Today’s blog is quite a personal one for me. Many of my followers are aware that I live with a condition called Ushers Syndrome, an inherited genetic condition characterised by hearing loss and gradual vision loss. There’s no treatment for it, as I write, but I have faith that, one day soon, those of us losing our vision will be able to see again.
Back at the ranch though, everyday life goes on and I am forced to find ways of maintaining as much of my independence as possible. It’s no easy feat and there are days when I would love to hide under my duvet and not face the world. But I am of the mind that every day is a new little life to embrace, celebrate and enjoy so I have no choice but to simply push on.
My latest challenge has been accepting the “dreaded” white cane! Resistance is a funny thing – resist, resist, resist but whatever you are resisting keeps coming back until you learn to relax and release. For many of us, this acceptance may not even happen in this lifetime but it’s going to keep staring at you in your face until you do accept whatever you are resisting. I decided that I would rather accept in this lifetime, what I am resisting, than have to face it all over again in my next!
It’s always been easy hiding my hearing loss and that I wear hearing aids. I keep my hair long to cover my ears and learnt to laugh along when others laughed, cry along when others cried, keep quiet and looked knowledgeable, nodding my head even when I don’t know what the hell the conversation is all about.
Hiding the fact that I am visually impaired has not been quite so easy though. Stumbling through shopping malls, bumping into other shoppers, walking through closed glass doors (I don’t actually get through the doors but it takes a bit of banging my head before it dawns on me that I am going no-where fast!), walking straight pass people who know me, not seeing them, while they frantically wave and shout “Hello”! I have left many a person, standing perturbed, wondering why I was ignoring them. How rude! And, so then I am forced to own up and confess that I am going blind.
In comes the white cane. A stark symbolism of all that I am losing and all that I may continue to lose. A symbolism of a disability I would prefer to not acknowledge. There’s a wonderful organisation called the South African Guide Dogs Association for the Blind (https://guidedog.org.za). Let them know you cannot see and the help flows in. They send an orientation and mobility practitioner (I never knew such a job existed until I met one of these amazing people) round to visit you. They assess your vision loss and then produce the white cane, for free. They even give you something called a liquid filler – this nifty little device is placed on the edge of your mug and gives off a vibration with a loud noise telling you when your coffee is about to overflow. Pretty cool I must admit.
My initial reaction to the white cane was to shudder. Then, tentatively, taking hold of it (so as to not offend the lovely O & M lady who was being kind enough to give me her time and patience) I started to walk around my friend’s house, sweeping the ground as I walked. My first two times with the white cane were full of resistance and I almost pretended it wasn’t me walking around with this thing in my hand.
The “aha” moment came last Friday, when together with my Ushers friend, Sue and my O & M lady, Salome, we ventured out into our local park. Both Sue and I sat in the car, our canes folded up in our laps. I think it had dawned on both of us, finally, that this was for real and that we were about to face the world, having strangers watched us as we made our way around the park with our dreaded canes. It was at that moment that I realised that I had two choices – tell Salome I can’t do this or tell myself I CAN do this.
Stepping out of the car, assembling my cane (the white cane of the past has become quite trendy nowadays, made of light steel and collapsible when not being used. It even comes with a very smart velvet bag!) the first thing I was aware of was a security guard watching me, fascinated. As Sue and I started to bravely make our way across the car park, he gave me a huge grin and suddenly I did not feel frightened by the predicament I find myself in.
We entered the park, sweeping the ground, Salome encouraging us to look ahead and not at the ground. And, we laughed. We laughed for the whole two hours we spent walking around the park, finding the humour in our situation at last. We laughed as we chattered endlessly, thrilled in the realisation that we could actually walk and talk at the same time without causing major havoc to others and ourselves. It was like the white cane had become our mind, searching out for the holes, the bumps, the obstacles that would normally have us falling over ourselves. And, through all the humour, I realised that I was finally able to accept the adversity that I am being challenged with.
When all else fails, find the humour in the situation. When you find yourself resisting, let go and laugh. When you find yourself challenged to accept a situation, relax and laugh. Humour may not be applicable in all challenging circumstances, but in many cases, it is a useful “go-to” when all else fails. Humour and sharing your adversity with those that understand and care also helps. So, when facing adversity, take a deep breath, reach out so that you are not alone and bring in the humour.