GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Tucked in the corner of a coffee shop, Meghan Beggs sips her gingerbread latte. It’s loud, crowded and busy. Those sipping their coffees and teas continue their conversations effortlessly. Lost in computers and cellphones, trying to be heard above the noise of those around them. It’s different for Beggs.
This is out of her comfort zone — the people, the noise, the interactions. Yet, in that corner of the Roots Brew Shop, today she is comfortable, cozy and confident. With her community living support worker, who happens to be her cousin and best friend, sitting next to her, Beggs is concise in what she has to say.
“I’m an advocate for a lot of people with different types of disabilities. I talk a lot about my disability to try and bring more awareness to it,” Beggs said.
Beggs lives with 22q-deletion syndrome, the most common genetic disorder next to Down syndrome.
“Unfortunately many people don’t know about it and I think the reason why is because it’s more of an invisible disability,” Beggs says. “You can’t really tell that I have a disability when you look at me, but it comes with a lot of different struggles.”
She is 22 and says she needs to be driven places because she doesn’t have a license. She needs help cleaning, shopping and cooking. And in loud, crowded places, like Roots, her anxiety can become a crippling way of life. But she has found a way around it through writing and her CLS worker, Carly Van Duinen.
“Sometimes I’m just kind of there as a companion and a friend and just be along and calm your nerves a little,” Van Duinen says, talking to Beggs. “But sometimes also you’re like, I can do this on my own, I got this.”
This is not work for Van Duinen, Beggs is not a client. They are friends and that is evident as they go back and forth with each other telling the other what the relationship they’ve built means to them.
They have created a calming power for each other, one now that they hope to share with others.
“I’ve either felt uncomfortable or overwhelmed,” Beggs said about trying to find small groups to a part of. “It’s just really hard for me to join a group that has maybe been together for a long time or has lots of people, cause when there’s lots of people I can’t process everything at once and it’s just too much when there’s a lot of people.”
“So, Carly and I have always gone to a lot of coffee shops throughout our CLS working and I just thought one day what if we started a group with people with invisible disabilities like me and maybe have social anxiety and it’s just hard to just join new groups.”
The pair calls it Cozy Coffee, Friendly Faces. The goal is to meet once a month at a local coffee shop and be a haven for people who otherwise wouldn’t venture to such a place. They know that it seems unconventional, gathering people with social issues to be social in such a busy setting. But they know it’s possible, Beggs is living proof.
“It might just be saying hey, come out to this coffee shop,” Van Duinen said. “It isn’t going to be like, oh yeah, I have major social anxiety but I’m going to go there. It might take five times of seeing other people being able to do it a little bit or just meeting one or two friends and it just moves around and we find a new meeting place.”
“I know that going out to a coffee shop can be intimidating but the goal with it is that you can relate to other people that are going to be there that also have social anxieties like you do.”
The groups first meeting is Friday, Dec. 7 at Roots Brew Shop on Grand Rapids’ West Side. They say if it’s just the two of them that show up, that’s fine, it’s a sign of the progress they made.
“If you want to come here and just, that’s your first step of being able to be at a coffee place and just sit while you know, other people are here, I think that’s a huge step,” Van Duinen said. “Our goal isn’t to go up to them and say, you’re here to interact, our goal is to just say hey, thanks for coming, maybe we’ll see you another time.”
And for Beggs, this is an opportunity to continue her outreach, one she started with her blog two years ago to give people perspective of living with 22q.
“Even though I have this disability, I don’t look at it as something that’s really hard in my life,” Beggs said. “I know there’s struggles with it but I ‘ve found different ways to cope with it and actually, I have a blog and my writing helps me a lot with it and I can connect with other people with invisible disabilities like me. It just helps me see that I’m not alone in these struggles.”