When you have endured a debilitating physical trauma, life changes forever. Pain becomes the dominant feature of every day. Nights are often spent awake in agony. Medical appointments and meetings with your personal injury attorney fill your calendar. After such a drastic upheaval of life as you knew it, your friendships may be hanging in the balance. The truth is that many people don't know how to maintain their relationships with those who have been so dramatically injured, and it may fall to you to do so. How can you help your friends adjust to your injuries?
Understand your friends
It's best to start in your friends' shoes, and try to understand what they are feeling. People who find themselves face to face with a friend's traumatic life-change tend to feel one (or more) of three common emotions:
Loss. Your friends miss who you used to be. When life was rolling along before your accident, you all had a certain rhythm to your lives together. Suddenly you're out of step with the rest of them, and they miss your company. They're sad that you're hurt. Friends experience grief too, and don't always know how to communicate it to you. Avoiding you is easier than openly telling you their feelings; besides, they don't know how you will react if they open up to you.
Fear. Your friends know that the accident that happened to you could happen to them. Walking side by side with you through this season means they have to face their mortality and the fact that they are not invincible. For some people, this is just too much to navigate through. Distancing themselves from you helps them avoid looking at their vulnerability to such an event.
Uncertainty. Your friends don't know what to say to you. They don't know if they should acknowledge your injuries, ask about the accident, or talk about the physical changes you're experiencing. They're unsure about whether or not you're still up for making jokes about the guy down the hall or hitting the mall to shop--and don't want to ask in case their question makes you sad or upset. Avoiding you keeps them from feeling awkward.
Meet your friends where they are
It may not seem fair that you should be the one working to help your friends adjust to your injuries. After all, you're the one who's dealing with physical pain, nightmares, job loss, and medical bills. However, your friends may just need some simple cues from you to help them jump back on board. Here are three simple ways to make your friends comfortable around you.
Talk about it. Acknowledge the elephant in your midst. Bring up your accident and explain to your friends how it has changed your life. Let them know you're ok with them asking questions about what happened and how you feel.
Admit what's different. Describe to your friends the extent of your injuries and what accommodations they have necessitated in your life. Tell them what activities you're still able to engage in with them, as well as what might be different now because of your injuries. For instance, you may still love the idea of hitting the mall but can only manage an hour. Or, you still want to have everyone over for Thursday movie nights, but can't promise a clean house.
Tell them how they can help. Chances are, your friends aren't avoiding you because they don't like you anymore; they just don't know how to help you right now. They feel helpless. If you give them specific ideas for practical help that you need on an ongoing basis, they will probably fall over themselves to organize a network of support. For instance, explain that you need someone to drive you to meetings with your attorney, or do your grocery shopping, or clean your house.
Getting used to life after a traumatic injury is complicated, as there are many levels of adjustment challenging you every day. Although it may take time to do so, reach out and show your friends how to adjust to the new you. You need them, and they can be an invaluable factor in your recovery. After all, as the famous Beatles song says so well, "I get by with a little help from my friends."