Editor’s Note: VisionAware Peer Advisor Mary Hiland recommended that VisionAware publish the prologue from Peer Advisor Lynda Lambert’s book, Walking by Inner Vision, as a follow up to Lynda’s excellent series on "Regaining a Creative Life After Vision Loss." Lynda has graciously agreed to this reprint of her work. In her recommendation, Mary observed that VisionAware should publish it as it would be "so helpful to newly blind individuals."
Prologue: In Which I Knit a Life Back Together
In my earliest memories, knitting with two needles in my hands and a supple, colorful ball of yarn seemed to come naturally to me. Combine that activity with a quiet and sunny room, a comforting chair, and solitude, and I have a perfect day. Winter days cause me to remember a time when the possibility of ever knitting again seemed as far away as a distant star.
Knitting was something I learned as a young child. I taught myself how to knit by looking at an instruction book and by visiting a local merchant who gave me assistance.
No one in my family knitted. I have no idea to this day how I ever became so absorbed in knitting, but it has been a lifelong passion. It’s been nearly a decade since I lost most of my eyesight due to a stroke-like event that killed my optic nerves. This condition is called Ischemic Optic Neuropathy; there was no way to predict this would happen and no treatment once it did its damage.
Because I did not know anyone who had profound sight loss, this unexpected challenge was disorientating for a few months as I tried to figure out what to do next. I thought my life was over since I could do nothing I had done previously.
In the beginning, I did not know if it was day or night. The simplest tasks were impossible. I had so many unspoken questions:
- How to cut my nails?
- How to get toothpaste on my toothbrush?
- How to apply makeup?
- How to make a cup of tea?
- How to make a phone call?
- How to even find a phone number?
- How to know what day it was and how to make an appointment on a calendar?
- How to memorize everything I would need to remember?
- How to use a computer?
Overwhelmed by Trying to Carry Out Ordinary Activities
The strain of trying to see and the constant failures in doing ordinary activities overwhelmed me. I felt useless, and one morning, I very quietly cried as I prayed out loud, "Oh, God. This is not how I want to spend my life!" There were no more words I could say. I was heartbroken. Like many people with blindness, I suffered from painful headaches. I learned that these are "bad eye days." The entire body is affected by the brain straining to see. I was intensely aware of the connection between the brain and the body. My brain would try to see, but my body could not do the work of "seeing" any longer. This would be similar to a camera that is set on automatic focus, and if the camera is not able to focus, it just keeps on trying to do it. It’s exhausting! Like the camera, my eyes were malfunctioning. When a bad eye day would begin, it would often mean another three days or so of intense pain. I spent many days in bed trying to cope. Bad eye days are now a part of my normal life, and I have learned to stop what I am trying to do, rest, and wait it out.
One dismal winter afternoon, I sat in the reclining chair. My feet were extended on the footrest, and my eyes were closed. I often sit with my eyes closed because it helped me to relax and center myself. I was thinking about the sweaters I made for needy children through a charity and wondered how I would ever make a sweater again. I thought of the sweater I was making at the time of my sudden sight loss. I longed to finish the sweater. Desire to complete this little child’s sweater filled me, and I decided to pick up the unfinished project and give it a try.
I sat there with the yarn in my hands and held my needles tentatively. I could not even see the color of the yarn and certainly could not see the stitches or the needles. My eyes stared downwards, straining to see, but I could not.
I began by holding the yarn strand in place in my two hands. Just the feel of the yarn brought a surge of pleasure. The long aluminum knitting needles felt cool against my warm hands. I remembered how much I had always loved to knit. If nothing else in my life was going right, I always had my knitting. Can I ever do this again? I wondered.
I started very slowly, moving the needles and trying to get them to balance. I shifted them between my two hands and put them into my normal knitting position. My breathing became shallow as I struggled. I tried to begin, stopped, and tried once again for the familiar feel of yarn and needles, now so strange and clumsy. I felt awkward, my needles now complete strangers.
I simply could not do it. I felt worthless, my hands exhausted and heavy. Were these the same hands that had been so nimble and flexible my whole life? How could this be?
Suddenly, I had a slight, faltering revelation, something I had not thought about before: I could not do it because I was trying to see it. The idea came to me like a gentle whisper in my soul. It felt like a patient voice telling me, "Because you cannot see, you should just close your eyes and try to begin to feel it with your hands. Let your hands be your eyes now."
Let Your Hands Be Your Eyes
How ironic, I thought. My desire to see what I am doing is preventing me from "seeing."
I seemed to understand at this point that I must now learn to see non-visually. Intuitively, I knew I needed to use my hands and fingers combined with my other senses. My fingers would now become my eyes! And I thought, yes, instead of looking with two eyes, I can now look with 10 fingers!
Soon, I was feeling my way through this task. I finished that sweater and donated it to the charity that provided sweaters for needy children. God had allowed my passion for knitting to become my breakthrough in healing, and knitting again was the beginning step on the path to recovery.
Shortly after this healing breakthrough, I was able to attend a rehabilitation center, where I further developed my personal adjustment to blindness. Of course, I took my knitting along with me.
Knitting My Way Through
I knitted my way through the hard days of struggles and the depression of trying to relearn how to do little ordinary activities that people take for granted. I learned how to put my knitting patterns onto a digital sound device called a Milestone. Oh, how I love this little device! With my Milestone, I can carry the verbal directions with me, and I can knit.
I learned how to put my patterns on a computer so I could read them again with adaptive technologies. I learned how to organize my knitting patterns in ways that I could access when I needed them. When I felt overwhelmed and tired from all the learning that I had to do each day, I retreated to my room and picked up my knitting. It was knitting that brought me through those hard times.
By successfully knitting again, I gained confidence in myself and took pride in what I could do instead of lamenting my losses. For me, knitting was a game changer. I was back in the game of knitting together a life. Manipulating the needles and yarn gave me pride deep down in my creative soul.
When someone stops me and compliments me on a beautiful sweater or stunning jacket I am wearing, I give them a wide smile and say, "Oh, thanks! I knitted it." Eventually, I gained confidence in myself. One of my greatest pleasures these days is to attend a knitting group where I can sit in a circle with other women who love to knit. I continue to experience the healing power of knitting as I stretch myself to do projects that are beautiful and satisfying. With each new knitting project completed, I gain confidence and pride in regained skills. It has not been a path with no more challenges. I still struggle to do things that were once so easy for me to do in my knitting. But, I see it now as my relationship with Jesus, a lifetime of learning to trust Him to bring me to the place I need to be, despite the obstacles we encounter. Friends in my knitting group see me struggling, and I sometimes become frustrated with my errors and the many times when I have to rip it all out and begin again. I say to them, "Knitting keeps me humble and constantly reminds me I need help." With God’s grace and faith in His guidance, I am learning to walk by faith and not by sight as I knit my life back together again.
Information About Living with Vision Loss
Roadmap to Living with Vision Loss
From Personal Loss to Personal Growth: The Road to Independence