than seeing my friends achieve their goals. I am also able to share my sense of humour, which is good for some of my friends who are usually very serious. It is important I remind myself that while I can't do so many practical things for my friends I still have a lot to offer.
Making and keeping friends
Making and keeping friends can be challenging for someone who has a disability. It is important to let friends just be friends and not expect them to also be carers. It is also important to realise what you yourself bring to a friendship so that you don't feel like a burden to your friends. To have a friend you have to be a friend and this is as true for people with disabilities as for anyone else.