The fourth stage that Kubler-Ross defines in her work with people who are grieving is depression. Applying this structure to my blindness in hopes that it might say something relevant for many who are blind, I have to say that I entered this stage unexpectedly.
It took hold of me following my training, after I’d learned to function independently. I lived alone in a city apartment, ran errands with my cane, caught buses to work, had new friends, even new boyfriends. I took a job at the rehab agency and was teaching again, something I doubted that I could or would ever do. In so many ways my independent life had been restored.
But I was past the “going blind stage” where I still had slivers of hope; I’d passed the student “trainee” stage, where instructors followed behind me or gave me “A”s. I was in the “back to the sighted world stage,” and the new reality struck. My life blind was harder and more full of challenge now—no way around that. Where everyone else who taught or worked at the rehab agency could pop in their cars and head for their destinations, I tapped my cane along sidewalks that sometimes had barriers for construction or ice and snow, i.e., risk. I waited for two buses in the cold and rain, which often meant a two-hour commute. And because I was trained now—in other words, fixed—my astonishing support group from California and New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania called less often.
And being blind and single had unfamiliar repercussions. On the one hand some men seemed to be attracted to me because they needed to be needed. On the other hand, married men, particularly two doctors, old enough to be my father,, sexually harassed me because I was vulnerable—fortunately not so vulnerable that I couldn’t slam down the phone or apartment door.
Though I took pride in being functional enough to live alone again, the city noises, so helpful during the day, kept me awake and jittery at night, alone in that apartment. I slept with an heavy pottery vase. And I began to see my future—the maiden aunt who had to be included on holidays. But teaching again was engrossing and empowering. Blindness struck every variety of person, and I encountered so many different points of view and personalities. I found myself identifying with this blind minority group. As with the young African-American women at the Job Corps Center the year before, I found commonalities, learned of discrimination and stereotyping. I saved money and entered graduate school in social work and again moved among a diverse population. My life took on a routine of classes and field placements and beer with friends. And then one day I overheard myself singing in my apartment; I felt like dancing. Outside while waiting for a ride, I slid into twirling my cane, using moves from my time as a high school majorette (nearly impaling a passer-by). Aha moment: I was over the blues.
(Part IV: Acceptance, coming soon)