How Your Partying Alienates Your Friends Who Live With Disabilities or Chronic Health Issues

I’m the type of person who gets great joy from  spending time with friends, it’s a way to relax and decompress particularly after a long week. In theory, I like the idea of partying, and going out dancing as a way of letting loose. But because of the way parties are or what going out dancing looks like, I often don’t go out because I know I won’t have a good time.  It may appear that I am not disabled, but I have anxiety and chronic pain and these two things often don’t mix well for partying.

The combination of anxiety and pain leaves me feeling depleted a lot of the time, with very little energy. So sometimes I don’t go out because I know I’ll be miserable while out, and then totally exhausted and depleted the next day. My body is also very sensitive to alcohol, so I don’t like drinking much and a lot of party culture is based on getting really drunk. However, I think some changes could be made to make partying more accessible to people like me, a few small changes can be made to allow people like me to have a good time, that really won’t hinder partying that much, so everyone can have a good time!  Below are some problematic phrases that are common in party culture and some ways that I’d LOVE to see party culture change to make itself more accessible.

(1)  “Going out is only cool or fun if we go out really late”. Not going out until 10 or 11pm totally does not jive with me. Put simply, my body cannot handle starting to party at 10 or 11pm most of the time. I’m simply too tired, not to mention that if partying starts around 10pm, it won’t end until 2 or 3am, that just does not work for me. I understand that events often don’t start till 10pm, but I think if events want to be more accessible they should consider starting earlier; even starting at 9pm would make a difference for me. However, I understand that this is not possible in some cases. If a group of your friends is going out to an event that starts after 9pm, consider having early pre-drinks at someone’s place, so that if one of your friends wants to socialize but doesn’t want to go out dancing or to the party they can still join in some of the fun and not feel totally left out.

(2)  “Partying is only fun if you’re really drunk/high” I’m lucky that I never have had friends push me to drink or do drugs. But I think this needs to be said, don’t push your friends to drink or do drugs if they don’t want to. For people with anxiety, drugs and alcohol can amplify anxiety, or other underlying mental health conditions.  If you know a friend of yours doesn’t drink or do drugs because of anxiety or for other reasons, support them in this decision. For me personally, drinking a lot can make my anxiety really bad, so if I do drink I often only have a few drinks. I also want to acknowledge potential risks associated with drug use.  I have no intention of shaming drug users, but because of the increased drug risk in Vancouver currently, and street drugs being contaminated, the risks associated with drug use are currently high. Consider doing naloxone training and if you do the training carry a naloxone kits with you. So in the case of an overdose, you can save someone’s life. (Look here for more info!)

(3)  “Don’t be a party-pooper and go home early!” When I do go out, I go home “early” by partying standards, usually between 12:30-1:00am. My body just cannot handle staying out past that time. Before a night of partying, check in with your friends about the time they want to go home, make sure your friends know that they can be honest with you if they want to go home early. If you have a friend who wants to go home earlier than everyone else, make sure while everyone is still sober you figure out a way for your friend to get home safe. Please honor this, it could really make a difference if a friend goes out or decides to stay home. This may mean helping your friend look up a safe bus route, walking them to a bus stop and waiting with them till their bus comes (and then going back to the party), or everyone pitching in a few dollars so they can get a cab home. Your friend may not want to take a cab home alone because of the cost (and therefore choose not to go out). People who go home in groups, and split the cost of a cab, may not realize how expensive a cab ride cab ride can be on your own.

(4)  “I just like to go wild and dance with whoever I want!” For people with anxiety the idea of going out dancing can be totally overwhelming. Clubs are loud, busy and dimly lit, all of these things can amplify anxiety. Before going out check in with your friends about what they want the night to look like, are they okay with being left alone from time to time? Do they want to stay in a group? Do they want a “buddy” who keeps an eye on them and hangs out with them all night, even if this means accompanying them to the bathroom? For some people with anxiety the idea of being left alone on the dance floor, even for a few minutes can be enough to skyrocket their anxiety. Having a friend they can trust near by them in eyesight or at arm’s reach for the entire night can mean a world of difference to them in terms of having a good night or an awful night. Because clubs are loud it can be difficult to talk. If a friend is worried about a possible anxiety attack perhaps before going out, come up with a signal that you can do (i.e. some kind of hand motion) that means “I need some air, can we go outside and talk?”. It’s also important to check in about where on the dance floor they want to be: some people like being in the middle of it, while for others that may be too overwhelming and they need to be on the sidelines.

(5)  “I like to dance all night long without any breaks, it’s fun! No one needs breaks” This is very ableist. Because of chronic pain, I physically cannot do this, and if I do, I’m left in a lot of pain the next day. However, sometimes I’m forced into this, because no one asks if I need a break to sit down, or get some water. Throughout the night, check in with friends to see if they need a break. They may not want to ask you because they are afraid of being a “party pooper”, but would very thankfully have a little break if someone else asks. Another thing that you can do is call ahead to see if the venue has seating, this way, if a friend of yours has chronic pain, they’ll be able to sit down and rest if need be. If a venue doesn’t have accessible seating, consider a different venue.

(6)  “Oh I love strobe lights and flashing lights, it makes dancing so fun and it looks so cool”. I don’t deal with seizures personally, but for people who do; bright flashing lights can induce a seizure. Certain types of lighting can induce migraines. For me personally, flashing lights while they don’t induce seizures for me can give me anxiety. This also ties into planning ahead (see #7). Once you know where you and your friends want to go, be an ally. Call ahead to see what kind of lighting they use, and ask if they use flashing lights. If a place says they use flashing lights, find a place to go to that does not.

(7)  “Let’s just make up plans as we go along”: honestly this is one of my biggest pet peeves about party culture. If you want to really respect and honor your friends who have anxiety, know that last minute plans really make a lot of people with anxiety REALLY uncomfortable. Try to make your plans at least 10 hours in advance, even a day in advance. (Trust me: this may seem like a total pain in the ass to you, but your friends who worry about this kind of thing will LOVE you for it.) A few times, friends have been making plans really last minute and I’ve decided not to go out because I’ve found the whole situation too stressful. Someone is not “fussy” if they want concrete plans in advance, they’re just trying to take care of their mental health. For me waiting to hear back about plans when people are taking a long time can actually make me physically uncomfortable. Quiet often, people with anxiety need to be able to plan things in advance to feel comfortable. Also, if you have friends who need to go home early before other people, this will give them time to figure out how to get home safely (see #3).

(8)  “Don’t worry about seeing so-and-so, it will be fine” In particular, queer party spaces in Vancouver or other specific party spaces are small. Your friend may have anxiety about running into an ex, an ex’s current partner, a former friend, a crush or someone who they just don’t want to see. Validate your friend’s concern and anxiety. By saying, “don’t worry” you may be making them feel dumb and self-conscious about their anxiety. If there is a certain person your friend is worried about running into, and they have shared this with you, make a plan in advance about how to deal with the situation if it arises. Ask your friend questions like: “If I see this person, do you want me to alert you?”. If you do happen to run into this person, honor your friend’s wishes; make sure they feel safe and comfortable.

(9)  “I don’t need food, I just looovveeee alcohol” Some people like eating lots of food when they’re drunk, others don’t. For people with chronic health issues, food can be important in maintaining energy and blood sugar levels. Before going out, check in with friends about food-related needs.

(10) “Come on! Just come out, I promise it will be fun”: Sometimes, despite someone really wanting to go out, they just can’t, for pain, exhaustion or other reasons. Trust your friends to know their bodies, and tell them that you understand and you really hope they can go out next time.  Realize that them deciding not to go out probably was a tough decision to make, and that they probably are upset for having to miss out (FOMO is real y’all).  Keep on inviting them though, they probably want to feel included, and if you change the way you party to make it more accessible they are probably more likely to come out partying another time. You may not realize it, but this different outlook on partying may be the deciding factor on a friend staying in or going out, or them feeling safe and respected as opposed to disrespected and upset. A lot of these can be incorporated into the way you party regardless if you know that you have friends who have disabilities of some kind. At the base of all these ways to make partying more accessible is communication. Always be in continuous communication with your friends about how you can make partying as enjoyable and safe as possible!

I recognize that this article is written from a very specific perspective and does not take into consideration people who have physical disabilities. I chose to write this from my own personal perspective and the article reflects this. They are many more ways that partying can (and should) be made more accessible that I have not touched on in this article.