Posted by Nurse Linda in Life After Paralysis on August 11, 2021 # Relationships, Lifestyle

Lately, recent events with the COVID situation is making me think a lot about relationships. However, it seems that society has evolved into some confusion about relationships and intimacy. Many individuals in the community are looking for meaningful connections with others. This can range from friendships to long-term personal commitments.Man and Woman sitting at the beach

Today’s society as represented on TV and in the news, depicts a society that is about immediate gratification without consequences. The relationships of actors and made-up television shows do not have much to do with friendships as emulated in the population. Getting to know someone as an individual is not depicted, but immediate sexual interaction is the choice of the day. This is a false presentation of reality. Perhaps this is why people are so unsettled and disappointed when their relationships do not mimic this fantasy world.

Developing some sort of rapport with other people can be challenging and even intimidating. Everyone has insecurities. Everyone. Many people I speak with worry about developing personal relationships because of their paralysis or different abilities. This consumes some people so much that they just can not get past even going out to meet others. Others push those anxious feelings to the side, but they are still conscious of them. The feelings overtake their interactions. Still, others appear to be able to move forward with success. The truth of the matter is no one else knows what you are feeling. You are the only one who really knows your inner thoughts.

I am certainly not an expert in this arena, but I can relate to what many people have told me. One thing I do know for certain is that everyone is self-conscious about something. Some are more open about telling others; others are more self-conscious if they are apprehensive about something others can readily see and identify as different. Still, others keep their issue buried deep down. They might appear as confident or maybe snarly, but deep inside, they harbor self-consciousness.

Whatever your issue is, you can learn to harness it. There are ways that others have been successful in doing this. One of the easiest for those who are timid, like me, is joining the Reeve Community. Yes, that is a blatant advertisement, but I am a huge believer in this organization. You can look online and see what others are doing and how they are going about it. Many people are doing fabulous things, but you might want to start with those learning to manage their day, get in and out of the house, and go to a restaurant, movies, or shopping. Figuring how to get out and around is huge. Compliment yourself if you have mastered it.

You might want to contact some of the individuals in the Reeve Community. That is what it is for, interacting with others. The nice thing is that you do not have to meet face-to-face if that is an issue for you or even carry on a back and forth conversation. Instead, write a word or two of support or thanks for the information. There are many individuals in the Reeve Community that are at different levels in their communications with others. You are welcome in this safe place.

There are other websites for people to connect with as well. If you want to stick within the group of individuals with spinal cord injury, or if you have a disease-related concern, look at those sites. Some opportunities abound online. Just be sure you visit sites sponsored by legitimate organizations and that have a place where you can report inappropriate posts. Your safety online should be your prime concern.

One of the biggest factors in maintaining mental health is communication with others. Good mental health can be gained from even the most casual relationships. When this is published, we all may be able to go out or not, depending on the state of COVID in your area. But if you can go out, talk with people that you see frequently. This could be the clerk at the grocery store, a coffee shop, the mail carrier, anyone you see often. I look forward to seeing the attendant at my gas station. He models himself after Elvis. An interesting choice for this day but a conversation starter. Now, we talk about all sorts of things. I only see him when filling my gas tank, but I feel welcome by his big wave across the pumps when there.

If you are feeling especially strong, go out to a public place to hang out. This could be an outdoor area or any location where people mingle. At a restaurant, you are at a table, so it is difficult to strike up a conversation, but there are places that serve meals or beverages that are more casual. Hang out for a while. You might need to go several times, but you will see the same faces after a few times. Give the nod hello. They might just nod back.

Once you meet new people, have some conversation starters ready to go. Simple and neutral topics are best. How do they like coming here? What is the local sports team doing? How are you enjoying being out after COVID, well people may have had enough about that topic, but you will think of something particular to your local area.

If you have an interest in a specific topic, look for a place where you can go to find out more about it and meet people with the same interests. Having a common interest is always a conversation starter. Keep yourself knowledgeable about the topic. Find a tidbit of information that others might not know, so they become interested in you.

Once you meet people and form friendships, you might find yourself interested in someone romantically. Going out with a specific agenda of finding a date does not work for just about anyone. Getting to know people personally and then asking someone out or telling a friend you are interested in dating is a better start. People usually get to know others prior to asking another person out. Knowing something about an individual will aid in sharing a good time.

Intimacy takes time to build. The best relationships begin with some sort of communication, knowledge of the other person and understanding. There are people who will have sex with you, but just as quickly, they are gone. If that is what you are looking for, you can find it, but it comes with many risks. Building a relationship is far more satisfying overall. The most successful relationships are those that begin with friendships. Developing intimacy with a person does not necessarily mean a sexual relationship, but a closeness, a deep understanding, and a personal connection. Sex may follow.

In a relationship or an intimate relationship, each party should not be looking to take advantage of the other. You should not be financing, supporting, or continually challenged. If you are, it is time to move on. Both parties in a relationship should be contributing to the relationship. Some people will take advantage of you. Beware if you are always giving financially, of your time, personal space, beliefs, or emotional energy.

A great source to help you build resources to develop relationships and intimacy is a psychologist or counselor. This person can help you analyze situations and provide skills to maneuver through your development as you are. Dr. John, a psychologist from the Christopher & Dana Reeve Paralysis Foundation, frequently speaks about relationships with someone who has a spinal cord injury. If you have not listened to his webinar, be sure to tune in or listen to recordings of his programs about relationships. He lives it and is great at expressing the issues. I listen to his webinar and find his words to be encouraging. I always feel ready to meet the world with his effective suggestions.

Relationships are tough for everyone. We all have expectations of what we think life should be, but it most often never is. Adjustments must be made as we navigate our world. Self-consciousness is present in all of us. We need to learn to channel that into positive energy. Nurse Linda

Pediatric Consideration: Children develop relationships with their peers, teachers, and caregivers. Navigating the world is a challenge for all children. There is so much to learn, one being how to interact positively with others. Learning what is typical for their life may not be typical for others is always a surprise to children. It has been especially challenging during the COVID time as learning to interact with others, how to behave in the store, even what to do at school has been delayed.

Teens tend to have a challenge with relationships for a variety of reasons. Taking opportunities in school while living at home is a safe start. When living in another setting, such as college or on their own, you want to have your young adult prepared for all of life’s challenges. Meeting people and forming relationships can be modeled by parents in their lives. Be sure to keep your teen safe from predators while teaching them how to navigate in their community. Nurse Linda

Linda Schultz, Ph.D., CRRN, a leader and provider of rehabilitation nursing for over 30 years, and a friend of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation for close to two decades. Within our online community, she writes about and answers your SCI-related healthcare questions in our Heath & Wellness discussion.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.