8 Tips for Talking to Your Friend with a Spinal Cord Injury

There are a lot of difficult things you can experience in life, but one of the most frustrating is watching a friend go through a spinal cord injury (SCI).Watching from the sidelines as someone you care about suffers a permanent loss of physical ability can be heart-wrenching. You want to help, but you just don't know what to say.


Know this: you're not alone. Many people find themselves in this type of "I don't know what to do” situation when a friend has a spinal cord injury. Very rarely is someone prepared to handle such a challenge, and you may be surprised when to find yourself experiencing your own grieving process for your injured friend. On the rare occasion, you may already know someone personally who has an SCI, and no one expects you to handle this like a pro.

But there are things you can do to teach yourself how to handle this situation. Read on for advice on how to talk to a friend with a new spinal cord injury. Remember: You can still be close friends, things will just be a little different.

1: Specifically Ask What Your Friend Needs Help With

There are a lot of ways you can help, and sometimes being specific with your help is the best method. For example instead of asking your friend, "Do you want me to bring dinner tonight?" they may answer no. You should instead try asking, "I'm stopping at Papa John's on my way to see you. What should I pick up for you?" Being specific about the ways you will help can really help your friend.

2: Be Encouraging Without Being Condescending

It's normal to feel the urge to say, "Wow you're looking good," or even saying something like "good for you" when you see your friend. However, try hard to refrain from saying these so-called “encouraging” statements that may come across as trite, or even condescending. Saying truthful, sincere statements of positivity.

3: Avoid Saying ‘Everything Happens for a Reason’

For some reason, this statement has become a popular phrase in the Western world. However, many people who have lived through a traumatic event do not necessarily hold the same sentiment. In order to not upset your friend, it’s best to avoid saying this statement. Instead, try to be understanding and say “I am so sorry. I love you.”

4: Don't Compare Your Friend to Another Person’s Situation

Maybe you’ve known someone who’s had a spinal cord injury and is now walking around just fine. Do not bring this person up to your friend or compare their situation to your friend’s situation, even if you think it’s a hopeful story. Every SCI is different since the nerves are damaged differently in every injury. Instead, be their cheerleader without comparisons.

5: Actively Listen

Many people are terrible listeners, and instead are simply waiting for their opportunity to interrupt. Try to actively listen to your injured friend without the inclination to interrupt and add your two cents. Being someone for your friend to just vent to — and simply listening to what your friend has to say — can be invaluable to the healing process and their overall sci recovery.

6: Use Humor

It's always good to infuse appropriate humor into serious health situations like a spinal cord injury. Truly. When Christopher Reeve was injured, he was notoriously visited by his best friend Robin Williams, who dressed up as a nurse and visited his bedside. Think about what makes your friend laugh and do it. It can be more healing than any card or balloon.

7: Talk about More Than Just the Injury

When you visit your friend, try to talk about other engaging topics outside of the injury, rehab and therapy talk. There's a lot happening in the world and it will be good for your friend to get their mind off themselves and onto other topics for even a brief amount of time. Pop news, politics, quantum physics, a new recipe… you get the idea.

8: Remember to Check In Often

As the months and years go by after your friend’s injury, don’t forget to check in on them. It can be difficult to transition back to a normal life after a spinal cord injury, and many people struggle during the first couple of years. Many friends allow their friendships to fall to the wayside because their friend has changed so much. Please, do not allow this to happen between you and your friend.

>Remember, life is never easy, and a spinal cord injury simply reminds us of that. Be there for your injured friend just as they likely would be there for you, and you will be rewarded with one of life’s greatest friendships.

SCI survivor Mason Ellis has 10 additional tips for you to try helping your friend.

Quick Question: Are you injured? What did your friends say that helped? Please leave a comment below!

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Topics: Spinal Cord Injury

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