Posted on 3 Comments

Facing Sight Loss With Hope & Grace

Facing Sight Loss With Hope & Grace featured image description is in the body of the post.

Facing Sight Loss With Hope & Grace

My sight loss journey has been long and sometimes painful; however, it has also been full of hope and grace.

Rebecca In Front Of
A Historic Building

I was born with cataracts on both of my eyes (bilateral congenital cataracts). Before I was a year old, I had nine eye surgeries to remove my cataracts and secondary membranes that grew in their place. I also had muscle surgery to keep my eyes from crossing.

When I was four, I developed glaucoma as a complication of surgery. Since my right eye had issues focusing, my doctor recommended eye patching. As a result, I wore an eye patch over my dominant eye for an entire year.

I’ve had fifteen eye surgeries as an adult. The scar tissue from all of these surgeries sometimes causes pain and discomfort.

I can only see colors and shapes out of my right eye and the field of vision in my left eye is severely limited. In addition to having no peripheral vision or depth perception, I also have severe migraines that center around my eyes. My vision fluctuates. On a good day, I can see 20/30 in my good eye with best correction. On a bad day, all I can see are clouds and shapes.

A New Dream & A New Purpose

In college, I suffered a crushing loss. My dream was to become a music teacher; however, an important music professor refused to teach me because he “didn’t teach students with disabilities.” His ableism caused me to need to change my major.

At the time, I was crushed by the loss of my dream. Eventually, I changed my major to English Education because I have always loved words. Sadly, I met resistance there as well. When I was student teaching, I was told, “We’re afraid to leave the students alone with a blind teacher.”

I believe that God put a new dream on my heart and helped to form a beautiful mosaic from the broken pieces of my life. I attended seminary in Washington D.C. and I am blessed to be able to say that I have now completed five years of effective ministry.

In May, my church covenanted with me to always provide me with a job and a congregation to serve. We call this “ordination.” It was one of the most special days of my life. I couldn’t stop smiling. At last, it seemed that I had found my place in the world and that my life had a purpose.

Glaucoma: The Silent Thief of Sight

Although I have been blessed to have benefitted from some of the best medical care in the country at Will’s Eye Institute in Philadelphia, my vision continues to wane. I take five eye drops four times a day and a pill three times a day in order to maintain my eye pressure.

Each year, I lose a little more vision. At thirty years of age, I’m unable to read a book with a regular sized font for any extended period of time. As a person who loves books, this loss is the most painful loss of all.

Beauty from Brokenness

Like many people who are disabled, I have a complicated relationship with my disability. I still have a long journey ahead of me to achieve full acceptance of my sight loss. For example, I only use my white cane when I travel because I need it for safety.

I don’t know what the future holds for me. I don’t know if I will someday become more comfortable using my white cane or if I will ever learn to read Braille; nevertheless, my heart is full of hope. The essence of my job is to share hope with a dark and broken world.

I am blessed to serve a congregation that I love dearly and a church that is striving to become a more inclusive place for people with disabilities. I am also blessed to have wonderfully supportive friends and a spouse who loves me very much.

One thing is for certain: Even with my blurry vision, I can see that the future is bright.

Rebecca Holland blogs about faith, diverse books, and disability awareness at BeckieWrites.com. She has written a chapbook entitled, Through My Good Eye: A Memoir in Verse.

Facing Sight Loss With Hope & Grace Featured Image Description:

Rebecca grins broadly with her hand on her hip as she stands on the Millennium Bridge in London. St. Paul’s Cathedral can be seen behind her. She wears a bright green coat.

Rebecca In Front Of A Historic Building

Rebecca smiles while standing on the stone steps of a historic building. She is framed by a large wooden door. She wears a blue and green A-line dress. 

Posted on 2 Comments

Words: Balancing Realism, Compassion & Hope

Balancing Words Featured Image Description is in the body of the post

Words: Balancing Realism, Compassion & Hope

“Long after your final patient has gone home, somewhere somebody’s life may be falling apart due to the conversation you had with them earlier that day.” ~Fern Lulham

Editor’s Note: The following article was written by an amazing motivational speaker I recently met. When Fern Lulham was born her parents were given devastating news about their precious newborn. 

Dear Doctor Choose Your Words

Image 1 Fern Lulham description is in the body of the post.
Image 1 Fern Lulham

What is the scariest thing about an operation? Is it the pain you might experience? Is it that the procedure might go wrong?  For many people, it is the idea of putting their life into the hands of a doctor. Of course, not all operations are life-threatening.

Not all operations carry with them the risk of death. However, every single operation will involve a threat to their patient’s well-being. And this threat does not just apply to operations.

In what other contexts do you have contact with your patients? Every consultation brings this same hazard. Every appointment presents this same danger. And every single conversation you have with a patient puts their life firmly in your hands.

When we go through a medical process, doctors are legally obliged to inform us of the potential risks. And yet there is one very important risk which is not considered; something which can be just as lethal as the surgeon’s knife. It is our doctor’s choice of words.

Words, when placed into the hands of doctors can be deadly. To patients, their words equal truth, their opinions are facts. Their diagnosis is final and our future is whatever they say it will be. I want each and every one of you to know that you are incredibly powerful people. You might not always feel like it, but for most of us patients, you and your words are everything. Always remember this. You and your words are powerful.

And with that power comes great responsibility. When you are talking to a patient, what are you thinking? Are your thoughts with that one patient in that one moment? Do the words you choose tell that patient that they are not just one more name on your seemingly endless list?

Words & Trading Places 

I would like you to think for a moment. I want you to remember a time when somebody has said something which has really stayed with you. A small collection of words which days, months, even years down the line, you can still hear ringing in your ears. How do those words make you feel?

  • They may be angry words of disappointment or disgust.
  • They may be the words of a bully at school.
  • They may be the encouraging words of a friend.
  • They may be the advice of a parent.

Such words can have a huge impact on our lives and on the way we feel about ourselves. And isn’t it surprising how we can still hear them as clear as day as if they have just been said to us just a moment ago?

Image 2 Fern description is in the body of the post.
Image 2 Fern

Have you ever left a voicemail message and felt self-conscious about the way you sound? Your sudden awareness of the structure of your sentences and things not sounding the way you intended. We do not think about this until we know what we have said can be replayed and listened back to again and again.

When I am speaking to an audience, I am very conscious of the words I use and what impact they are having. Why? Because I know that people are listening. What we don’t think about is that people are always listening. They are listening particularly carefully when it is their doctor who is speaking to them. And everyone carries around a means of recording that information and playing it back at will in their minds. Everything you say is being mentally recorded and, believe me, your patients are replaying it over and over and over again.

Rewind Replay

I know this because I do it myself – for hours! Entire evenings after the hospital visit before, have been dedicated to going through these conversations with a fine tooth-comb. Long after your final patient has gone home, somewhere somebody’s life may be falling apart due to the conversation you had with them earlier that day. For them, it does not end when they leave the hospital. Words which concern them, words which terrify them, words which they don’t even understand. Words which haunt them for who knows how long…

Image 3 Fern & Mr Hamada description is in the body of the post.
Image 3 Fern & Mr. Hamada

When I was only a few weeks old and first diagnosed with a visual impairment, my parents were told: “your daughter will never see.” Can you imagine how that would make you feel as a parent being told this by a doctor? Devastation. Hopelessness. Fortunately, he was wrong and I can see – not much albeit – but I can. Even if I couldn’t though, I’m sure you can think of words of hope and encouragement which may have helped my parents then and which may have helped me hearing my story years on.

These days, I go to the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead. My parents and I have left that hospital feeling just about every emotion known to man. We’ve had good news, bad news and every kind of news in between. The reason my parents come with me, even though I could easily tell them what happened when I got home, is to hear the exact words which are spoken. We have all come to trust that from my consultant, Mr. Samer Hamada, regardless of the stark medical facts, there will always be words of confidence, compassion, understanding and, most of all, of hope.

The Power Of Hope

Image 4 Fern and Nancy description is in the body of the post.
Image 4

This is the thing we crave whenever we are told of my progress. To know that even if things are not going to plan right now, it doesn’t mean they never will be. To be assured that even when there is not an immediate solution, the potential for a solution is always there.

Mr. Hamada speaks with such passion about his work and is so enthusiastic and excited about developments being made in medical science. This is hugely infectious and makes me strongly believe that he truly wants to make things better for me, as much as I would wish it for myself. It is inspiring and encouraging and gives me a reason to keep going, even when my world is uncontrollably getting darker all around me by the day.

So to all doctors, I say, please think about the words you choose and the way they are spoken because, to your patients, words can really be the best medicine.     

Balancing Words Featured Image Description:

A representation of the medical profession, this photo includes a stethoscope, pen, and open laptop on a white background.

Additional Images:

  1. Fern is a pretty brunette with bangs and hair length just beyond her shoulders. She is wearing a white tank top with a chunky silver statement necklace.
  2. In this photo, Fern is standing at a lectern at a speaking event. She is wearing a dark-colored cold shoulder dress with a silver necklace and ankle boots.
  3. Fern is posing in this photo wearing a sparkling lacy red dress with her consultant, Mr. Samer Hamada. 
  4. Nancy (Fern’s golden lab guide dog), is so adorable as both are seated on the floor. Nancy’s paws are on Fern’s shoulders as she gives her human an affectionate kiss. They are both wearing party hats (Nancy’s is pink and Fern’s is green).

Connecting With Fern On Social Media:

Posted on 47 Comments

With Hope Anything is Possible

Here's To Hope In the New Year! Description: Happy New Year 2016 on top of a green decorative medallion graphic

Times Gone By, Farewell 2015

Hope is such a powerful thing and looking forward to the refreshing and re-energizing possibilities of the New Year is one of the most exciting components of the holiday. Whenever I think about motivation I remember it’s because of hope that I was able to overcome many trials and through it all this one biblical passage kept me:

I can do all things through him who strengthens me. ~Philippians 4:13

Even during my rebellious stage or stages when I came to my senses He did not reject me. I wish I could love like this, however, I realize I am a broken human being but with hope, I will continue to strive to be more like Him.

While I do not make New Year’s resolutions, because I’m a goal-tracking fiend, the one thing I anticipate is the annual year-end wrap-up. It’s during these self-assessments that I can see what I initially hoped to achieve at the outset of the current year and where I’ve landed at year’s end. Some notable achievements:

Top 10 Posts:

  1. Ankle Boots Outfit Combos
  2. Is It Magic? Nah, Just Color Adjusting Foundation
  3. The Black Blazer
  4. The Eye of the Tiger. er, um, Leopard
  5. Bountiful Boots
  6. Raising the Blind on Sight Loss
  7. Perfectly Pointed Pink Pumps
  8. Shoe Lovin’ Saturdays: Weigh In #7
  9. Is It Boring Being Blind?
  10. The Unveiling of a Stylish Icon

Collaborations:

  1. Glenda Harrison, So What to Twenty
  2. Mel Scott, BlindAlive
  3. Audrey Demmitt, Seeing Possibilities
  4. Jennifer Barrile, jennifer barrile

Interviews:

  1. The Bold Blind and Beautiful – Tom Reid, Reid My Mind
  2. Quick Q&A | Stephanae of Bold Blind Beauty – Susan, Adventures in Low Vision

Articles I Wrote for VisionAware.org

  1. How Can I Be Fashionable in the New Year If I Am a Blind or Visually Impaired Woman
  2. Living With Glaucoma
  3. Experiencing The Magic of Eye Makeup While Practicing Eye Safety

Special Projects:

  1. Created Month in Review newsletters
  2. Development of the fabulous “Woman on the Move” Fashion Icon (collaboration with Jennifer Barrile)
  3. Achieved my Image Consultancy certification

Community Activities:

  1. Created Golden Triangle Council of the Blind (GTCB) Bowl-A-Thon fundraising website
  2. Participated in the fundraising effort enabling GTCB to surpass our $2,000 goal
  3. Board Member of the Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh

Upcoming in 2016:

  1. “Women on the Move” Monthly Series featuring blind and vision impaired women
  2. Jenelle Landgraf, Double Vision Blog will become a regular monthly contributor
  3. Exploring the world of organic cosmetics and body products
  4. I will share more of my favorite outfit combinations and how to do it on a fixed income

Interesting Takeaways:

  • I am not and will not be perfect but I will continually strive for improvement
  • I cannot excel at everything but what I choose to do, I’ll do to the best of my ability
  • Overthinking is a motivational killer. Simplicity is key.
  • Losing vision has taught me that appearance is only part of the story. As humans, we are so complex and so much more than how we appear which is one of the main reasons I will continue to provide inspiration whenever possible.

When I review my activities for 2015 I can see that while I may have felt at times I was on a hamster wheel, in reality, I was productive. Is there room for improvement? Most definitely, but as long as I continue to track my progress I can rid myself of the unnecessary burden of thinking I am insufficient.

Happy New Year Everyone!! I love you all!! ~Steph

“We spend January 1st walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives…not looking for flaws, but for potential.” ~Ellen Goodman