Written by IlanaRei Goss
I’m currently working full time as a psychotherapist for the LGBT community in Jamaica Plain (a suburb of Boston Mass). I’m also a writer, knitter and cook. Going blind has not changed the big picture of my life, just the small details of how to do certain things, and I hope that other people can find a place of strength when dealing with vision loss that transcends the details and fear.
Poem on Blindness
Going blind is at once the most private experience of a lifetime, and also the most public.
Using a white cane is visible to others and completely necessary to self and safety.
Over the last year, my cane has become a part of me.
I don’t go anywhere without it.
It travels with me, protects me and gives me comfort.
Just having it in my bag, whether or not I take it out, just knowing it’s there provides security.
I can use it if I need it.
I used to hate my cane.
It embarrassed me.
It branded me as “other.”
I didn’t want to think about what it represented: my diminishing sight.
I didn’t want others to know.
I wanted to keep it to myself, personal, private, hidden.
It’s hard to remain hidden when holding a long white cane.
There are times when I want to pass.
When I can pretend that my eyes are normal, that I’m no different than anyone else.
I can get around on my own reasonably well.
I can see when people come up to me and can even recognize them if I knew them before my sight started getting worse.
Nowadays, I don’t want to pass.
I want people to know, because I need more help than I used to.
I hate to admit that I need help.
I feel like I should be able to deal with it on my own.
I can cross a busy street by myself.
I can ride the bus to an unfamiliar place without fear.
I can read the menu at the coffee shop.
Only I can’t.
The sign is too far away.
The writing too small.
The contrast too weak.
Without my white cane, people don’t believe me when I say I can’t read the sign.
Even with the cane they don’t always help.
They ignore me.
They pretend I’m not there.
They wave at me to catch my attention and become frustrated when I don’t respond to a gesture I cannot see.
I think they’re embarrassed.
They feel awkward around me and my cane.
They don’t know how to act, or what to say.
How many blind people do you know, anyway?
One, including me, but do you know any others?
I credit the Carroll Center for the Blind for giving me back some of the confidence I lost along with my eyesight.
Between the staff, many of whom are blind themselves, the other clients, all of whom are blind in one way or another, and immersing myself in the 3-month experience I had an accelerated education this winter on how to “be blind.”
There’s more than one way to be blind.
My braille teacher has been completely blind since birth and has a Master’s degree.
My sighted mobility instructor has been in the field for 20 years and also has a Master’s degree.
My computer teacher, who has been legally blind most of her life, reads braille in both German and English and uses adaptive software on both the PC and Mac nearly interchangeably.
Life does not end with blindness.
By using my cane, I’m telling the world that I’m blind.
By not using it when I need it, I’m hurting myself.
There’s very little to recommend about going blind.
There’s even less to recommend about going blind slowly over the years.
It’s agonizing to realize, not for the first time, and certainly not for the last, that my vision is getting worse.
Horrible as it would be, terrifying as it would be, traumatizing as it would be, part of me wants to go completely blind all at once.
That way I could get it over with once and for all.
I’d be fully blind.
I’d move on.
None of this losing more sight every other year bullshit.
None of this constant loss that kicks me in the knees every time I manage to scramble back to my feet.
Most people think of blindness as a binary concept.
Either you’re completely blind with no vision whatsoever, or you’re sighted.
Sure, you might need glasses.
You might say: “without my glasses I’m blind,” but you have no idea.
I’m blind even with my glasses.
When I tell you that I’m blind, or you see my cane and we start talking about it, I don’t want to hear about your problems.
I don’t want to hear that you know how I feel because you’re blind without your glasses.
I don’t want platitudes about how it could be worse because I could be completely blind, or deaf-blind, like Hellen Keller.
I don’t want to hear about your trouble driving at night because I can’t drive and never will again.
I am not a hero because I got out of bed.
I am not amazing because I’m out of my house and not sitting around feeling depressed.
I’m not a superwoman for having a job.
I’m not an ambassador for all blind people.
I am not a paragon of resilience to be shown off like a circus freak because I didn’t let blindness cripple me.
My blindness is not an invitation to tell me about your problems.
My blindness is not an excuse to grab my arm and drag me somewhere.
My blindness is not a reason to ignore me or talk about me in the third person.
My blindness is mine.
My blindness is painful and difficult and a constant struggle.
My blindness has opened my eyes to a new world.
My blindness is mine.
But my blindness is out there for the whole world to see, so how can it be just mine?
How can this publicly-private thing be anything but public?
How can I adjust to the moving target of degrading sight that forever gets worse?
Just soldier on, I suppose.