On August 23, 2014, my then 23-year-old son became a C-6 quadriplegic from a diving accident. Quite unexpectedly, I became his full-time caregiver and both our lives immediately changed course on that fateful day. But I was determined to support him on his road to independence no matter the cost. I had also just separated from my now ex-husband which only made it that more difficult.
Many people who experience spinal cord injuries (SCI), as well as their caregivers, talk about the pain and isolation they experience due to loss of friends and family post injury. While my son always has had a supportive and amazing group of friends, my changing circumstances created incredible loneliness, isolation and depression that was often difficult to overcome. I was blessed though to have a best friend who walked this journey with me and, as time went on, more and more strong women came into my life who helped me through the darkest of times.
Much of my life has been about caring for others and helping them through difficult seasons. I wanted to find a way to continue to give in spite of all I was going through. Though I became involved in my local SCI community, it was through online support groups that I realized how I could best help others. So in June 2016, I created a Facebook group called Spinal Cord Injury Support Group.
Six months after creating the group, I spoke to a member named Helen who had joined early on and was actively involved in the group. Helen had a background in being an administrator and moderator in other online support groups as well. We talked for quite a bit before I approached her about possibly becoming a moderator in my group. She was very excited to help and thus began not only a strong working relationship, but a beautiful friendship as well.
We both have such hearts for helping the SCI community that we began talking regularly to exchange ideas of how to create as informative, interactive and supportive a group as possible. We even began to work with other administrators who saw the value in a supportive team effort. As time consuming and difficult running a group is, we both have derived great satisfaction in knowing we are helping people all over the world on a daily basis. Her dedication and willingness to take direction gained my trust and she soon became my co-administrator.
Our relationship continued to grow as we talked not just about the group but our lives. As different as we were in how we often viewed things, we found we had a lot of common interests and learned a lot about and from each other. During the time we have known each other – about 3 years – we have developed a very deep friendship.
Helen has gone through difficult medical issues and hospitalizations, as well as nursing home stays, and I have been able to help by being a medical advocate for her. During my divorce process, she received quite a few phone calls from me when I just needed to vent to get past the pain and frustration. And when the judge finally ruled on my divorce, it was she who talked me into online dating. I agreed as long as she did it too. While that is a story all by itself, I will say our buddy system worked well for us and made the process more fun. We could also vent to each other when things got annoying or frustrating! Her little push resulted in me finding an incredible man who I have been dating for about 1½ years.
Though we talk almost daily on the phone and even video message each other, we never met in person until February 2019. It has always amused us, though, how so many people could not understand how we could be such good friends without ever meeting. I don’t know how many times we have heard, “You’ve never met?”
Though we only live 3½ hours away from each other, our lives made it difficult to get together face to face. But finally on February 23, my boyfriend and I drove up from Richmond, VA to Easton, MD to visit her. Helen expressed being so nervous, but I was more excited. I had to chuckle when she said she was concerned I would not like her when I saw her in person. Why would I not? After all, this was not some kind of potential dating relationship!
When I rang the doorbell and Helen answered, we both were quite excited (as well as a bit nervous) and giggled like school girls. But it was so wonderful to finally meet! We spent several hours chatting and I even cut her hair, gave her a B-12 injection and she gave me lessons on using my laptop as she wanted to convert me over from my iPad. Helen definitely has a way about her that puts people at ease and is so welcoming. My boyfriend really liked her and said it made him happy to see us so happy together!
The day passed by way too quickly but we both knew we would see each other again in the not too distant future. Our only regret is that we had not found time to meet in person sooner. Although our lives are continually changing, which can make it harder to stay in touch, we are determined to do so. It’s not often you find an online friendship like ours.
For those that are lonely and seeking out friendship or companionship, it’s possible to do so online. While we both have other online friendships, none are quite like ours. Here are some tips that can help you find friends online.
- Find someone you feel you have things in common with and begin to message online and/or text each other.
- If all goes well, start conversing on the phone to get to know each other better. Talking is a far better way to know if you connect with someone.
- When comfortable, start Facebook video messaging, Skyping or FaceTiming. There’s nothing like seeing a person while talking to them to grow your relationship.
- Don’t just be fair weather friends. Be a support and a listening ear through the storms of life.
- Surprise them with cards and little gestures of kindness to let them know how much their friendship means to you.
- No matter the distance, work towards meeting some day. You won’t regret it!
When you go through trials and tribulations in life, it helps to have those special people in your life who you know are there for you no matter what. Cherish and nurture those friendships as they are real treasures. It takes work and time to develop a new friendship but it is well worth it in the end! Friends often become like family – but family you get to choose!
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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. BMD/BMDA/0319/0780, BMD/BMDA/0319/0775