It’s OK Not to Be OK
by Danielle McCann
As a movement of blind people, we connect at various stages of our journey with blindness. I manage the general information calls that come through to the Jernigan Institute. From free white cane orders to referring people to their local affiliates, I do my best to connect individuals with resources. Amid the rest of the inquiries, we hear from people who are losing their sight or who have suddenly gone blind; we also hear from their close friends and relatives. They reach out to us for guidance and support. Sometimes, they are crying. Most of the time, they sound extremely overwhelmed. They ask how I deal with being blind, how they are supposed to live with being blind. They want to know how to be supportive of their family member/friend who now seems different.
I was born blind, so I don’t know what it is to be sighted. But I do know loss and, though losing vision isn’t the same thing as losing a loved one, it is a situation that deserves care.
I share some of my story with those who reach out because even though they aren’t the most pleasant instances, they are authentic to my lived experience. There are lots of stories out there about overcoming, persevering, and accepting blindness. They touch on the struggle, but most of them quickly move on. For example, on the outside, my family seemed very well adjusted to my disability when I was growing up. We adapted as we encountered barriers and always had a strong bond. However, there were so many times when my sister, younger by twelve years, would pull my eyelids apart and shout “You need to just see! Open your eyes!” I talk about the cultural struggles I faced growing up in a family who to this day has a hard time letting me get up and serve my own plate. I would be lying if I said that being blind is smooth sailing after adjusting; once adjustment is out of the way, there are many smaller obstacles one must learn to clear.
I also (proudly) share my firm belief that blindness does not define anyone or our futures and that it shouldn’t hold us back. I believe in the transformative work that we do within the Federation, and I want to hold space for those who are just starting out on their journeys with blindness. Whether it’s happening to you or someone near and dear, know that you (or they) will be okay; we truly can live the lives we want regardless of how much we can see. It might feel impossible, and it will take time and effort. Understand that no matter where you are on this new path, we’re here. We have resources for those who are wondering how to be supportive of someone who is newly blind, too. Our affiliates, divisions, committees, and groups range in focus and most of them consist of both blind and sighted people.
I encourage you to work through your feelings, ask questions, get frustrated, and be sad—but then, when you’re ready, get back to being yourself.
You don’t have to give up on passions or the things you used to do with sight. Likewise, don’t change your relationship with a blind person just because they can’t see like they could before. Our membership includes folks who do everything that the sighted population does, as well as our families and friends.
We are not often encouraged to acknowledge our struggles, especially during the holiday season. No matter if you’re dealing with blindness or other tough situations, working through struggles is what makes us stronger and able to focus on turning our dreams in to reality.