Editor’s note: This review is part of our series on Reading to Enhance Mental Health and Well Being.
As part of the VisionAware bookshelf series, I read Blindness for Beginners: A Renewed Vision of the Possible! What a delight! The title invites the reader into author Maribel Steel’s creative world of sensory resilience and problem-solving tactics.
The first section of the book focuses on her life, highlighting her diagnosis as a teenager and the denial she went through that worsened as she settled into the life of a wife and mother. The anecdotes she shares made me smile, and often laugh outright. The droll way she narrates them gives you an honest look into the many situations she finds herself in, both in public and at home. I love her descriptions, and the problem-solving she goes through, even in the early years.
Of course, there comes a crossroads when those with ongoing sight loss must choose one path or the other: to accept ourselves or continue to live in fear of our circumstances. When Steel finally admits she can’t live like a sighted person (because she can’t control all the variables), it’s as if by relinquishing that belief, she steps into a hot air balloon and wafts upward onto the “renewed vision of the possible.” Not all at once, of course. How can a reader resist wanting to jump into the balloon with her? I imagined myself running and a rope pulling me upward to enable me to join her in the air and see the landscape of vision loss from this new vantage point.
Her next section takes the reader into the adjustment phase. I am not new to sight loss. But I scribbled down copious notes, nearly filling a notebook, with her wisdom. She raises topics such as defining fear and overcoming it, anxiety, frustration, the idea of being a burden, and turns them all around to show the “gifts” we can gain as we work through each of these challenges. She provides both the emotional challenge, and the practical application of overcoming these natural steps that block our adjustment. She capitalizes on flexibility and adaptability “to recalibrate your life with new options.”
Steel makes the transformational tasks easily relatable, such as the benefits of descriptive journal writing. Although this is a meaty, mind-in-the-trenches part of her book, Steel sprinkles it with humor. In illustrating how we can change our mindset even in dire frustration, she shares a funny story written by a blind colleague, who goes to great lengths to release steam but who ultimately sees the ridiculousness of his thought process. She also addresses how to change our outlook when we feel “stuck” in negativity. One bit of wisdom that really speaks to me is the “diamond in hard rock.” The diamond continues to be just hard rock until it is polished to bring out its “hidden brilliance.” That is what she suggests we do with our renewed thinking!
Examples of Success
In the last section, Steel offers up more of her experiences with others who push forward with sight loss, such as Penny Melville-Brown and Max Ivey, both of whom have won prizes enabling them to pursue their dreams, one on world cooking tour and one who traveled as an Amtrak writer to New York City. By sharing these examples, she brings her reader full circle, leaving them feel empowered, stronger and more capable.
Maribel Steel’s Blindness for Beginners: A Renewed Vision of the Possible is the best written resource I have read to offer those facing sight loss. I highly recommend it to everyone involved in working, living or trying to understand the challenges. You can find it on Amazon. And you may want to hear Maribel’s RNIB interview about the book and also listen to her book read by Alice Hermans.
One final thought. I feel as if this book is like a cup of hot tea, warm and soothing going down but even better the longer it steeps. I think I’ll leave it perking on the back burner, so whenever I feel the need for a pick-me-up of the possible, I only need to pour myself a cup and savor its unique blend of flavors.