When I was diagnosed with RP three decades ago and was told I would go blind, my first thought was that the world would end. It hasn’t.
When I stopped driving, I figured I’d become house-bound, isolated and withdrawn, that I’d never go anywhere anymore. That hasn’t happened.
When I started using a white cane, I was afraid I’d flail around and get lost more than found. I haven’t.
When I replaced my white cane with my first Seeing Eye dog, I just knew I’d trip and fall on my face every third or fourth step. I haven’t.
When I renewed a relationship after many years, I feared that she wouldn’t want to be with a man who had lost his eyesight. That didn’t happen.
When I interviewed for a job I knew I could be really good at, I figured they’d find a way to reject me because I was blind. They didn’t.
When I walk down the street and need to step on a manhole, I just know the cover is off and I’ll fall all the way to China. That hasn’t happened—yet.
Each day with blindness brings the tide of anxiety—constant, shifting, relentless. It rises less from visual misperception than from my character defects—worry, inadequacy and perfectionism for starters. I lack many qualities, faith not the least among them. If history is the best teacher, I’d learn from abundant evidence that events are predictable, the world is benign. No, I repeal these laws of nature and probability, subjugate experience to superstition. I create the fear I feel. I fear not only the dog that bit me, I fear the dog that might. Flight is the obvious reaction, the logical choice. Shed the fear and retreat. But to retreat is to risk every self-fulfilling prophecy, every outcome that could have happened but didn’t. There’s a choice but there is no choice. This is a matter, not of heroism, but of survival, of self-respect. If I can’t embrace fear, at least I can acknowledge it as my companion. So on we go, whistling through the graveyard, fearing most what will happen, not around the corner, but what will happen if we don’t take that next step.