by Andrea Kelton
When I received the original diagnosis of uveitus (an inflammatory condition of the inner eye), my first husband’s older brother, the powerful attorney, insisted I get a second opinion from his fraternity friend. So we went. I told him my story and he examined my eyes. Then he sat us both down. With a sympathetic tone he said, “You are very brave for a young woman who is going blind”. GOING BLIND?!!! I didn’t know I was going blind! But I waited to cry until I got out to the car. Where I sat with my emotionally unavailable husband, saying nothing. He drove me to my equally emotionally unavailable father’s house, where the three of us sat at the kitchen table. Me crying. Them watching me cry. Saying nothing.
This all left a variety of feelings…on the surface…shame…and hidden deep down…a roaring anger. Which was called to my attention at a Recovery meeting where I used an incident involving my eyes as an example. (Recovery, Inc. is a self-help organization started in 1935 to teach nervous persons and patients techniques for good mental health.)
After the meeting, during coffee, a wise man came up to me and told me that my goal was to be able to say to someone, “I can’t see that.” And to do it without angry or fearful temper. Sounds easy enough. I figured once that it only took me 30 years to get to that point.
I have thought about blindness a lot. I was expecting the general public to have information and understanding about it. Most people only know Ray Charles or Stevie Wonder. Most people are scared to death of the idea of blindness. Most people are egocentric, and if they can’t figure out how you function, then they just figure YOU CAN’T!
A friend once told me I should educate the world. I am not so sure the world wants to be educated, and besides, that sounds exhausting. No, I have always maintained that the person I need to change is ME.
My experience has taught me that there are degrees of impairment, visual or otherwise. I have grown to the awareness that everybody I meet has a life challenge. I have come to the conclusion that I am not defined by my visual acuity. I am still here and pretty darn remarkable, if I do say so myself!
Andrea Kelton was diagnosed with uveitis in 1974. Today she lives in Chicago and teaches Adult Basic Education at Literacy Chicago. She attends a weekly memoir writing class, “Me, Myself and I” taught by author Beth Finke.