Disability and the New Adult: Relationship edition

This is the last post in the disability and the new adult series- thanks for hanging out with me the last several weeks as we’ve looked at the real effects of diagnosis and disability and how that can reflect in our writing.
I’m concluding the series with talk about relationships, which is both emotional and easy to get long-winded about, but I’ll try to stay brief.
The advent of something like a young adult onset disability works like The Sorting Hat on a life. You learn pretty quickly who the Slytherins, the folks who blame, dismiss, or judge you are, and the Ravenclaws who send you a myriad of semi helpful tips and tricks along with gallons of Internet-gleaned wisdom that often just stresses you out. The Hufflepuffs treat you like you’re now breakable and really shouldn’t do anything but stay in bed and let them tend to you (actually didn’t have too many of these, dangit) and then the Gryffindors are right there beside you, helping before you have to ask but reminding you you’re human and capable and not less.
Yes, I had fun writing that.
On a more serious note, there are people I lost along the way. For some people, it’s the idea of their own mortality or weakness reflected in your experience, and for others I think it was wanting to say something but being at a loss and too tangled up in that to make an effort. And for some, it was straight up judgement. I don’t know that disability has brought new friendships to my life yet, but it has certainly put existing ones through the ringer and brought us much closer.
I think it’s safe to say that romantic relationships are one of the most terrifying ventures in an 18-20somethings disability experience. All the tension of trying to meet the right person in the right way at the right time is amplified by the fact that you bring your disability with you. If you have one like mine, which isn’t immediately obvious, it becomes incredibly difficult to know when it’s time to share. I was not dating anyone at the time of diagnosis- in fact, I haven’t been on a date since I got sick (and now you all know my sad life. I wrote like a million words, does that count? Don’t answer that.) And to be honest, the very idea of dating terrified me.
What if symptoms hit on the first date? I can’t imagine asking a guy I don’t know that well to help me somewhere safe as my muscles jump and thrash and I basically fall apart in front of him. I can’t imagine trusting someone that way besides the people I know and love already.
I want to be, and see myself as, an independent, responsible, hard working, equal partner, but the fact is that my disorder touches every aspect of my life, and anyone with whom I would want to build a life and family would have to be prepared to take on that burden til death do us part, and at times it feels like there’s something singularly unfair about asking someone to do that.
So, writers, I’m sure you can already see the possibilities with characters and plot. How does your disabled character view their romantic chances and the impact of their disability? Are they shy or flirtatious? Up front or secretive? Believe in love or think they’re not worthy? How does the conversation about life long love and disability play out, and do promises hold up? Even in friendships, how is the quality of those relationships impacted by disability?
Relationships are one of the cornerstones of human experience, and disability can impact them in huge ways, especially for someone just starting to forge their adult path. Don’t shy away from that reality.
As always, if you have your own disability story to share, or questions about writing characters with disability, please leave them in the comments below! Thanks for diving into disability with me- come back next Wednesday for the first post in my new Hurts and Hangups series on the most challenging aspects of writing.


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