Went to Nijmegen yesterday. Visited the info market and attended the communication studies info round. Unfortunately, I didn’t really like it, cause there’s quite a bit of emphasis on commercial aspects of communication and on communication research (which is logical cause it’s university) while I want to do communication / writing myself and I hate commercialism. Still, I feel kind of disappointed that this wasn’t interesting, cause if it were, I might finally have found something I wanted to study – which is, besides, something my parents can live with.
Sometimes, I really wonder what went wrong in the past year, that I used to be convinced I was going to major in American studies at university by 2006, and now I’m not there and I am not at all sure where I want to be in 2007. Or is it actually about something having gone wrong?
The situation didn’t change magically on March 21, 2006, the day when I first expressed my doubts both about university for 2006 and about American studies as a major. In fact, I started doubting by October, 2005, when I saw that I wasn’t making the big leaps forward that I’d hoped to make at rehab. This was not cause rehab wasn’t teaching me enough – it was because I wasn’t progressing enough. I remember the first emotional reaction being anxiety, but I’m quite capable of hiding that, and so I did. I made some comments and asked some critical questions about my progress starting by the ninth week, but usually accepted vague responses cause, really, I wasn’t sure about my situation. And, of course, I still had eight months at training home if I were to accept that.
The first time I expressed doubt about 2006 – specifically, doubting American studies as a major -, was in one of my last weeks at rehab to a fellow student. However, I didn’t want to give in to that uncertainty and even now I think that, if that were the only thing, nothing would’ve kept me from going to Nijmegen and majoring in American studies by now. Maybe I would’ve switched majors – I don’t think so, cause I know about the “rub along” mechanism keeping me in places I got myself into (or that others got me into) -, but I would’ve started out as an American studies major.
The thing was, that I also doubted I was making enough progress. That doubt started in October, 2005 also, but wasn’t really pronounced till about my fifteenth week at rehab and didn’t really become an issue till sometime in February, 2006. When I look at my schedules from those early weeks at training home, I see far more progress at a far faster pace then, than I make now, and I see a pattern to this, in that I made a whole lot of progress in the week of February 20 – suddenly I did most cleaning aqctivities independently and I wanted to walk the route to the shopping centre independently. I remember the weeks preceeding that week being my first experiences of the “I have to be in Nijmegen by September” feeling, which always distressed me – and has ever since last year.
Of course, I didn’t admit to the fear and insecurity. Kenneth Jernigan states that fear and insecurity is the first stage in the development of a rehab student and rebellious independence is the second, but I believe that the latter can quite easily mask the former, and that was what happened in late January and eearly February. For instance, I called university for an appointment with the student counsellor five days after moving in here. That was not because I needed to – in September, she’d told me to contact her by April -, but to make a statement that this was what I would have to achieve. I went to Nijmegen completely on my own two weeks into my training here and was confused upon finding out that I came out neither doing great – having no difficulty on my travels, having a great discussion, going back nicely without any problems and not feeling a big lack of energy -, nor doing completely miserably – making all possible mistakes on my travelling, arriving late for my discussion, having a really unproductive discussion, making every possible mistake on the way back, arriving home late as well and completely broken -, but doing okay on my travels with some mistakes but the ability to correct them and feeling really tired as I arrived home, but arriving in both places on time. At the time, I was really confused. I wrote in my Dutch journal (translated):
The situation I found myself in, is an annoying one: I had two scenarios in my head, and it got to be a third one, an in-between thing. The first scenario was that I would’ve done everything perfectly, arrived in Nijmegen without difficulty, gotten off at dentistry (bus stop) and, walking south, found Comeniuslaan without a problem. The discussion would’ve gone roughly as it did, only with more initiative from my side, and that I would’ve gone home in the same way without difficulty, and still rate my energy level eight (one of my fellow clients always has to rate that). In the second scenario, however, everything would’ve gone wrong: missed trains at Apeldoorn and/or Zutphen, difficulty finding the right building, arriving just late, discussion without any result, one or two more trains missed on my way home, walking past my home and finally home, extremely tired, by 5:45 PM – ie. when the others were already having dinner. Why do I hate it so much that this was an in-between thing? Maybe cause now I cannot lean on either extreme. I cannot call myself a successful blind person and laughingly inform the doubtful staff that I can certainly travel independently, cause I got off at the wrong stop, constantly had to ask for help and couldn’t even find my own home. Yet I cannot say that this travelling is too difficult for me, accept that as a blind person you’ll just have to be taught each and every route, and decide that I don’t give a damn about what my successful, American, blind acquaintances say: they cannot force me to conform to their norms. Maybe I silently wanted to count myself in with the second group, a group whose difficulties are listened to, cause they are “poor”, cause that’s what the traditional blindness field thinks. I wouldn’t have to travel on my own before having practised the route with assistance ten times first. Neither would I have to move out by September if I weren’t “done training”, whatever that may be. I would’ve been allowed to add words like “energy level” to my vocabulary and could’ve found travelling to Nijmegen tiring. I wouldn’t have had to say that it went well in Nijmegen and not had to hear that this was good for me, cause it hadn’t gone well and it wasn’t good for me. I hate that kind of compliments, that still in my view state an expectation, like: “Well, that’s one more thing that you can do. Great!” Of course I can travel, I never told you anyting else, but is it easy then? Had I, however, been able to count myself in with the first group, the successful blind people, then I wouldn’t have had to nag about this, cause then indeed I would’ve had all skills and indeed travelling and having a discussion at university was easy. I wouldn’t even have had to ask for assistance, cause my mobility would’ve been as good as that of the average (?) Colorado Center for the Blind graduate who is able to travel Denver with only one question. But I am neither, I am something in between. I always thought I was something in between: of course I would have to ask for assistance in finding Comeniuslaan, of course I would have to call the railroad company (for transferring assistance), of course I would’ve had to ask where I would have to get on the bus on my way home. But asking for assistance isn’t a problem, if it allowed me to reach my goal in a convenient way. And that’s what I would do: with the right alternative techniques, of which asking for asistance is one, a blind person can function at the same level as a sighted person. That I would be very tired, I hadn’t expected. That doesn’t belong with this perspective. It’s not that I wouldn’t have allowed myself to be tired in this state – this perspective allows me to -, but it doesn’t belong with it. It’s almost like it isn’t possible at the same time: it isn’t the same perspective that, with the right alternative techniques, including assistance, can travel to Nijmegen and back, and that, which would’ve arrived from Nijmegen extremely tired. The one would’ve allowed the other to be tired, but she herself is a cheerful, succesful girl who does everything her age peers do, only sometimes in an alternative way. So it should’ve been easy for her to travel to Nijmegen – my sister’s boyfriend can do this as well. He can see of course, but she/I can ask and plan. Indeed, I hadn’t expected to be her today. She’s an image in my head, something, I might be in one or two years if I’ve learnt to use the proper alternative techniques. Am I not her or is she not what I imagien her to be? No, I’m not her, and if I am, she’s not what I think she is, so this is the same. Have I always thought that I’d become like only one of my nine parts? Why, then, did I ever create the “system”? Because I ain’t her and everyone thought I had to be her? She’s 21, a university sophomore majoring in American studies, perfectly accepted her blindness, including alternative techniques and is fully participating in society. A perfect “type four” from the model of adjustment to disability: putting non-disabled values into perspective but not feeling her disability as a handicap. I’m not her, at least, not in the radical sense: I’ve always been a type two (follows non-disabled standards and sees disability as handicap) who could pretend to be a type three (puts non-disabled standards into perspectives but still sees disability as handicap), and I think I still am, but I still think this is confusing: back then, I was surprised to find out that “putting into perspective” didn’t mean “abandoning”, and now… Where do I put into perspective and where do I abandon norms, don’t I try hard enough to be “normal”? I don’t know, and the equilibrium I thought to see in one of my nine parts, doesn’t appear to be universal. Had I expected that. Apparently.
This was, as I see it now, my first experience with the “rainbow for the colourblind” idea: I’d always seen myself in two very different ways – the successful, independent, blind person who didn’t need anyone else for anything (aka Jane) vs. the insecure, incapable, helpless, blind girl (aka Carol) -, while I always knew that the actual situation was something in between. I constructed Clarissa to fulfill that purpose. Nowadays, she’s pretty inactive apart from fulfilling tasks necessary for my daily functioning. The reason she’s lost her “future image” status for the most part, is firstly because I cannot be her anymore – when I’m 21, I’m not a sophomore at university -, and secondly cause there’ve become other images of where I might be by next year or in three years, etc. Most of these are shades of grey, if not colours, but the thing is, I still approach each of them – like the “me” from my travel to Nijmegen – from black and white perspectives, ie. Carol and Jane. For example, after only a few weeks of experimental scheduling, my schedule now has been stable for several weeks, and I am not sure what I still can change about it. A few weeks ago, as I realized this, I got really frustrated, cause maybe I could be this way now, but if I really couldn’t make any progress, it’d mean I’d have to be here still by September, 2007. In other words, like in February on the route to Nijmegen, I saw my current situation as the definite one.
This view is incorrect in two ways: firstly, of course, no-one says that I’ll remain this way for another ten months and not make any progress. I am not sure about this, but maybe a new round of experimental scheduling – if I figure out how I’m going to change my situation – will do wonders for this. However, the real thing is that, even if my situation were to remain exactly as it is now, that still isn’t black or white. In fact, it has a lot of colour to it: I am in college part-time and do quite nicely with only sone assistance for book scanning, I do all housekeeping activities independently yet not most cooking, I can shop for groceries without help but get a staff member to go with me once a week (I shop for groceries twice a week) cause it’s too tiring for me to do everything independently cause I’ve already gone to fitness that day and that day is very busy. I still got time and, mostly, energy for fitness twice a week and I sometimes participate in Socialist Party activities. I need assistance doing administrative tasks – have asked the occupational therapist about these. I don’t know what I want to study next year, but at least I explore possibilities. In other words, even my current situation, isn’t black or white, but the way I see it, is. Is that what is causing some of my difficulties? That, whatever my current situation may be, it is always impossible (ie. too difficult) and/or unacceptable (ie. too easy). So, how did I think I was going to reach “realism”, if I don’t change that way of thinking?
I think in one sense, the things that happened in the past year and that got me where I am now, are somewhat positive, in that I stopped taking my duties as a successful blind person at face value and started looking realistically at my abilities. The way of thinking, however, that I didn’t change, was the looking through the two different, black and white, perspectives: the successful blind person vs. the incapable, pitiful girl, and every image of my current situation – and every image of my future situation – is still judged according to these two standards. Is that the real issue: that, really, I do have coloured images of what my situation will be like – cause, in fact, I do – and even my current situation is coloured, but that I just won’t see it cause I keep judging it from these two perspectives, like I did with the route to Nijmegen? I think it is quite a significant part of the problem, but the problem is, I’m not really sure how to change it. Maybe, when I do find something I really do like, I can create an image to represent this, which, hopefully, will have some colour to it.