There’s been a lot of buzz about loneliness lately on news and social media. A great deal of importance is placed on “IRL” (in real life) support networks. For people with invisible disabilities, support networks are even more important.
Here’s a point of intersectionality—I’m single and live with no other humans, and many people would consider that a increased challenge in forming a support network. I think it’s the opposite—because I live my life more in the community than in the nuclear family, my support network is bigger and richer.
When I was hit by a car on my bike in 2010, my parents flew out to be there and they assumed I was pretty much on my own here. They were blown away by the number of friends who came to see me in the hospital and the rehab center. I volunteer at the local animal shelter, and that means I work with a bunch of humans as well as animals. The shelter humans descended en masse. The thing about volunteers is, they’re all about service to others. They don’t just come see you in the hospital; they come over later with food and clean your house.
My trivia league friends also came through. They brought food, treats, and reading material. My friend Alice brought tons of food for my family while I was in the hospital and for all of us when I got home.
My former husband stepped up magnificently. We re-formed our relationship as close friends over the following months, and he helped out in countless ways. I remember when my small condo’s toilet failed under the pressure of six adults using my one bathroom, and he ran out to the hardware store and replaced the inner workings before anyone had to go to the neighbors.
Speaking of neighbors, my neighbors two doors down, Eric and Sarah, were a great support during that time. They’ve since moved away, but now Susan is next door. She’s single and living alone too, and we support each other. We bring each other food when we’re sick or broke, or just excited to share a treat we made. Susan gave me the gift of reciprocity—letting me help her too, when she wrecked her car and it took a while to find a replacement. It was so good to feel useful and needed.
My neighbor a block down, Kathleen, is a fanatical moviegoer. I’ve also been her chauffeur and physical therapy coach through two major surgeries and a broken ankle. In return, Kathleen takes me to movies several times a month (movies aren’t cheap!). When I was in physical therapy for my knee injury last winter and my therapist insisted I replace all my shoes, Kathleen bought me 2 new pairs of quality walking shoes. I felt bad about taking her money, but she said, “I need the help and you need the money; can we please not be weird about this?”
My health care providers are absolutely vital to my well-being, and I’m lucky to have found some great ones. Bonnie Sprague, the Nurse Practitioner who took over the day-to-day case management after I was discharged from the hospital physiatrist (long-term trauma care specialist), Skya Fisher, my wonderful massage therapist whose tiny backyard studio is a magic place, and whose thinking outside the box has helped me understand and live in my changed body, Drs. Nelsen, Highley and Kongs, chiropractors, who keep me mobile and who demonstrated the best of human compassion when my insurance was interrupted, and recently, Rand Dennis, the acupuncturist who is taking my healing to the next level. The physical and occupational therapists at Grabow Therapy and Wellness Center are, I believe, the best available anywhere.
Online friends are not to be underestimated. I have my readers here, my Community of Single People (Facebook group), and the writers’ community I’m connected to in my region. One of my online friends is part of our audience and my Facebook group, and we exchange cards and gifts because our bond is too strong to be contained in an online forum.
Next week I’m visiting two key parts of my support network—a dear friend I made online but met in person 7 years ago and our visit has become an annual summer tradition, and the owners of the resort that was my reward destination for finishing my rehab. My story made them want to get to know me better, and we’ve become friends over the years. I’ll visit the sacred place where I scattered the ashes of my 3 cats too.
Cats! They are my favorite supports. That is another fully reciprocal relationship. If it becomes hard for me to care for the cats, Auntie Susan next door comes to help. Nimby was my best cat support ever; there will never be another cat like him. When I got home from the hospital, still in pain from spinal and rib fractures, Nimby saw me struggling to sit up in bed and came and braced his head against my back, pushing with all his furry might to help me up. I don’t know if he really helped or if he just made me try hard not to fall back on him, but his compassion was amazing. I returned the favor when he got cancer and I helped him get the most from his remaining days. Kali, his little girlfriend, is such a comfort now, because she loved him too and she likes to do his routines. And Timbits, my big oaf, makes me laugh.
For people with invisible disabilities, it can be hard to find a network of people who believe you and really get what you’re going through. We’ve all had at least one patronizing doctor. I’ve had a few friends who I distanced myself from after they said dismissive things. In online support groups, I’ve heard stories of people disappointed by friends they thought were more genuinely engaged in their lives, and of people who feel alone and unsupported.
Sometimes life feels precarious, but I am blessed with an astonishingly rich support network. Who are your supports, and who do you help support? Do you feel you have enough, or are you lacking? Where might you find more of the support you need?