by Leslie Bennett

As you consider my request for you to embrace blindness, you may rather prefer that I ask you to embrace a porcupine. Imagine embracing that which is unpleasant and unwanted. Blindness, like any other change in life, is not readily welcomed or embraced. It seems the nature of humans is to resist change. We are more comfortable with the known and routine of life.

Of course, I use the term "embrace" to attract your attention and perk your interest in the material. Early Fears

When one first become blind or loses significant sight, fear is a large part of his/her life. What will I do? How will I continue? Can I ever regain control over the direction of my life? Let us examine these issues.

At first, we are only reasonably comfortable when doing the things that others do that do not require sight, i.e. sleeping or eating. We may fear trying new things and anticipate failure. With practice, we find the new techniques become a more natural part of our daily life.

We may fear venturing away from home and engaging in previously enjoyable activities. We may feel conspicuous and not accepted by others. We may fear trying our newly acquired skills, as we may not do them correctly. Minimizing the Importance of the Eye

One of the techniques that I found helpful in accepting blindness is to reduce the importance of vision in my life. The eye is actually a rather passive organ. They cannot open doors, put on our clothing, or transport us from place to place. With this notion we can increase the efficiency of our other senses, like sound, smell and tactile references, and free our energy to learn new skills.

Our feet become more aware of the surfaces we are walking on. We sense rises and declines in terrain. We rely on hearing to tell us where objects are, like escalators. We even rely on smells when passing food concessions in public places. In short, we have a heightened awareness of our surroundings and employ our memory to orient ourselves to where we are and what we need. A Helping Hand

Service agencies like Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired and the Iris Network are readily available to help us transition into the new world of blindness. They can provide essential aids and appliances and specific techniques for dealing with daily situations that are unique to the blind. Mobility instruction, computer access, counseling, and home management tips provide us the necessary tools to carry out our daily activities. With practice these new tools become familiar and our lives accede to a new level of normalcy. But we don't have to learn these techniques on our own. Help is there for the asking. There is specific information and "tricks of the trade" already available to help us. With practice these techniques enhance our level of confidence and add positive personal feedback to our daily lives. Pursue the Hobby

A major factor in coping with blindness is to find a way to continue pursuing your hobby. My hobby is writing. After considerable time wondering how I could pursue this, it occurred to me that all I needed to do was dictate my thoughts onto a tape recorder. I developed the habit of dictating a short story or comment on tape each day. Soon it was the same as writing. I could express myself and feel creative as well as productive. Establish A Daily Routine

Paramount to dealing with blindness and the accompanying hours of solitude is the need to develop a routine of daily activities. Try to do the same sort of thing around the same time each day. This lends stability to your life and replaces the "normal" pattern you once had as a sighted person. Do something to improve your progress like walking and improving your mobility mixed with computer access, and household activities. Call friends and professionals and just talk. Share your progress with others on a daily basis. Keep a journal either on tape or on a computer to provide self-encouragement and chart daily progress. Try to expand your universe a bit each day. Walk a bit further, try a new task, build on your knowledge of the new world and necessary skills you need to live in it. Reclaiming Your Universe

When one first becomes blind or suffers significant sight loss, the first concern is "how do I reclaim the life I once had?" With newly acquired skills and equipment, we slowly reclaim our lives. I once lived nearly a quarter mile from my mailbox. To navigate to it I had to go up the street where I lived, cross a small street, venture to a main road and proceed about 100 yards, turn in another road, find a stop sign, turn right and follow another road about 50 yards and cross to the common mailbox. At first, this trip was scary. With practice, it became routine, and my confidence was drastically enhanced.

A similar confidence-builder occurred with the acquisition of computer skills. In time, and with proper training, I was able to write again and even communicate with friends via e-mail. Visual Acuity Is Relative

I strongly doubt that there is such a thing as having too much vision. If we have reduced sight we soon learn its limitations, such as the ability to read a stop sign, see a Dumpster, see the white lines of a crosswalk, or merely our hand at the end of our arm. All of these things are measurements and define our universe. As we move through the progressive steps of vision loss, we appreciate the new limitations. It may depend on lighting conditions or even vary with the time of day. In short, what you have today is all you can count on. How you utilize it is your choice. Wishing it better does not make it better. Accepting it frees up your energy to live life within "today's universe." Shedding "Poor Me"

When we first lose significant sight we become naturally self- consumed. It seems as if we think of our situation as frequently as a teenager thinks of sex. With new skills, and a focus on a new lifestyle of creativity, we gradually shed the self-focused feelings. Talking with others, sharpening our new skills, and even thinking of others who are less fortunate than ourselves helps to diminish the "poor me" thoughts. Getting Lost

It is virtually impossible to succeed with mobility without getting lost or turned around. The sudden awareness that you don't know where you are is overpowering. You are alone, you don't know exactly where you are and there may be no other person around to assist. If you can catch this situation immediately and return to the last known position you were in, you may avoid a lot of anxiety. If, however, you continue and get further disoriented, the situation becomes compounded. It is important to realize that you will regain control over your direction. Stop and carefully recall where you have been. Use everything you can to identify your direction: sun, wind, noises of cars, people talking or walking, and continue to search for a familiar landmark. It has been my experience that I am usually not far from where I intended to be. It may be a few feet or a wrong turn that has put me off course.

The art of mobility is called orientation and mobility. There is a good reason for this. We cannot diminish the importance of orientation. It is a strong 25 percent of the mix. To avoid being confused it is critical to know where you are within a relative distance. Employ all of your other senses to achieve this focus. If you are supposed to be going up or down on your desired route and find you are not, it is quite likely you may have chosen the wrong direction.

One method of reducing the instances of becoming disoriented is to tell someone where you are going and the route you plan to take. It is also helpful to indicate a time frame within which you should reach your destination. I cannot leave this topic without saying you haven't lived until you have become lost. Only then will you appreciate fully the importance of all that you have learned in orientation and mobility instruction. Two Bags to Carry

As you travel through the world of blindness, you will need to carry two bags with you. You say, "How can I carry bags when one hand has my cane and the other is the only free limb I have?" It is a good question, but think of this: in one hand you carry a bag of courage. In the other hand you carry a bag of determination. You will find times when it is necessary to reach into each of these bags and pluck out a portion of their contents. They are the fuel of your existence and together feed the fire of positive attitude.

Even employing all of the information above, you may reach a point when the "early fears" creep into your life. You can push them back by reaching into those two bags you carry. A little determination and a dash of courage do wonders for a sudden or brief decline in self-confidence. I'm OK and More

An important consideration in blindness is to realize that you are not responsible for your condition. You did not choose to be blind. No one else selected you to be the designated blind person. You are a person who has suffered an unfortunate change in your life. You are OK. You are still valued as an individual with all that you contribute to your life as well as the lives of others. In fact, you are better than you once were. You have acquired new coping skills that allow you to function. You are doing what sighted people do without sight. To realize this is to add another shot of confidence to your existence.

For a moment, imagine how someone else might cope with your condition. Would they succeed as well or rapidly as you have? Again, realize all of the other contributions you make to daily living. Your brain is still keen, your ideas still valid, and your arms even stronger because you have exercised them by constant use of your cane. In short, you may very well be a better person than you once were because you have been forced to learn new skills and employ them. Not My Bed, Goldilocks

Like Goldilocks, who entered the three bears' house, you may not find all of this information suitable for you. You may find your own methods of embracing blindness. We are not all alike; therefore, how you "hug" this condition is not as important as that you do find a way to accept it and live a productive life within your own limitations.

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