Updated: Nov 28, 2021
By Ally Lloyd (she/her)
Everyone knows socialising is important in maintaining friendships. In primary school your parents would encourage you to invite someone round and then they would return it and build the friendship, in high school going on those first trips shopping into town with friends was a bonding experience, and by the time you’re leaving school to start uni or a job, shared experiences in the form of nights out fuel friendships and conversations where you regale anecdotes of times out together. From day one the idea that to maintain friendships you must go out and do things with friends is really hammered home. So, what if it’s not quite as easy as that? What if a night out means repeatedly hitting the barrier of inaccessibility? Or you know it will totally wipe you out for the next few days? But, you still need to socialise right? You don’t want to miss out on the spontaneous night out that your group of friends will be talking about for weeks? Or cancel on that same friend for coffee AGAIN? What about your friendships and mental health?
When you’re a young person with a disability, these dilemmas can all too quickly become the reality, and it is hard to make a judgement on what is right for you. There is a fine balance to be achieved (one which I am pretty sure none of us have achieved yet!!!) of being conservative enough with your energy to look after your physical health but having fun and socialising enough to look after your mental health and wellbeing.
So why are things more complicated? Say, for a concrete example, going on a night out. With epilepsy, a number of factors affect a persons likelihood to have a seizure. These include lack of sleep, extremes in temperatures, alcohol, flashing lights, and loud noises, amongst others. So basically everything about a night out! So not to go out reads as the sensible option, as going would make for a hangover of migraines, fatigue, and the stress of maybe having a seizure, a negative for your physical health, but not to go would leave you feeling down, isolated, and left out of friendships, a negative for your mental health.
These situations feel all too common and navigating what the “right” option is feels impossible, as it has to be you that makes the judgement on what is best for you, with so many things to weigh up. You have to weigh up that parents or health professionals would always advise staying home and looking after yourself, whilst your peers are always vocally encouraging you to just come out (and have one more drink!) and deal with the consequences later, despite not really understanding the consequences (Beth’s fresher’s flu lasted till February!). You also have to balance the repercussions not only on yourself but on those around you, if I have a seizure that has implications for my friends and family, in terms of needing to take time off work to come up to Glasgow, or having to “keep an eye on me” in a way friends shouldn’t have to, is unfair, and to feel like any of that was a result of a bad decision to go on a night out, makes you inclined to err on the side of caution.
However, it is not all doom and gloom. One of the reasons we have been excited to discuss socialising is because it is so workable and brings home the importance of good friends. With the right kind of communication between you and your friends it is totally doable. There is a need for you to talk about what you need and what would work for you, and a need for friends to listen and be patient and forgiving, willing to understand that don’t not want to see them, it is just more complicated than that, and make changes to some of the socialising that you do. Things also tend to quickly spiral upwards, friends are more than happy to help make plans wok once they know what barriers they are and how they can help. For example, when Beth was wheeling it, accessibility became a barrier to socialising, only being able to go to cafes or bars if they didn’t have stairs up to them (RARE!!!), me, Ross, and our other mutual friends would check if places were accessible before suggesting them, both to make sure we could ALL actually go but also so that the “responsibility” for being aware of accessibility, and the constant disheartening “unfortunately we are not accesible's" would be split between us all as a standard, to make things that little bit easier .
Often, friends will even go above and beyond, because they genuinely want to spend time with you (!!!!!). For example, when I was admitted to hospital after only having been at uni for a fortnight, some of my biggest worries were about missing on plans and the friendships I just began to form. I was so worried that I would be forgotten about by these people that I had literally just met. Instead, some of the wonderful people I had met the week before and started a “watching bake off together” tradition with moved Bake-Off night to my hospital room, all nine of us piled in and watching it on the tiny hospital TV. Times like this, are somehow some of my happiest first year memories and needless to say made me realise just how much I wanted these friends as friends.
So, to wrap up, what I am trying to say is that socialising can be harder when you have physical or mental health issues, sometimes a lot a lot harder to the point where it feels like it would be easier to just not. However, if anything socialising and looking after your mental health and having a good support system is even more important for people in this group, and it is SO so worth working with your friends to make it work.
(Originally published 1/9/19)