Blind World Magazine

Secrets to my life: Live, learn, hang tough.

Daily Star, New York.
Saturday, June 17, 2006.

The question I am asked most frequently is, "How do you manage, how do you do it?"

Our world is such a visually oriented place that it can be difficult to imagine life without sight.

As a kid, I lost my vision gradually. I do still remember the fear and hopelessness I felt just knowing that someday I would go completely blind.

When the day did come and I lost all my eyesight, it was definitely tough. In time, though, I came to terms with the loss and was able to keep moving forward.

Now, a little over a decade later, living without my vision comes pretty second nature to me.

Vision is a nice thing to have if you've got it, but it isn't an absolute necessity. It is a mechanism by which one can observe and experience the world, but it's most definitely not the only way.

Living without vision can, of course, be more challenging at times, but it certainly isn't impossible.

The only life that is impossible to live is one without will and intentionality.

If you think you can, you probably can, but if you think you can't, you most probably won't.

So, I've decided that I can.

Maybe I don't use my eyes to see things in the traditional sense, but I use everything else available to me in order to see.

Sometimes my ears are a stand-in for my eyes.

At other times, it's my hands and fingers that do the "seeing."

I also use my aura, or the energy that surrounds me, to see things as well. Essentially, I'm referring to the more widely understood concept of personal space.

If someone gets too close to you and gets in your personal space, it feels weird, right?

Well, for me, it works in that same way with people and objects alike.

If I'm approaching something such as a parked car on the side of the road, or one that protrudes out into a sidewalk, I generally sense it before my cane makes contact with it.

So, why not ditch the cane and just use my sensory perceptions to walk around?

First of all, I often sense a lot of things that pass through my aura that aren't actually in my way.

For example, I sense trees and other objects that are off in the grass next to the sidewalk. It's a real comfort to have my cane out in front of me so I can know for sure if what I'm sensing is truly a collision threat or not.

Second of all, I haven't found a real reliable way to tell exactly where curbs and stairs are, so I do rely on my cane to provide that type of information. And, lastly, I do have my days when my head is stuck in the clouds daydreaming and I'm not doing a terribly good job at paying attention to the guidance of sensory perception, so again, I feel that the cane provides some protection when that inadvertently happens.

Since I have a tendency to walk fast, I really have to stay as lucid as possible and pay attention, otherwise I've got a fairly good recipe for disaster. It's not often that I get hurt, but it does happen occasionally. Does it stop me from racing down the sidewalks again after it happens though? Of course not.

I'm not sure if that's stupidity or just living tough. After all, I really do pride myself on the "living tough" thing. I guess its kind of the "no pain, no gain" approach to life.

Don't get me wrong, though; I certainly don't enjoy smacking my head, full force, into sign posts and the like. Believe it or not, I do actually take precautions to avoid accidents and to keep pain at bay. Every so often my clumsier side shines through, and things happen.

In all seriousness, though, I believe my ability to manage independence and life in general is a result of several key things.

The first thing is a discovery of true independence; another is my creativity and resourcefulness; and yet another is my love for adventure.

When I first lost my vision, I was faced with a period of time when every last shred of independence was ripped away from me. I had someone constantly helping me, someone always looking over my shoulder. It really was a blow to my ego, but perhaps I needed that to knock me down a few notches. After all, independence isn't only about doing things without help, it's also about discerning when help is truly needed and then graciously accepting the assistance that's given.

As I learned how to balance those two aspects of independence, I began finding my way to a real sense of fulfillment.

As far as creativity and resourcefulness go, though, those weren't even things I remember learning. I think they were just inborn traits. I've always been determined to be a fighter, a winner and a success in whatever I pursue. Giving up is not an acceptable option for me. If I gave up, I think I would completely morph into another being altogether - I'd just cease to even be myself anymore. Well, likely not, but I'd feel very out of sorts at the very least. Creative energy and actively seeking out the resources necessary to achieve what I hope to achieve are what make my world turn.

And how about adventure? Adventure is my passion in life. Life itself feels like one big adventure for me. If I couldn't view my existence through the lens of adventure, I do believe life would seem dull, drab and quite the hopeless cause.

So, how do I manage? How do I do it? I just live and learn and hang tough, and that's that.

Kate Pavlacka, a graduate of the State University College at Oneonta, has been totally blind for about 10 years.

End of article.

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