Saturday, February 27, 2016

Leave the Acting to Hollywood: Embracing the Authentic Self and Blindness

Image of yellow post it note with red push pin with
the words "OUT SICK" and a sad face.
Once again, I must apologize for the lapse in writing...  You guys, living in Minnesota right now is like living in a petri dish full of the flora and fauna that make up nightmares scarier than any monsters under the bed.  The Toddler spent the vast majority of the month of February sick.  She missed three WEEKS of preschool, I had to pass my volunteer commitments off to someone else for the month, and I cancelled every Braille class I had planned to attend.  I made it through the Toddler's three weeks of Sick unscathed and then, as she returned to preschool, BAM, it was my turn!  I can't complain though, the forecast for today shows a high of FIFTY-FOUR degrees, in February, in MINNESOTA, and my sniffling, sneezing, coughing, stuffy-nose, watery-eyes self WILL be outside!

That all has nothing to do with today's post, other than to apologize for my status incommunicado.  This week while I've been feeling under the weather, I've had some seriously amazing opportunities to "meet" new people.  A friend began blogging her adventures as a new mama with a disability, which you can follow here, and I couldn't be more thrilled!  She's a super-cool chick, a strong woman, and mommyhood looks so perfectly beautiful on her!  Yep, she has a disability, and her perspective and experiences will be a great addition and insight for others to learn and grow from, and to contribute to the world of advocacy, ability, and parenting.  While I was busy sniffling and sneezing, some really cool things happened!

Me, Picassa (my retired guide dog), and one of the
Blue Men in Las Vegas.  Few can remind you that we're all
meant to be unique and impact this world in our own way
than the BMG.
Meeting new people and growing new friendships has a way of reminding me of where I've been, how I've gotten where I am today, and the long and sometimes painful road it took to get here.  Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I was a far different version of myself.  When I was really little, I didn't give much thought to my differences in appearance, or whether I was sighted or blind.  In elementary school, I didn't make friends very easily, I was shy, and while I didn't have the self-awareness to know it then, I lacked self-confidence.  When I began as a new student in second grade, I didn't step out and try to make friends.  I sat alone on the playground, and as fate, and the kindness of one incredible kid would have it, one of the most amazingly confident, beautiful people I would ever meet came up to me and asked me to play.  It is amazing to me to look back now, as a strong, confident, bold woman, and remember how little of that was present in me, and how much of that was present in her, all that time ago.  I don't know if she ever realized how much her role in my life impacted me--as we were growing up, over all those years, I remember looking up to her, admiring her confidence and leadership, coveting it even (We went to parochial school, I never heard "Thou shall not covet thy best friend's confidence!").  As much as I admired her, I had to take my own path to find those things for myself, and it took many years, and so many experiences, for me to find that.

As a child and teenager, most people didn't know I was blind.  Sure, they knew I was "different", the white hair kind of gives that away.  But, my blindness, nope.  They may have known I couldn't see as well as they could.  But, I didn't use a white cane, I hadn't been introduced to assistive technology or the alternative techniques and skills of blindness, and past the point of early elementary school, access to large print became less and less available, so I did more and more of my work at home, where I could lean as close to my books as I needed to and squint my eyes as much as the smaller and smaller print demanded.  I participated in everything I needed and wanted to, acting like I wasn't nervous when visual tasks were involved, trying not to worry about being hit in the head with a ball, pretending I wasn't afraid that I would miss my spot in a gymnasium or performance and embarrass myself in front of a huge group of people.  I was scared to cross the street until I was in my early 20s and attended Adjustment to Blindness Training (ATB), which means that when I went for walks around our neighborhood with my kid brother and sister, THEY were the confident ones, and when they said, "No cars!" I hoped and prayed they were right!

I was one hell of an actress.
I was one very scared actress.
I was one very lonely actress.

The amazing group of friends I had in high school in Illinois.
My family moved to Minnesota when I was a junior in high school.
The childhood BFF is the furthest left in this photo--she's stayed just
as awesome and has only become more beautiful over time!
The thing about being an actress, instead of being your own, perfect, different, authentic self, is that it's a ridiculous amount of effort and an awful lot of work, and fear, and worry.  And the longer I acted, the more I believed the lie that my differences, my abilities, my blindness, and myself with all of these things as part of who I am, weren't perfectly and wonderfully made.  Further, I had built a community of friends, family, and acquaintances who, when they learned I was taking several months away from "normal life" to attend ATB training were..... Confused.  Years later when I chose to work with a guide dog, and would encounter and reconnect with a friend from my childhood or high school years, they would ask if my sight had worsened.  But, those several months, surrounded by other blind people, learning that I could do everything I needed and wanted to do, gave me the confidence I needed to explain these things, to answer their questions, and to realize that it was my exceptional acting skills (hah!) that had resulted in their confusion and curiosity in the first place.

I didn't attend a full ATB training program, rather, I spent a summer between college semesters learning how to navigate and travel independently with a white cane, cook and manage household and independent living tasks without my vision, utilize computers and technology with assistive technology, access books in audio and electronic formats, and I began learning Braille.  I lived in an apartment in a busy and lively part of Minneapolis, and  That time in my life was instrumental.  It was necessary.  Though I didn't know it, that time in my life would be the beginning of me becoming "me"...  Confident, strong, happy, ready to take on and experience the world and all that was to come, "me".  The "me" who knew that my albinism and my blindness are just pieces of me, just like my silly sense of humor, my quirky and kind of sick love of crafting, cleaning, and organizing, my constant love of learning...  Embracing my authentic self has been so much better than acting ever was.

Embracing my authentic self led to embracing life and love.
Nothing could be better.

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