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WOTM 37 Featuring Christie Smith

Let Go To Move Forward

Closeup of a smiling Christie posed outside with her white cane wearing fashionable sunglasses and statement earrings
Christie Smith

The story of my sight loss began 20 years ago, but it was not until last year that it got very interesting and very challenging. My diagnosis is Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), which is a progressive degenerative retinal disease that is quite insidious. In its early stages, it causes loss of night (low-light) and peripheral vision. In the later stages, central vision may also be affected, causing total loss of light perception.

For many, many years I thought I was beating the odds and had myself convinced that I was not going to end up like other people with RP. My rude awakening came in the form of being declared legally blind at the age of 37, having to give up my job, and losing my driving privileges. Everything crystallized at that point, and I had to face the reality of what was really happening in my life – RP was winning, and I was losing.

I learned that rock bottom is a very real place. Darkness folded in all around me, and I, very briefly, welcomed the embrace of the darkness. I felt myself sinking and saw the brightness of my light dimming, but I could not remain there. My life would not get better by chance. It would require change. With all my strength, I cried out to God to bring me out of the darkness, and He answered.

I knew I had to put a plan in place to get myself on the right path again because if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. The first call I made was to my Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor with my state’s Division of Services for the Blind to request services that would enable me to reset and restart my life as a woman who is legally blind.  After suffering from a broken bone in my foot last summer, I knew my top priority was getting a cane and training to use it so I started there. That was my first step toward regaining some of the independence I lost. Often, God takes us through troubled waters, not to drown us, but to cleanse us.

The next thing I did was by far the most difficult – I made the decision to stop hiding my hidden disease. I “came out” on Instagram and openly shared my story for the world to see and join me in navigating the murky waters of RP. This was such a tremendous step for me because I never let people in on my secret shame and feelings of inadequacy due to my visual impairment and also because I worried so much about what people would think. Never again will I underestimate the greatness inside of me because of the limited thinking inside of others.

Presently, I am enrolled in the Adapting to Blindness in a Learning Environment (ABLE) program at the Rehabilitation Center for the Blind (RCB). The ABLE program is designed to teach people who are blind and visually impaired invaluable skills for independence and success at work and/or school. Once I complete the ABLE program at the RCB, I will be returning to school in the fall to set out on the path of a new career that I can sustain as a woman who is visually impaired.

Selfie of Christie looking tres chic in her winter coat, wearing shades and her braided hair elegantly coiffed atop her head.
Christie Smith

My plan for the future is to become a teacher for students who are blind and visually impaired. There is no greater way to effect change in this world than by imparting knowledge to future generations. Not only can I teach them, I can show them that they are as unstoppable as they choose to be. The only limitations we face in life are the ones we place on ourselves, and my hope is that I will inspire the children of our future to live their lives without limits.   

It is easy to hear a person’s story of loss and only recognize loss, but I look back over my story and see how much I have gained. My confidence has grown exponentially, and it is true confidence, not just the façade I previously presented to the world. Once I accepted and began living my life as a woman who is visually impaired, I was free to be myself, loudly, and I firmly believe that beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself. I have learned to release negative people, emotions, and thoughts that do not benefit me. I have come to understand that if going blind cannot stop me, nothing can; and happiness is not about getting what you want all the time, but loving what you have and being grateful for it.  Most importantly, though, I have learned what matters in life – my faith, my family and friends, and the impact I can make on this world.

To move forward we must accept what is, let go of what was, and have faith in what will be. We must be kind, loving and patient with ourselves, as well as others.  My transformation was painful but I did not fall apart; I just fell into something different with a new capacity to be beautiful. Everything happens in divine order. The good, the bad, the unexpected, and the unfortunate. Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations. Regardless of what is in front of you, it is a part of your path. Follow and trust, believe and hope, forgive and remain thankful, be brave and keep going!

 

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WOTM 35 Featuring Becky Andrews

Blind Beauty 1 featured image description is in the body of the post.

WOTM 35 Featuring Becky Andrews

“A bend in the road is not the end of the road unless we fail to make the turn” ~Helen Keller 

A Resilient Spirit

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Image 1

As I began to lose my eyesight from Retinitis Pigmentosa, the Helen Keller quote became a mantra. Blindness was not going to stop me from being active and engaged in life. At first, I didn’t know how but knew a resilient spirit and so many encouraging family and friends would help me stay active and engaged in life.

It isn’t always easy yet being willing to be open to those new, at times challenging turns in the road was so important in my resilient journey. I recall early on in my vision loss, my vocational rehabilitation counselor, Marianne, left me a sweet message saying “now Becky I’m paraphrasing from the quote …  remember when one door closes another door opens but we can’t longingly look back at the closed doors. You can do this.” 

There was time for feelings of loss and then a time to look up and move forward. I reflect on the decisions to begin mobility training, choosing the guide dog lifestyle, tandem cycling, running with a guide and tether and so many other turns in the road that expanded my world in new ways.

Resilience In Practice

Image 2 photo description is in the body of the post.
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After completing my master’s degree in counseling and gaining experience in several agencies, I began to dream about having my own private practice. I knew it needed the word Resilient in it. As Steve, my incredible husband of 32 years, and I brainstormed, the name Resilient Solutions resonated as a name for an individual, marriage, and family therapy practice. Today, eleven years later our practice has grown to 15 therapists. Truly it warms my heart when someone says, this feels like such a safe place to heal.

It is a privilege to work with clients to create their own resilient plan as they face life challenges and navigate the turns in their road. As we begin this journey, it may seem like coping is the best we can do. Soon we transition to thriving in the journey. As a woman in Chicago shared when I was presenting on Coping with Vision Loss, “I don’t want to just cope I want to thrive!” Indeed! The remainder of my presentation transitioned to thriving. We can thrive in the journey.

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style.” ~Maya Angelou 

We do have the ability to bounce back and thrive under adverse or challenging circumstances. We can rebound from life’s difficulties and challenges in a healthy, transformative way. For me, vision loss has become an incredible teacher and helped me transform, thrive and give back in so many ways.

Image 3 Photo description is in the body of the post.
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After completing the Brene Brown Daring Way Training a couple of years ago I knew I wanted to bring a group of women who were also experiencing blindness to come together. Last year 20 women, all blind or experiencing a degenerative eye condition, came together for two retreats.   They came to Utah from various parts of the country. My heart is full of gratitude for these remarkable women and the opportunity to share in this journey together of Daring to Own Your Story. This summer we will expand this program with two more retreats. Details are at www.oasiscenterforhope.com/retreats.

As a business owner, licensed clinical mental health counselor, motivational speaker wife, mother, avid marathon runner, cyclist, hiker, traveler, friend, and now author: Look up, move forward; who happens to be blind, my life is full of abundance. I am grateful for my vocational rehabilitation counselor many years ago and so many others who encouraged me to find new doors and gain the adaptive tools to do what I wanted to do.  

Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.” Brené Brown, from The Gifts of Imperfection   

I shared the following after reaching my goal to run the Boston Marathon:

Throughout my life, there have been many challenges much bigger than the work of qualifying for or running the Boston Marathon. However, running has become an incredible teacher and a great analogy for other aspects in my life. When I dream big when I am persistent and don’t give up, when I tackle challenges with grit, accept help and lend a hand to others with gratitude for all that is around me, I create a life that’s rich, peaceful and full of joy. It’s exactly the sort of life I’ve always wanted. Page, 207 Look up, move forward.

Remember, dream big. You got this!

WOTM 35 Featured Image Description:

Photo credit: Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Friday, July 31, 2015. Close up photo of Becky running tethered to her running partner.

Additional Images:

  1. Photo of Becky and her guide dog Georgie. Becky is seated in a chair and Georgie is sitting on the floor next to her.
  2. Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune L-R Suzette Hirst, Becky Andrews, and Brenda Petersen. Hirst and Peterson ran as Becky’s guide in the Boston Marathon, and take turns guiding her, nearly every day, as they run in their Bountiful neighborhood. Friday, July 23, 2015.
  3. Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Becky Andrews with her third guide dog, named Georgie, in downtown Salt Lake City, Wednesday, August 12, 2015.

Becky Andrews:

  • LCMHC, FT, Positive Psychology Life Coach, EMDR Therapy Provider at Resilient Solutions, Inc.
  • Author of Look up, move forward
  • Director of the Oasis Center for Hope, a nonprofit with the mission to support, educate and empower individuals, families, and communities experiencing a loss.

Becky can be reached on Facebook: @Becky Peterson Andrews
Email: lookupmoveforward@gmail.com
Website: www.resilientsolutionsinc.com

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WOTM 34 Featuring Mara Lauren

WOTM 34 Featured image description is in the body of the post

WOTM 34 Featuring Mara Lauren

“No disability should hold us back from anything our hearts desire.” ~Mara

Women On The Move | Change Your Mindset, Change Your Life

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Hi, my name is Mara Lauren. I was diagnosed with a rare eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) in 2010. Recently, I was diagnosed with Usher Syndrome, which not only includes vision loss but also hearing loss.

When I was first diagnosed with RP it was a big life-changing experience. I was told I was going blind and there was nothing I could do to prevent this. The initial diagnosis by a Doctor who had little education on the subject was very callous. His uncaring approach made me feel hopeless and lost, which caused me to go into depression for a 2-year period. That depression stage of my life was tough as if I didn’t want to live anymore.

Feelings Of Isolation

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The feeling of being alone, not knowing what will happen and what the future would bring really hit me hard. I disconnected from the world and the feeling of not wanting to live anymore was always on my mind.

Eventually, I with the right people. The right specialists who helped to give me hope and let me know this eye condition shouldn’t stop me from living the life I want and it wasn’t the end.

Mara

In 2014, I started to really look at my life and I knew I had to change my mindset. That this depression was the jolt I actually needed to start focusing on what really matters and to completely revamp my life by staying positive. It was at this point with the help of my caring husband by my side, I have done just that.

Kicking It Up A Notch

I started getting involved with The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) as a support group leader, I am part of The Foundation Fighting Blindness(American and Canadian organizations), also I have recently joined Trailblazers Tandem Cycling Club (a registered charity, who provides recreational cycling to people who have limited or no vision).

In the summer of 2016 I conquered Cycling For Sight, a fundraising event with The Foundation Fighting Blindness to find a cure for degenerative blindness. This was one of my biggest accomplishments thus far because it has been one of my goals since being diagnosed, it wasn’t easy but I was able to complete the 91km event.

Now that 2017 is here, I have signed up to do the full race of 180km Cycle for Sight that will be held in June 2017 and signed up for different activities that I want to try. So you have to wait for it and see what I’m up to!

 

Catching Up With Mara

Mara

I will also try to blog more this new year and you can find me on atemara.com or simply my Instagram, atemara. Outside of social media, I pretty much keep myself busy with all the organizations I’m involved in and I try to live a fit active lifestyle by working out and eating healthy, but of course occasionally I must indulge.

Another big aspect of my life is traveling, spending time with loved ones and just enjoying life to its fullest. I always say, no disability should hold us back from anything our hearts desire. We can still do it all.

WOTM 34 Featured Image Description:

Photo of Woman On The Move Mara in boldblindbeauty.com’s WOTM template. She is looking very stylish wearing fashionable shades while sitting outdoors holding a coffee cup in her right hand. Three-quarters of the template contains the photo and in the bottom portion is Mara’s quote in teal text.

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Guest Post: 8 Things I Wish People Knew…

About Going Blind from a Degenerative Eye Condition

Originally Posted on February 2, 2016 by

  1. Phoropter (ophthalmic testing device)
    Phoropter (ophthalmic testing device)

    It usually occurs slowly.
    While there are some people who go blind overnight or in a matter of days, such as with detached retinas, following eye surgeries, or with certain types of Glaucoma, the vast majority of people with degenerative diseases such as Retinitis Pigmentosa and Macular Degeneration, lose their sight gradually, over a period of many years.

  2. Just because our vision changes doesn’t mean our interests do.
    Some people assume that certain hobbies that are sight-related, such as sports, fashion, makeup, woodworking, etc are no longer interesting or feasible after vision loss.  This simply isn’t true.  There’s nothing worse than a group of friends assuming that you no longer want to go on your annual bike-riding trip, aren’t interested in watching a football game together, or don’t enjoy shopping with them anymore.  Yes, some things may change, such as needing to use a tandem bicycle or a tether for running side-by-side or audio descriptions for movies, but these activities can still be very fun.  There are always ways to compensate and adapt when it comes to the activities we love.  I have a friend who is completely blind from RP and recently refinished his basement alongside his son, even handcrafting a beautiful wet bar, all without sight.  I’ve heard of auto mechanics who can no longer drive but still find ways to work on cars.  When someone has a talent or interest, they find  a way to continue doing it.
  3. Silhouette of a solitary woman facing the sunset.It can feel socially isolating.
    Think of all the social interactions that you use your vision for, from greeting your neighbor across the way to commenting on someone’s clothing.  From college students bonding over late night activities around campus to parents observing their kids’ soccer games, some of these experiences can feel a bit awkward for people losing their vision.  While we can still participate in many of the same activities, some of the commentary involved in a shared visual experience is missed.  Sometimes we feel like we have to fake “ooh-ing” and “aw-ing” over that cute or funny scene everyone is pointing at, lest we feel out of the loop.  We can’t dart from person to person at a party, spotting friends across the room.  Some of this is unavoidable, but friends and family who go out of their way in social settings can make a huge difference.  Even when we can’t spot you in public, we still appreciate being acknowledged and greeted.  For example.  I love it when a parent of someone in my daughter’s kindergarten class comes up to me in the grocery store and tells me who they are, even if I’ve met them before, and starts a conversation.  I can’t stand it when someone tells me, after the fact, that they were near me in a public setting, “Oh, I saw you at the movie theater last week,” but didn’t make their presence known at the time. It’s a weird feeling when people can spot you but you’re not able to see them.  It can leave you feeling self-conscious and awkward. When someone passes me and just says, “Hi Joy!” without identifying themselves, I sometimes spend the next 10 minutes trying to figure out who it was.  On the flip side, when someone says, “Hi Joy, it’s Lindsay!” I can ask how her daughter is or spout off a relevant comment, which is what people who are fully sighted do regularly in their social lives without even thinking about it.
  4. Image of a Penrose Rectangle - known as an impossible object, an optical illusion that is drawn to look like a three-dimensional object.
    Penrose Rectangle

    The things we can and cannot see are sometimes confusing, even for us.
    I can’t always explain why I can’t figure out what a picture that someone texts me is of but can read the print caption that goes along with the photo.  Perhaps it has something to do with visual memory of letters and how my brain fills in the gaps, even when parts of those letters are missing.  Or maybe it’s the contrast or the size and color of the photo that makes a difference.  Whatever it is, it can be difficult to explain to people and could even appear phony, like I have “selective sight”, but anyone who knows me well understands and doesn’t give it a second thought.  My younger sister, who works on a cruise ship, overheard one of her coworkers complaining about a passenger who had requested vision-related assistance but then appeared to be looking at something.  The co-worker assumed the person was lying about their poor eyesight, but my sister grew up watching her 2 older twin sisters struggle with vision loss and quickly told her co-worker that the passenger might need help seeing some things but not others.   Vision loss is not always a concrete, black-and-white picture for people losing their sight.  Take colors, for example, I can identify most colors in a general sense but often can’t distinguish between blue and green, red and orange, purple and brown, or even between yellow and white.

  5. Blurred image of cars on the highway from passenger's perspective.We can have “bad” and “good” vision days.
    Sometimes it depends on how sunny or cloudy it is outside.  Other times it depends on eye strain, the time of day, lighting inside vs. outside, and even how many trees or landscaping are around casting shadows, causing my eyes to play lots and lots of tricks on me.
  6. It’s not something most of us dwell on daily.
    Gradual degeneration is a lot like aging.  You don’t look in the mirror every single day, inspecting every new wrinkle, exclaiming, “I’m getting older!” just like I don’t stare at eye charts constantly, noticing every little change.  Also similar to aging, most people don’t just wake up one day and realize that they’re a senior citizen….you realize that you’re aging at various points in your life, sometimes because of an event such as a milestone birthday, but other times you just notice yourself looking or feeling older from time to time.  Typically, vision loss is similar. There are times I’ve gone to the eye doctor and been surprised at my change in vision because I hadn’t noticed it happening to the extent that it dropped, despite the fact that I could tell it was worsening.  Other times, I notice the drop and am not surprised in the least when the Ophthalmologist shows me my test results.
  7. White cane with a cork handle from Ambutech
    Ambutech

    Some of us use mobility aids like canes and dogs and some of us don’t.
    There are people who have the exact same vision who move about the world completely differently. There can be 2 people who both have 19 degrees of vision, deeming them both “legally” blind, and one of them uses a white cane while the other walks around without any mobility tool.  If there is someone in your life who you feel like should be using a mobility assistance but doesn’t, it’s usually a realization they need to come to on their own, something through a few bumps, bruises and embarrassing moments.  No one can be persuaded through guilt or fear to get assistance.  Even among those who are completely blind, not everyone uses a cane or dog.  Some, for example, use echolocation.  It’s a personal preference.  A common misconception when someone begins using a cane is that they just had a major drop in their vision.  Sometimes this is the case, but many times the person is just sick of tripping over things and is ready for some help.

  8. Solitary white rose Most of us lead regular, happy lives.
    After doing a presentation about my vision at my niece’s school recently, a couple of her classmates came up to her at recess and said, “We feel so bad for your aunt!  It’s so sad, and we almost cried during her talk!”  Hearing this made me feel like I didn’t really do a great job conveying how much I love my life during my presentation.  It made me decide to start my school presentations by telling the kids to smile and laugh because my story is not a sad one.  Yes, I have dealt with my share of sadness over having RP.  No one likes the idea of losing one of the 5 senses, especially the one that society places the most importance on, but sadness is definitely not the word that comes up for me when thinking about my life. Challenge? Sure.  Adventure? Yep. Fringe benefits? Yes please. Joy? Absolutely.

When you’re done crying over RP, there are so many things to laugh at. (i.e. On a recent trip to Chicago, I reached out to press the crosswalk signal button and began pressing on a man’s arm instead, much to his surprise.  You can’t tell me that’s not laugh-out-loud funny!)  While studies show that people who are blind or visually impaired do tend to have more nightmares, due to anxieties that sighted people don’t face, apparently these added anxieties do not have bearing on a happy, fulfilling life, as happiness studies find that blind people are just as happy as sighted folks.  Helen Keller sums this up best, “I can see, and that is why I can be happy, in what you call the dark, but which to me is golden.”