My friend and fellow blogger, Beth Finke, once told me, “RP is the cruelest way to lose eyesight. Just when you think it’s bad enough, it gets worse.” Bravo, Beth, for empathy beyond your own experience. And for understanding that, while any blindness choice is picking between poisons, gradual blindness is torture extended.
A few years ago, I sought help from a therapist specializing in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Blindness, gradual or sudden, is traumatic and I needed help dealing with its effects. The therapist mentioned that her associate was allergic to dogs, so, at the first appointed date and time, I set out with my white cane instead of my usual sidekick, Randy the Seeing Eye dog.
Eight blocks to the therapist’s office proved my cane skills rusty. I veered and zigged and zagged. I bumped into parking meters, hooked sign boards touting soups and salads, sideswiped open air cafes usurping my sidewalk and impaled at least one pedestrian’s pant leg. And my fellow travelers acted like sadists: drivers turned in front of me, cars crowded the crosswalks and lunchtime strollers jostled me right and left. One guy even hurdled my cane in his dash to cross Clark Street.
Totally frazzled, I took the first third of our fifty-minute hour to hyperventilate with anxiety and vent from frustration. Then we focused on our initial therapeutic objective: identify the traumatic incident for which I sought treatment. Was it thirty years past, when I was diagnosed with RP? Or fifty years ago, lurking in childhood? We settled on the former and embarked on the journey to desensitize the trauma of discovering RP.
Sad to say, neither my therapist nor I had a breakthrough and, after eight sessions, we parted ways. No hard feelings. But I recently recalled what Beth said about RP and what my therapist and I did about trauma. And I saw the light: RP is not a single trauma, it’s trauma that keeps traumatizing. Maybe not every day, but every time I find the way I’ve learned to live doesn’t work anymore. I now realize that, at my first appointment, we didn’t need to search the archives—my trauma was right there and right then.
And it’s still right here and right now. But I’m grateful for the lesson learned—that I need to keep current and constant with my skills because blindness doesn’t take a day off. And the skills remain practical and emotional, from white canes to resilience, from echolocation to acceptance. And if I can’t put trauma into the past, I can progress along the process at its core: growing from victim to survivor.
NOTE: Beth Finke’s latest book, Writing Out Loud: What a Blind Teacher Learned from Leading a Memoir Class for Seniors, published in mid-2017 by Golden Alley Press in print and electronic formats, is now available as an Audible book and is in process of becoming an NLS Talking Book.