After I lost my sight, many people praised me for having the courage to carry on with my life. I would thank them for saying so but ask, somewhat rhetorically, what else was I going to do?
One of these days, I will tell how I grieved for the loss of my vision and all that entailed but, for now, I will just say that I soon adopted a problem-solving approach to overcome the many and varied challenges I faced as a person with a substantial vision impairment.
I was determined to get back to a life that I could be proud of, that I felt contributed to the greater good, but it has required no small amount of discipline and planning to cultivate the courage to overcome the obstacles that stood in the way of living that life.
Looking back, I can see this determination was given some structure to wrap itself around through a course on goal-setting I took through ABIOS – the Acquired Brain Injury Outreach Support group to which everyone discharged from the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Unit at the Princess Alexandra Hospital is referred. The facilitators led participants through a process of setting goals that were “SMART ”. I first came across this approach more than 20 years ago in university, so I already knew the acronym stood for goals that were Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-specific.
I committed there and then to taking a step by step approach to walking my daughter to school.
I knew this would involve navigating twists and turns through back streets, that it would involve crossing roads on my own, finding an almost hidden stairway across a mid-street embankment, negotiating some rather dodgy footpaths, and then finding my daughter among the crowd of identically-dressed and similarly exuberant schoolchildren, not all of whom could be guaranteed to be looking out for the blind woman marching down the street. And don’t even get me started on the perils of people who park across footpaths. Or bin day.
Knowing this, I engaged with an orientation and mobility specialist (the fabulous Bashir Ebrahim OAM, through Vision Australia) and rehearsed walking around the block from my house, clockwise then anti-clockwise, with him, and without him.
Day after day we walked to the school together, over and over, until one Sunday morning I woke up with fresh vigor and set off on my own. Fate put a kindly stranger in my path to help with the location of that pesky staircase, the bins kept out of my path, and I even managed to take a selfie outside the school (or possibly a photo of the house across the street.
When I reported this achievement back to the ABIOS group with whom I had first set the goal, it sparked something in the rest of the group. Over the next few weeks, more than a few of them reported having achieved a goal after being spurred into courageous action by the thought that “if Karen can walk her kid to school blind, I can do this!”.
And that, dear reader, is why I am telling these stories. Not to give advice, but to inspire in you the same conviction that set me off on that early morning walk. To say, “if I can do it, you can too.”