In the book on visual impairment I’m currently reading, I found an interview with a then 21-year-old woman, born blind, who had seemingly always been completely integrated in society. She’d been in special ed for two years in around 1980 cause at the time apparently, blind children couldn’t be taught braille and the like by an itinerant teacher, but for the rest of her life she’s always been in mainstream education and in the mainstream world in general. At the time of the interview, she studied Dutch at university, had a good social network and did lots of community service. In short, she’s exactly the image I dreamt of becoming when I was thirteen, and now the image I dream of becoming with the exception that my major has changed to American studies. But I’m very different and, while I still hope to at one point make it to this position, I still realize my deficits that – whether I want to admit them now or not – would be especially apparent when trying to have an integrated position.
It isn’t so much a lack of effort. I’ve always been eager to volunteer for the Socialist Party, for instance, and I keep trying despite some negative experiences, like the bringing round flyers in late 2004. That negative encounter was more cause my parents’ and my own attitudes than it was cause of a real lack of ability: with enough effort, I could’ve brought around these flyers, but it all took me too long, I attracted the attention of overly-worried strangers and eventually gave up on the basis that a blind person is supposedly crazy if she thinks she can bring around flyers. I still wouldn’t easily volunteer to bring around flyers again, except in a block of apartments, cause I don’t feel that it’s my duty to fulfill a task a sighted person (or more experienced and skilled blind person) can perform much more efficiently, solely to prove that I can do it with enough effort. Over the last couple of months, I’ve lost some of my feeling that I had to prove I was capable (or “normal”, as I used to vaguely call it) at any cost. I still want to be as independent as possible, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but for me there now has to be another incentive to do something beyodn “just proving I can do it”. That applies to things I have never done before or wouldn’t know exactly how to accomplish but feel I should be able of, but it automatically of course also applies to tasks I’ve mastered, cause then it’s not about proving I can do it, but about enjoying the independence I have. Like on my travel to Nijmegen, the only thing concerned with the moral value of independence was my dislike for the opinion that I should be taught each and every new route. I might’ve believed that, had I not heard of Kenneth Jernigan pickin gup his cane and flying to Japan. All the rest was just that I wanted to travel the route independently cause I knew I could, I wanted to arrange my own college affairs and I would have to travel this route more often once studying in Nijmegen.
In the case of volunteering, I used to apply for every available function without consideration of my likes and abilities at one time, and used to retreat completely a short while later. The first stage happened in late 2002 and early 2003, and it includes my dandidacy for the SP Apeldoorn board of directors after having been a party member for only three months and without any previous political experience and, of course, my successful application to the Model European Parliament (a debating contest). That’s not real volunteering, but it’s a way of coming out into the community. The second period, where I pretty much retreated, started in the summer of 2003 after having become troubled with the realization of my being extremely behind in many areas, and lasted for about sixteen months. Then I had the bringing round flyers episode, which happened when I was called by an SP member and finally felt I could mean something to somebody, and hence, once again, applied without considerations. It failed and I retreated once again. I only participated in the 2005 high school debating contest cause my Dutch teacher explicitly asked me – and of course I liked it, but I’d never dared to take the initiative, which I had done both with the SP board of directors thing and with the Model European Parliament. From the summer of 2005 on, I’ve tried to get out of the position of retreating/withdrawal. I wanted to be on the rehab student council and posed my interest. I arranged college stuff in February and decided to go to events like Ziezo (an exhibition of aids and appliances for the visually impaired) and last Monday’s political youth debate in preparation for the local election. Do I consider these to be important things? Yes, I do, cause I want to be more participating than I am now. There’s a difference, of course, between participating in blind-oriented positions and in regular ones, the former being easier cause then my blindness doesn’t contribute to my reasons for feeling I shouldn’t do the stated thing. And yes, my blindness does contribute in many situations. I never really recognized it, or didn’t want to admit it, but for some reason I did always feel that people wouldnt’w ant me in some position cause I’m blind. And in some situations, this has proven true, like my geography teacher’s worry in having me participate in the Model European Parliament (he didn’t select me, but he did lorganize the whole thing) or the bringing round flyers thing, but in some it hasn’t, like the 2005 debating contest or my candidacy for the SP Apeldoorn board of directors in early 2003.
Still, it’s not only my blindness, cause even among other blind people I have this feeling of not being able to contribute valuably. Not at rehab, but at rehab I had the advantage of being a step further than most students in the practical sense, ie. in knowing about adaptations and organizations. But in most other places, I’ve always been the least capable person, except,, of course, in academic sense, but I continue to hate that quality of mine cause its’far too often contrasted with my deficits. Here at the training home I’ve heard the phrase “You can do that, there’s nothing wrong with your (memory, intelligence, etc.),” far too often. And I’d agree, so it isn’t cause I don’t think I’m cpable, that I cannot do something; for some reason I truly can’t.
The situation I’m in, and have always been in, or the way I’ve always perceived my situation to be, has gotten me to have quite a negative attitude, and I still do, and I know that isn’t going to contribute to my functioning adequately. I therefore try to step out of my bad feelings at some points, but I cannot keep the “happy shiny people” look 24/7. I realize that the two – uninvolvement in activities and negative feelings – only reinforce each other, and so I try to involve myself even when not feeling well. That applies on several levels: there’s the general negative feelings about myself, that I try to combat by getting involved in social activities and community service that I like – at least when the feelings are not at their worst, cause when they are (like in 2004/2005 mostly) I do hardly anything -, and in which I’ll have to seek a balance between taking every opportunity that appears without regard for my abilities or likes and declining everything cause I don’t feel capable. After all, never minding how much of a positive feeling I had about getting the assignment of bringing round flyers, it shouldn’t be the goal in itself and once the flyers didn’t get to be brought around, that only made the situation, in both respects, worse.
On a lower level, there are things i’ve been noticing over the past couple of months: that, when not feeling well and when having an empty schedule (or no homework, when I was still in school), I sometimes lie in bed at random times of the day doing nothing. I often feel truly tired, but ironically it usually gets better with activity. Like this afternoon I spent about forty minutes in bed before the lunch and went to the lunch really tired, but felt more active afterward (we’d had a really non-serious discussion during lunch), felt once again a little tired in the early evening (no lying in bed during the afternoon) and yet managed to play cards with fellow clients till 9:45 PM and now it’s over 11:30. Part of it does have to do with poor sleeping (I’ve been somewhat insomniac for a veyr long time), but part of it to me doesn’t, and it’s something I just have to “step out”. It’s not easy to involve oneself when one doesn’t feel like it, but I’ve long realized this it has to be done.
That last sentence sounds like not taking my real issues seriously, in a way, but I cannot say anything else about it. When I want to do something, like interact with other people, but get “locked up inside”, I’ve long realizedi t’s not something I “just step out”, and that also limits my involvement. It’s still something I want to improve, but not knowing how to and knowing that no-one else knows, make me have no other choice but to make these assertations. After all, if nothing helps, then there’s at least the good intention to help a little bit.
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