Part II: Emotional Stages of Disability

Part II


Kubler-Ross’ second stage of grief, which I’m applying to disability, is anger.  As my sight diminished bit by bit, first in the right eye, and then in the left, I found that the tasks I’d conquered as a toddler became more difficult.

Eating was a formidable challenge. I’d stab a green bean and miss, stab at a pineapple chunk and miss again.  I specifically recall my uncle beside me at the dinner table, grabbing my hand and plunging it into the food, then hugging me tight and beginning to cry.

If I knocked the shampoo from a shelf in the shower, I searched the bottom of the tub till I wanted to tear the curtain from the rod,

. I could still see color, so finding coordinated clothing wasn’t too difficult, but I remember wearing mismatched shoes.  I had no experience tuning into the tactile to catch the mistake.

I insisted on helping with breakfast in the kitchen, then knocked the pitcher of orange juice to the floor. Then I insisted on wiping up the sticky mess and sobbed.

All the mistakes forced me to face my new reality and further shook me from denial. But all of them plunged me into anger.

But unlike the anger of my mother and my then boyfriend who directed theirs at a God who would do this to me, I couldn’t conceive of such a God and direct it outward. I had no diagnosis, no cause.  All my tests came back negative.  I had no diabetes.  So I couldn’t fiercely diet and call a halt to the retinal damage.  I’d never been on the pill, so I couldn’t consider a different birth control method and stop the progress of my mysterious disease.  I hadn’t caught anything contagious, so again I could do nothing.  I’d tapped the best medical minds in the country and baffled them all.  So I could blame no one.

Still my anger grew, anger at myself, this new graceless, dependent, incompetent person I’d become.

And somewhere in the middle of this anger, I searched for answers, for strength, for peace. I found audio books and read, inspirational, spiritual material.  I began to define what I believed and what I didn’t believe.  And yes, I fell into bargaining, the third stage that Kubler-Ross describes.  “Just one eye,” I’d whisper.  How silly to be given two when, truly, one would be sufficient. I don’t remember promising anything in return, but surely I did.  I wouldn’t be critical or gossipy.  I’d give up swearing, gin and tonics.

The fascinating thing about life in these various stages, though, is that there still is affirmation of life and laughter and love and discovery. In the midst of my anger, I decided to volunteer at a Job Corps Center.  I worked with young women a few years younger than I from the inner city.  I typed up and edited their newsletter, taught guitar, and went on outings with them.  The connections I formed then changed me.  I also discovered that I could play piano by ear, something I’d never known.


Entering the training program helped. I found ways to pull off those tasks I’d mastered as a toddler.  I began to leave childhood behind and walk with my cane with the stride of an adult, even with some confidence.  I discovered ways to restore the multiple losses that accompany lost sight.  I moved into an apartment by myself, landed a job, and pulled off a good bit of independence again.

But that was, surprisingly, when the fourth stage of Kubler-

Ross set in—depression. (coming soon)


About Sally Hobart Alexander

Blinded at the age of twenty-six, I left California and elementary school teaching for life in Pittsburgh, Pa. There, I met my husband, got a Masters' degree in social work, had two kids, now 35 and 32, and became a writer. Surprisingly, the writing career led me full-circle to teaching, and I teach in Chatham University's M.F.A. program and lead two writing critique groups. Always, since the age of 26, I have traveled, not in the stereotypic darkness attributed to blindness, but a mist. My blog then, "traveling through the mist" will deal with issues in my culturally different life as a blind writer, teacher, speaker, and human being.
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