At a recent online presentation, I was asked to explain how I cook food. I explained a few of the techniques I use– how I chop vegetables, how I work with a hot saucepan without burning myself, how I know when food is cooked, and other simple techniques I use.
My explanation was greeted by various comments on how inspiring I am. Which bothered me.
I guess, as an inspirational speaker I should feel happy to be told I inspire people. And, if I’m talking about how I made the decision to move forward with my life after losing my sight, or strategies people can use to move past the challenges they encounter in their own lives, then I’m okay with being considered inspiring.
However, I don’t believe that talking about simple techniques I use to accomplish tasks in my life should be seen as inspirational. To me, it would be a bit like telling someone they are inspirational because they learned their six times table, or that they were able to tie their shoelaces.
We all learn new skills and techniques as we go through our lives. In my case, the techniques may differ from those a sighted person uses. But they are no more complicated… and no more inspirational.
Which is why I chose to write A Different Way of Seeing – to try and explain how simple many of the techniques I use to accomplish tasks are. And to explain why accomplishing those tasks should not be seen in any other light – they are simply techniques I’ve learned. ,
I know it may seem like I am being dismissive of the response I get from audiences when I speak. That definitely isn’t my intention – I appreciate that people may be moved by my story and the lessons I share to help them tackle their own challenges. I’d simply like people to understand that persons with disabilities do not feel comfortable being lauded for simply learning their six times table… or equivalent skills.
Here’s my first update on my plan to convert my book, “A Different Way of Seeing: A Blind Woman’s Journey of Living an ‘Ordinary’ Life in an Extraordinary Way” into an audio book.
When I first reread the book, I got the feeling that there was quite a bit that I could update. That, of course, would be the deciding factor of whether or not to try and find a way to update the content given in the audio version. It didn’t make sense to me to figure out how to do it before working out if there was enough material to make an update worthwhile.
When I started listening to each chapter and jotting down ideas of what could be added, what had changed and what I can do now that I couldn’t when I wrote Different Way of Seeing I found I actually had a wealth of new information – from looking at how apps have solved some of the challenges in the kitchen, right the way through to sharing a little of the wonderous adventures I’ve had since meeting Fiji.
Yes, some chapters have more updates than others. Ultimately very little’s changed in how I select clothing and make-up, but I have lots of new stories to share with you so, even where little’s changed, there’s still lots to share that I hope will both entertain and inform you as you listen.
I’m still in the phase of figuring out what needs to go into the update. If you’d like to know how I accomplish any specific task… and I really do mean any task… I’d love to hear from you – I may not use your question in the update, and I may already have answered it in Different Way of Seeing, but I’ll still get back to you with a response of some form.
Looking forward to hearing your input…
Over the past few weeks I’ve posted links to a few videos showing how I accomplish simple, everyday tasks without sight, often with the help of my beautiful guide dog, Fiji.
I’m curious to know what other videos you’d like to see – anything that would help you learn more about how a visually impaired person does things. Or, at least, how I do things as a visually impaired person – I’d never presume to believe that my way is the only way… or even the best way… to do something.
I’ve already had a few suggestions for more videos: how I apply make-up, shopping, cooking, pouring coffee (or wine, for that matter), how I use my computer and mobile phone, and how Fiji and I cross roads and how we catch Ubers.
If you have additional ideas of what you’d like to know about, please just let me know.
To give you an idea of what the videos may be like, here’s a few links to previous videos I’ve done:
Using an escalator
Walking in Tokai Forest
So, there I was, sitting in the hospital room, having just been dealt the blow that my eye operation had failed – that I was now completely blind, and likely to remain so for the rest of my life. Often people have asked me how I was feeling, what was going through my mind, as I tried to come to terms with this new position in which I now found myself.
As I said in the very first article in this thread, it didn’t take me long to realize that I had a choice – to go home and give up, and be angry, bitter, dependent and depressed for the rest of my life… Or to go out there and see what life still had to offer me.
By choosing to see what life still had to offer me I took back control of my life – and also acknowledged that the only person accountable for whether or not I would move forward with my life in a positive way was me.
In effect I refused to grant my blindness the right to dictate my decisions.
And taking back that control was a very powerful step that enabled me to start moving forwards towards the rest of my life and my future.
So often we become overwhelmed by our challenges and the obstacles we face in life. Maybe, like me, taking back control of your life and your destiny will help to give you the power and the energy you require to start tackling those obstacles.
Continuing the series about what it took for me to overcome the challenge of becoming blind, here are a few thoughts on the role played by positive attitude.
Attitude refers to a default tendency or orientation of the mind. It manifests by influencing the way we react to things that happen to us, usually either in a positive or a negative way.
If my default attitude had been negative, I probably would have responded to the news of my blindness by going home and giving up, being angry, bitter, dependent and depressed for much of my life. If my default attitude had been negative, I would have seen first those things that I cannot do and limited my possibilities accordingly.
But, because my attitude is generally positive, I was able to see beyond the devastating experience that had occurred, to pick up the pieces of my life and continue moving forward.
How do you respond when facing a challenge? Do you react with a negative attitude, and see first the problems and the difficulties you need to fight through? Or do you have a positive attitude and seek for whatever good may come out of that challenge, focussing on what you can do rather than what you cannot?
Last week I was asked to facilitate a workshop on what it is like living without sight in a visual world at Tygerberg Hospital. When the event organiser and I arrived at the hospital we walked to the nearest bank of lifts, only to discover that they were not working.
No problem – we just went to the next bank of lifts… and they were also not working.
Finally, after walking around the hospital building for around 15 minutes checking each lift we passed without success, we eventually found what felt to us like the only working lift in the entire (huge) hospital.
I know many of you will be asking why we didn’t just take the stairs… Well, my workshop was on the 11th floor.
Enough of my story – why am I telling you this?
The fact is that as we were rushing from one lift to another I could not escape the thought of what this must mean for a hospital, where people often need to be moved by wheelchair or in hospital beds, where people may be on crutches, are aged, or simply do not have the same degree of mobility as I do. Not to mention the vast number of visitors, staff, doctors, nurses who need to navigate the 11floors of the building.
How on earth was that possible with so many lifts out of service? What implications resulted from those lifts being out? And how many unnecessary problems arose because people could not freely move around the hospital? That was when I came to realize that, though I may be blind, at least I have the gift of mobility and though I would not have enjoyed climbing the stairs to get to the 11th floor; at least I had the capacity to do so.
In my speaking, I tell the story of what happened in the aftermath of being told by the doctors that I would be blind for the rest of my life. It didn’t take me long to realize that I had a choice – to go home and give up, and be angry, bitter, dependent and depressed for the rest of my life… Or to go out there and see what life still had to offer me. Obviously, I chose the latter option.
Often I have been asked how that decision was so simple for me – why I felt it was the only decision that was possible for me to make.
I believe there were 3 main factors that influenced that decision.
- A naturally positive attitude that fuelled my desire to keep moving forward
- My refusal to let the blindness dictate my options, and to take back control of my life.
- My belief that my skills, strengths and resources would help me to deal with the inevitable day to day challenges of being blind.
In the next few articles on this thread, I will look at each of these in turn – starting with my positive attitude.
It’s a little over 14 years since I was declared blind. In that time many people have asked me how I coped when it happened, and how I continue to cope as a blind person living in a predominantly sighted world.
Looking back over the years I can’t recall much of what I was thinking at the time, but I do recall feeling overwhelmed and confused because I didn’t even know how to start building the skills and knowledge I knew I would need in my new life – or where to turn to find that information.
A speaking colleague, Aletta Rochat, said recently in a workshop (and yes, I’m paraphrasing) that feeling overwhelmed is not a sign that we do not know what to do, it is rather a sign that we do not know what to do next.
I think that can be adapted to be a useful strategy when you are facing a challenge – you don’t need to find a solution to the entire problem… you simply need to figure out what you need to do next – and take it one step at a time.
Remember the old adage of how you eat an elephant? You do so one spoon at a time. Well, I believe that overcoming challenges is a bit like that.
So that’s the approach I took to overcoming the challenge of learning to live without sight– I didn’t try to figure out my entire life, what I was going to do, how I was going to do it, how I was going to solve the day-to-day problems that arose. Rather, I sat down and tried to figure out what my first steps needed to be… and just focussed on taking those very first steps.
Next time you’re facing a challenge and feeling overwhelmed by it, remember that you don’t need to figure out what to do… it’s that you need to figure out what to do next… and take it one step at a time!