In honor of Vision Rehabilitation Therapist (VRT) Appreciation Week (June 23-29), VisionAware is featuring the work of talented VRTs throughout the United States.
VisionAware Peer Advisor Sue Wiygul Martin has worked in the field of blind rehabilitation for over 20 years as a Vision Rehabilitation Therapist (VRT), a Low Vision Therapist (LVT), and an assistive technology specialist. Since 2007, Sue has been a Section 508 analyst with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.
Sue is also the author of a soon-to-be-published memoir, entitled “Out of the Whirlpool: A Memoir of Remorse and Reconciliation,” which she describes as “the story of a suicide survivor and the rebuilding of a life.”
Out of the Whirlpool
Sue Martin is a fellow traveler and colleague in the field of blind rehabilitation. Her forthcoming book, Out of the Whirlpool: A Memoir of Remorse and Reconciliation, which is excerpted at the Out of the Whirlpool website, where it began as a series of blog posts, describes her suicide attempt at age 26, her subsequent blindness, and the long, hard road Sue follows as she rebuilds her life as a blind person and blind rehabilitation professional.
Out of the Whirlpool is described by one reader as a “must-read for anyone in the vision field and perhaps especially for persons going through the vision loss and rehabilitation process”:
This book captures the essence of the rehabilitation process like nothing else I have seen. It makes you experience sight loss and the discovery of new skills as if it is happening to you. Sue’s honesty about her emotions, her warmth, clarity, and accuracy regarding the adjustment experience are striking.
Another reader says this about Sue’s compelling journey:
Both from my own perspective and the cumulative work that I have now done with many other people adjusting to vision loss, I find your story real, refreshing, and at times riveting. While I am sure that the telling of your story has had some personal value, I appreciate that you are taking the time to make that story public.
Readers, Meet Sue
From the Introduction:
I attempted suicide with a gun when I was 26 years old. I am blind by my own hand. Although I surely didn’t intend it, my blindness is the result of an attempt to end my life. When I began writing about my experiences I tried, in every way, to avoid telling that one part of my story, that I am blind as the result of a suicide attempt. It just didn’t work. It was like denying that I have a right arm. As Professor Dumbledore tells Harry, “The truth. It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.”
While I have become quite comfortable talking about the facts of my sight loss, I know that there are those for whom this topic will be uncomfortable. Please stay with me. This is a story about adjusting to change. It is about digging up courage from hidden places. It is about choosing life. But it is also a story about crippling depression. To appreciate the strength of the human spirit, to truly feel the triumph of choosing life over death, it is necessary to look depression squarely in the face.
Her Suicide Attempt
I reclined on the sofa, facing out towards the lake. I remember looking at the clock. It was 11:30 in the morning. Then I sank back down into the very tiny place that had become my reality. I positioned the gun and paused. If I did this, there was no turning back. This was going to be final. But there was nothing, nothing else, nothing that was big enough to get me out of that whirlpool that my life had become. I pulled the trigger. I lay, unconscious, alone and bleeding for eight hours. When I regained consciousness, I was totally oriented to where I was and what I had done. My first thought was that I had failed. I had failed to just go to sleep and not wake up. It was dark. Completely dark. I sat up and tried to think of what I should do next. I had done what I came here to do but I was still alive.
I lay unconscious, alone, and bleeding for eight hours. When I regained consciousness, I was totally oriented to where I was and what I had done. My first thought was that I had failed. I had failed to just go to sleep and not wake up. It was dark. Completely dark. I sat up and tried to think of what I should do next. I had done what I came here to do but I was still alive.
Climbing Back, Coming Home
Each morning I struggled to figure out which shirt was which and which socks matched which. After dressing, there was that long trip down the hallway to the kitchen. My parents’ bedroom was at one end of the hallway and the kitchen at the other. I usually managed to walk to the kitchen without too many bangs on doorjambs, although I did sometimes brush against those little spring door stoppers.
When I did this, the spring would “boing” with its silly sound. I tried to laugh when things like this happened but it wasn’t easy. When we were young, my friends and I used to pull those springs back and turn them loose with great glee. But this wasn’t fun. If just walking down the hall was such an ordeal, what did that mean for the rest of my life? Were things that used to be fun, but weren’t any longer, going to haunt me forever?
The Rest of Sue’s Story
In subsequent chapters, Sue
- begins to learn braille
- starts orientation and mobility training
- grapples with the nuances of emotional adjustment to her blindness
- tackles cooking and learns essential living skills
- is rehabilitated!
- and recounts the laborious process of recording her own memoir.
Out of the Whirlpool: Part 2
Sue’s story continues in Part 2, with “Chapter 26: Two Clients, One Goal,” with Sue’s own audio narration, from the forthcoming Out of the Whirlpool: A Memoir of Remorse and Reconciliation. Copyright © 2013. Reprinted with permission.