I mentioned 1998 in my last post, and that was significant. I was close to finishing my bachelor's degree in psychology then, and I had chosen to take two independent study courses as electives and examine the possible psychosocial impact of blindness. Not surprisingly, my work on this project stirred some fairly deep emotions, especially after my sudden vision loss in April, 1998.
The next few months were turbulent emotionally as I tried to learn what complications of ROP had caused the vision loss and pursued treatment. Vision loss was difficult for me even though I knew how to read braille, walk with a cane and dog guide, cook without looking, etc. One reason for the difficulty was my own confusion about my intense emotional reaction. If I knew how to function without sight, why was I so upset about losing it? I began a fairly intense personal examination of the very topic I had studied academically just months before. I learned that the problem wasn't blindness itself but my feelings about myself and about the implications of vision loss for my life socially and spiritually.
By self-esteem we refer to the evaluation which the individual makes and customarily maintains with regard to himself: it expresses an attitude of approval or disapproval, and indicates the extent to which the individual believes himself to be capable, significant, successful, and worthy. (S. Coopersmith in The Antecedents of Self-Esteem, 1981, pp. 3-4)
My attitudes are shaped by a combination of my experiences, my reactions to my blindness, other people's reactions to my blindness and to my reactions, and my responses to and perceptions of their reactions. It's a dizzying concept, but it's very evident in my life--and this is also how and why my attitudes about blindness can change over time. My past affects my attitudes and experiences now, but my experiences and thoughts now can also heal the hurts in my past. There was a time when I did not want or even need to grieve my blindness. I had not had experiences that gave it a negative meaning for me. But there came a time when I did have those experiences, and I began to need to grieve. The experiences happened slowly, and at first I didn't even realize that the negative message was about blindness. Ken Tittle would recognize that an event that happened in 1991 was significant in signaling my need to grieve. I did not perceive it that way, although I understand why he would. In truth, there have been many significant events in my life--both positive and negative. The balance of those events seems to have been what governed the intensity of my need to grieve. In 1998, grief became necessary, even if treatment restored a small amount of vision. In 2005, griefe is less necessary--or perhaps it takes different forms. I don't really call what I feel now grief--I don't feel negatively about blindness itself, although I recognize that a lot of things I do feel negatively about would be different if I was not blind. I appreciate the sight I do have and would like to keep using it, and this is why I still seek treatment for things like my damaged cornea. But many of the things I feel negatively about in my life (for example, my age in relationship to the fact that I am unmarried and have no children) are not things I can tie to blindness--I know of other sighted people who are in their 30s and 40s and are unmarried, and I know of plenty of blind people who are happily married with two or three children by age 30.
One other thing makes my perspective different now from what it was in 1998. I have additional disabilities, and I am now reacting to my blindness in different ways as I go through the experience/reaction/perception cycles in relation to those disabilities. This changes my experience of blindness. It also causes me to reevaluate my perceptions of other people's reactions to me. Did someone respond a certain way because of a perception about blindness? Or was something else happening related to one of my other disabilities or personal characteristics that the person might have been responding to ... or was the response based on something that had nothing to do with me? I've also learned to think less egocentrically--and that was not easy.