I'm not going to sugar coat it; going through a special needs diagnosis and the required adjustment that follows is not easy on your friendships. There are many small graces and there will definitely be friends and family members who will rise to the challenge of continuing to walk with your family through the fire. There are also going to be many, many times where people will let you down. You may also notice that the types of people you want/need to be in your inner circle will start to shift. The special needs journey is one that will change the landscape of your relationships.
Oh, sure, people don't usually let you down intentionally. As with other similarly high-stakes journeys I've had in my life, the special needs journey is one that pretty naturally reveals who can hang with something that difficult. Some people can - they stick with you, make mistakes but learn from them, do the hard work to understand what they can do to support you, and follow through on doing it. Some people cannot. For any number of reasons, they don't have the skills, confidence, bandwidth, or inner resources to engage with the depth and breadth of the changes in your life.
Personally, I had an idea of which people in my life would be able to stick with me through this process; there were even folks I had on a pretty clear list in my mind that could be front-line support for us when we moved back to Georgia or as we were processing our diagnosis. Honestly, I was flat wrong about quite a few. Some have met or even exceeded my expectations, and of course I am immensely grateful. Other folks who had been through years of relationship with me and supported our family through other significant life transitions went totally missing when we hit the diagnosis season.
Part of that dynamic is that we were super needy; supporting a family through a special needs transition is incredibly taxing. Having been a friend who pursued supporting others through really difficult things, however, I had some level of expectation that those efforts would be reciprocated. Some relationships did just that. Many relationships went dark; some of those have revived now that we are in a bit of a calmer, more stable stage, but some have not. Some were all in at the beginning, but at some point in the process shifted to not being on the front lines with us for various reasons.
Another aspect of the dynamic is that I tend to be an initiator in my relationships. While I like this trait about myself, it did result in several relationships where the other person was not accustomed to initiating. When everything started falling apart and I was no longer able to initiate in relationships the way I had consistently before, those relationships had to shift. In a few cases, the other person was able to adjust and start initiating with me more. In most cases, those relationships have naturally become more distanced or completely dormant.
Additionally, my criteria for those I am interested in having in my inner circle has shifted. I am realizing that I feel the need to distance myself from those who make decisions that I perceive as risky or irresponsible. My family's proverbial 'boat' is barely stable; I cannot attach myself to those who could potentially capsize our tenuous balance. Our baseline level of normal has an inherently high level of chaos, which means we avoid additional risk like the plague. The struggles we have experienced have been completely out of our control, which has resulted in me having zero capacity for understanding those who pursue high levels of risk voluntarily. Those who remain in my inner circle, and those I am interested in finding to add to that inner circle, are mature, responsible adults realistically pursuing stable, consistent, long-term growth for both themselves and their families.
Just as you'd expect, as a result of all of these dynamics, my inner circle has shrunk significantly over the past two years. As someone who places a high value on relationships, that has hurt deeply. I've felt abandoned, wounded, rejected, and let down. I've had to process, accept, forgive, and adjust. While a few of those relationships are starting to revive a bit now, most have not. It's not easy. I have realized something important: I'm a really good friend. Being in relationship with me is worth digging deep and wading through the mud of the difficulties of my life. So while I miss and have had to grieve those who I've had to let go of because they couldn't stick with me, they are definitely missing out on more because they are missing out on me. They are missing out on walking through this journey with my amazing, resilient, brave, and hard working family who has grown in ways I could never have dreamed as a result of this struggle. In that sense, it's their loss.
Those who have stuck with me through this refining fire are pure as gold, and are a daily point of gratitude for me. And those who I'm investing in to hopefully move into my inner circle will be well worth the work of building the relationship. A reciprocal, mutually beneficial relationship where we are supporting each other exactly where we are, while at the same time calling each other into all we can be? That's something worth creating space in my life to pursue. That's something worth fighting for.