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Trading Car Keys For A White Cane

Trading Car Keys Featured image description is in the body of the post.

Thought of you today when meeting with an independent living specialist. I told her of your post when you finally grabbed “the cane” 🙂 She gave me some raised dot stickers to put on the kitchen appliances so I know which button is which. As much as I hated to admit it, I needed some help. Please know you are so inspiring and your insights and humor are appreciated. 

~Melissa Welch

Trading Car Keys For A White Cane

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Stephanae’s Mirror Selfie

October marks 10 years since I gave up my driving privileges. My last day of driving began like most days as I went through the ritual of preparing for work.

With laptop, handbag, and car keys in hand, I headed out the door to my sexy silver Jeep. Not an impulsive person by nature, I bought this SUV when I began having vision problems with my good eye. The Jeep purchase was one of the best impulsive decisions I ever made with no regrets. Heck, I even had a silver trench coat to match―no one could tell me nothin’ when I was behind the wheel.

On that crisp fall morning, I got in the Jeep, put down my belongings, slipped on my shades, started it up, and with music blaring pulled off. I swung by to pick up my colleague, best friend and carpooling buddy. Midway to the office, I matter of factly said to her: “I can’t drive anymore.” There were no theatrics, tears, or tantrums, it was time.

The Numbers Were In My Favor

When I look back at how my blindness evolved I can honestly say I knew. Even when the doctors were so sure I’d never end up where I am today, I knew. I remember bluntly asking each of them if I would go blind the answer was always “no you won’t Ms. McCoy.” 

Nothing that happened to me was supposed to happen, or at least that’s what the doctors said. When my first macular hole was diagnosed I was told there was a 95 to 99 percent chance my sight would be restored. Odds of it happening in the other eye was also very low. 

What kills me to this day is up to the point of that first macular hole I had the best vision of my life. Sure, I was using readers but my distance vision was corrected to 20/15. When I wore contact lenses my sight was so good I felt like I could see through things. Maybe it was a sign of things to come? 

Fear Of Blindness Blocks Progress & Independence

During the height of my sight loss, I was seeing no less than two or three eye doctors monthly for several months. A snowball effect of related and unrelated issues began cropping up. Cataracts, a torn retina, glaucoma, uveitis, not to mention how bizarre my vision was. With blank spots in my vision, people’s faces were disfigured to me and everything was distorted. 

Still, my retina specialist maintained his stance that he could “fix” me. After four years of back and forth, I’d had enough and went back to Cleveland Clinic. It was at this last appointment I found out I was legally blind and no more could be done for me medically.

My acceptance of being a blind person didn’t happen overnight and on many days I was a miserable mess. I think my doctor’s fear of blindness hindered me from a smoother transition i.e. low vision rehabilitation. He was opposed to me learning how to use the white cane and I allowed him to project his fear onto me. 

Blindness Isn’t Always Obvious

Trading Car Keys for A White Cane Image description is in the body of the post.
White Canes

When it comes to blindness we’ve been so conditioned to believe that people who are blind have no sight whatsoever. The societal expectation is that we all wear dark sunglasses and have vacant stares. For many of us who were born with sight, once we lose it some of us can still do things like making eye contact. It should be noted while we ‘appear’ to make eye contact, many of us can’t see faces or facial expressions.

Since my remaining sight is next to none, I need to use a white cane to navigate the world safely. I read books by listening to them, magnification and screen readers allow me to use my cell phone and computer. Thanks to technological advances there are always workarounds and adaptations to allow us to sustain our independence.

When I began Bold Blind Beauty it was to bring awareness to blindness in the hopes of changing perceptions. So many people who cannot see won’t disclose it because of shame or fear and this needs to change. Eyesight without a doubt is so precious, yet it shouldn’t be the determining factor in who we are as people. Blindness is another way of seeing.

The opening quote to this post was written by one of my followers and it is a reminder of why I do what I do. Some may think trading car keys for a white cane isn’t a fair trade but when independence is on the line I beg to differ. 

The turning point for me was understanding I had a choice in how to move forward in life. I could give up or give in and embrace my blindness. Today, I accept being a blind person, and wouldn’t want to trade places with the person I was for anything.

Trading Car Keys Featured Image Description:

Photo is an image of a black key fob with a car keys and two other keys.

Stephanae’s Mirror Selfie

In this photo, I’m wearing a black “Ready To Conquer” Tee-shirt. Fashion icon Abby is to the left of a checklist “Handbag, Heels, White Cane.” Directly under her and the checklist is the slogan: “Ready to Conquer”

White Canes

This photo is part of my collection of white canes. These three are different colors/types: slimline black, slimline gold, green, gold & white cane with a rolling marshmallow tip.

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Too Sighted To Be Blind

Too Sighted To Be Blind

It seems like it’s been ages since I’ve written anything for Bold Blind Beauty. I’ve been so consumed with all the other aspects of this site it’s been overwhelming. Things like updating policies, products, and people to feature, have taken so much time my choices are limited.

Image Description is in the body of the post.
Stephanae

One of the things I seldom talk about is how I adjusted to living with blindness. Next month will be 10 years since I gave up driving and began adapting to losing some of my independence. During that time my left eye was unusable and my “good” right eye had these massive floaters. 

I used to think floaters were these tiny specks that I’ve had for as long as I can remember. As a high myope (severely nearsighted) I remember seeing my first floaters when was very young. But the ones I had 10 years ago were different. They were solid black clouds that constantly moved to obscure everything in my line of sight. Imagine driving and suddenly you’re unable to see street signs, traffic lights, people, and vehicles on the road–it’s scary.

After I stopped driving I’d have to wait until January 2009 for what would be my last vitrectomy (macular hole surgery). During a vitrectomy, a gas bubble is injected into the eye. This particular surgery was a little different because my surgeon was going to remove those annoying floaters as well. 

Seeing Yet Not Fully Sighted

Veering off topic for a minute, if you’ve never held your head in a downward position for 4 weeks or more, you haven’t lived. Yes, this was what I had to do each time I had a vitrectomy. And let me tell you the first few days after each surgery my neck was on fire. I had to do this on four separate occasions and each time I was ALL IN. 

Image description is in the body of the post.
Hey! I’m Walkin’ Here Tote & Ready To Conquer Tee

To help people understand what it might feel like to be blind there are various simulations from blindfolds to special eyeglasses. If I could point to one experience that prepared me for blindness it would be vitrectomy recovery. While I could see peripherally and downward, being unable to look up when I went for follow-up appointments was a strange feeling. Sort of like ‘you can see, but you can’t.’

Anyway, during this last recovery period, my retina specialist found a leaky blood vessel at the back of my right eye. Though an injection of Avastin stopped the bleeding, I’d find out later I was legally blind.

Too Blind To Be Sighted

To this day, none of my doctors can explain how the first macular hole evolved into the series of issues that stole my sight. Back when it all began the possibility of me ending up where I am today was highly unlikely. Going from healthy eyes to glaucoma, a torn retina, cataracts, uveitis, and blindness still seems like a dream. Yet each day I awaken I know it’s real. 

My blindness is the reason why I advocate for inclusion, accessibility, and equity. No one can know what going blind feels like until you’ve experienced it first-hand. Even then, when one or more of us share the same condition our sight is different for each of us.

The one thing this whole experience has taught me is to be more open-minded. I realize I know so much less than what I thought I knew and I’m learning more every day. There are so many conditions people live with and there really is no room for assumptions. 

I am blind and I look like I can see. It isn’t easy being too sighted to be blind yet too blind to be sighted. Even so, I will continue breaking down barriers in the hopes for a judgment-free world. One where blind and visually impaired individuals are doing what they love and are equally represented in all areas of life.

Featured Image Description:

In this three-quarter profile shot, I’m wearing a teal colored sleeveless sporty dress with a hoodie. It looks great with my Bold Blind Beauty braille teal wristband. Photo credit: Jana N. Williams Photography

Additional Images:

  • I posed with my “gold” white cane and wore a black tee with a white tote bag. The tee has an image of fashion icon Abby. To the right of Abby is a checklist Handbag, Heels, White Cane and directly under her and the checklist is the slogan: “Ready to Conquer.” The bag has black handles, features Abby, and say “Hey I’m Walkin’ Here!” Abby is front and center above the slogan
  • In this picture, I’m standing in front of a gorgeous red door at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Pittsburgh. Since there was a wedding in progress we couldn’t get any shots in front of the building so we found this magnificent red door with these tactile black knobs. 
  • The mug’s design includes fashion icon, Abby (in trio format) who are to the right of the handle. Directly under the trio is the slogan: “Blind Chicks With ATTITUDE.” To the left of the handle, the slogan is tactile braille.
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WOTM 13 Featuring Stephanae McCoy

You don’t know what you can’t see when you can’t see it…

Steph McCoy
Steph McCoy

The first time I put on eyeglasses was a little over 44 years ago. The feeling of seeing clearly for the first time stole my breath away. The transition was like leaving a dark movie theatre and stepping outdoors on a bright sunny day. It took time for my eyes to adjust because suddenly everything was so clear and focused as if all my senses were reborn; sound was keener, flavors more savory, smells more aromatic, touch more sensitive and sight — well, sight was indescribable. Depth perception was strange, crossing streets and walking down stairs was a little precarious as I acclimated to what is considered 20/20 vision.

For 37 years I was blessed with perfect vision provided I wore corrective lenses. That all changed 9 years ago with two words, “macular hole.” It began when I removed one of my contact lenses, looked in the mirror, and to my horror, half of my face was missing.

The diagnosis, while grim, in my situation all the statistics pointed to a favorable prognosis; One, I was considered very young to experience a macular hole, two, odds were it would not occur in my other eye and three; I had a 95% to 99% probability of having my vision completely restored in my affected eye.

What a relief to know that this unfortunate incident was only a minor inconvenience. When my retina specialist explained to me that he would perform a vitrectomy I jumped at the opportunity.

Vitrectomy is an outpatient surgery done under local anesthesia where the surgeon inserts these tiny instruments into the eye, suctions out the eye fluid, repairs the damage at the back of the eye, then inserts a gas bubble. It was kind of eerie being able to discern light and see the shadows of the instruments moving within my eye while at the same time talking with the surgical team. Afterwards I had to keep my head in a constant downward position for 3 weeks to enable the gas bubble to seal the hole in my macula. This first vitrectomy was not successful and a second surgery was repeated 5 months later.

Fast forward 4 more years with trips to my retina specialist, regular ophthalmologist, low vision specialist and Cleveland Clinic I had a total of 6 procedures/diagnosis:

  1. Detached retina with laser surgery repair in the left eye.
  2. Epiretinal membrane that developed into a small macular hole in my right eye, experimental gas bubble injection during the office visit (I never imagined that I would have a needle literally stuck in my eye while completely conscious – mental note I will not EVER do this again).
  3. Vitrectomy in my right eye to repair the reopened macular hole.
  4. Cataracts
  5. Glaucoma
  6. Ruptured blood vessel which occurred after the last vitrectomy required an injection of medication to stop the bleeding.

Though exhausted from all the procedures and diagnoses when my brother suggested returning to Cleveland Clinic one last time I agreed.

The news was devastating. “Ms. McCoy,” the doctor said, “I’m so sorry to tell you there is nothing more we can do for you.” Those simple words confirmed my worst fears and violently shoved me into the dark abyss of despair. I am now legally blind.

After all I’d been through, I was numb, like an out-of-body experience, I could hear the echo of my heartbeat and I had a difficult time focusing on the doctor’s next words. After what seemed like an eternity, he continued, “Ms. McCoy, you have lived with this condition (high myopia also known as severe nearsightedness) all your life and you have done everything you should do by regularly visiting the eye doctor but you have reached the point where your vision can no longer be corrected.”

By the way, high myopia is a severe form of myopia where my eyeball stretched and became too long. This can lead to holes or tears in the retina and can also cause retinal detachment. Abnormal blood vessels may also grow under the retina and cause changes in vision.

Today, after the removal of the cataracts the left eye is now the good eye with vision measuring 20/600. The vision in the right eye is “finger counting” a measurement used when standard methods no longer work. Out of curiosity I asked my eye doctor what follows after finger counting and was told “hand waving” and “light perception.” Even with these different means of measuring vision because of the vast spectrum of vision loss what one person sees with a specific condition, may not necessarily be the same for another person with the same diagnosis.

Losing my vision feels like being enveloped in a thick, never-ending fog. I sometimes dream that I can see only to awaken with the knowledge that it was only a dream. Throughout the past 9 years, as my eyesight has deteriorated to legal blindness, I’ve learned so much about visual impairments, coping strategies, and advocacy.

Through this experience I have met and worked with the most exceptional people and organizations. Some of which include the Checkered Eye Project, Foundation Fighting Blindness, American Council of the Blind, Pennsylvania Council of the Blind, Golden Triangle Council of the Blind, Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh and VisionAware. I am so honored to be able to serve on the various committees that are part of some of these organizations.

Have a great weekend!!

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.” ~Helen Keller