Editor’s note: As we approach the New Year, it is time to pause and reflect on what it means to "live well" and take charge of one’s life. VisionAware peer advisor Audrey Demmitt eloquently speaks to this in our year-end post.
Recently, I attended an event in my community, and while I was milling around with my guide dog, a gentleman stopped me and said, "Wow! I am so impressed that you are here. How do you do it, I mean—I don’t think I could do it." I have had many similar encounters with people who fear blindness and don’t believe they could deal with it. My response is always the same: "Oh yes, you could if you had to. You already have within you what it takes to adjust to something like this… you just don’t know it."
I learned that about myself. There was a certain something already in me that made it possible to adapt to my disability. Of course, I still had to go through the painful process of grief and find a new normal in life, but I made it through. I do not consider myself extraordinary or inspirational, nor is my challenge any worse than another’s. I am just one more human being trying to live my life the best I can.
What Is Resilience?
Helen Keller once said, "Although the world is full of adversity, it is full also of the overcoming of it." In the aftermath of great tragedies and traumas in peoples’ lives, we often hear stories of overcoming and triumph. What is it in the human spirit that allows this to happen? I believe it is resilience—the capacity to adapt and recover from stressful events. Resilience is the ability to bounce back or roll with the punches in the face of adversity. It is the inner strength and emotional toughness that allows us to overcome life’s challenges. We all have this capacity to one degree or another, and we can develop more of it as needed. We will all face adversity, and the question to ask yourself is "How will I overcome it?"
How Can We Become More Resilient?
We grow more resilient by going through tough times and learning from those periods in our lives. Life will give you plenty of opportunities to develop resilience. It is full of loss, trauma, illness, and other stressful events. We can intentionally use healthy coping strategies such as a positive attitude, self-care techniques, and problem-solving skills to weather adversity and become more resilient. Here are some truths I learned about resilience while going blind:
You already have within you what you need to survive and live well with blindness. Human beings are incredibly adaptable—it is in our DNA. All we need to do is exercise this capacity, reach for it, and call it into action! My son recently gave me a bracelet that reads, "She believed she could, so she did!" You must first believe in your ability to handle adversity.
The fear of blindness was worse than the blindness itself. At first, I was overwhelmed and paralyzed by the thought of blindness, afraid of how it would change me and my life. It turns out, blindness is not a death sentence, and I have learned how to live with it. You can’t change the fact that adversity happens, but you can change how you interpret and respond to it.
Connections with friends and family are my most valuable resource. It was through my supportive family, devoted friends, and relationships with others experiencing vision loss that I mounted the strength and courage to accept blindness and move on. Many studies show the primary factor in resilience is having caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family.
The best way to face adversity is with a no-nonsense, problem-solving approach. It was time to stop being emotional and get to the business of learning to live with blindness. I needed to find resources, learn new skills, and advocate for myself. This meant getting counseling, vision rehabilitation services, and attending a support group. Maybe for you, this means it is time to embrace the white cane or get a guide dog! You must take action steps.
Adversity strengthens us and can bring many positive things into our lives. I believe I am a stronger, more resilient person now. Living with blindness has taught me better organizational and problem-solving skills. I am certain my marriage and family are stronger because of my blindness, as it affects the whole family! And my children have developed some wonderful qualities by growing up in our house: compassion, helpfulness, and appreciation of diverse abilities.
Humor is great therapy! Many funny, albeit awkward, moments happen because of my vision loss. I have learned to laugh at these moments and have developed a sense of humor to smooth the way. It’s important to keep a sense of humor.
Positive thinking will bolster you during crisis. This is a learned skill for most of us. Negative emotions are rooted in negative thinking. Often, we tend to blow things out of proportion and think of only the worst scenarios. We tell ourselves, "This crisis will never end…" "It’s happening to me because I am unlucky…" and "This event will ruin my life." We can learn to reframe our circumstances and challenge distorted thinking. I am a born pessimist turned optimist through practicing positivity.
Accept that change is a part of living. Certain goals may no longer be attainable because of adverse life events. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter. You may need to re-invent yourself, re-imagine your dreams, and re-define goals. As Nike says, just do it, get on with putting the pieces back together! With change comes opportunity.
Taking care of yourself builds resilience. Pay attention to your own needs and feelings while going through adversity. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly, learn to manage stress, and eat a healthy diet. Taking care of yourself helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience.
If you are experiencing a new diagnosis of vision loss, don’t despair! You can live well with visual impairment. In the beloved book, Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne, Christopher Robin tells Pooh: "You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think."
This is true of all of us.
At some point, I decided if I had to live with blindness then I would do it well! I can honestly say I am in a good place, and my life is full, though it is different than I imagined. Each day brings moments in which I know I am happy. What skills and strengths do you already have to cope with vision loss? What can you do to become more resilient? What have you learned about yourself during times of adversity? Let’s talk about it in the comments below.