What a Difference a Year Makes

by Danyel Goldsmith

Last year when I wrote my first article for this newsletter, I named it “Amazing”, because many people said I was. In it, I spoke about some of the stages of acceptance and coming to terms with becoming totally blind after living an exciting and full life for 41 years, then BOOM, I am blind and it is a big deal to go to the food court by myself. Now it is a little over 2 years since the day the lights went out and so much has happened since last year that I thought I would share the progress. Because after all, if you walk forward, no matter the pace, it is all progress.

I am most proud of what I did on the day marking 2-years of this new way of life. I went to get a massage and then out to lunch for sushi. What is the big deal about that? I went alone, and I had never been to the two places before. It almost seemed normal to make the reservation and go. Little to no anxiety; except for after lunch as I waited for the cab outside of the restaurant. There was some nervousness there. I am very proud of that day; not only did I “honor the progress” of the last 2 years, but I was doing normal things. Me and my zipp-ity-do-da self!

Approaching year one, I realize now that the main focus was about just learning to live this new life. I was embarrassed to use my cane. I thought It would show the world that I was less than. Maybe people would feel sorry for me. Maybe they would treat me differently. And maybe it just took a bit of time for me to get over that. In the last year, I have realized that my cane gives me independence to do some of the things that I use to do. It still makes me feel a bit self-conscious and yes, people may be looking at me. The thing I realized is this; I am blind so I do not know that they are looking at me anyway. So why does it matter? I am not naïve enough to think that there are not people afraid to talk to me; but here is the thing that I have realized. There are so many people who ARE willing to say hello and good morning, and offer assistance, that it has changed my way of thinking. There are more people who are nice and helpful than those are not. The latter, it is their issue, not mine. They are not worth the time of day. I am busy doing my own thing.

A year ago, I had not yet called for and ridden in a cab, and now it is no big deal. In fact I kind of like relaxing in a cab. It gives me a chance to decompress. A year ago, I was still living in my beloved townhouse in Woodbridge. For privacy reasons I will not go into the main reason I moved and sold it; just know that I was forced to and if I had not my livelihood would have been in jeopardy? Now, I live 2 miles from work and can use the City of Alexandria’s DOT transportation system with the freedom that is good for me. I am sad at the circumstances and the injustice and financial Loss and the negativity of all that he caused me, but the end state is that I chose to make lemonade out of those lemons. Well, I tried to make lemonade, but it was too strong, so I made Arnold Palmer’s. I have also chosen to wait another year before purchasing another home; mostly because there has been so much change over the last 2 years that I needed some stability. I just did not want to move again so soon.

Last year this time, I made a choice to stand up to a bully and stop the discriminatory behaviors. It took 7 long months, and though ultimately the documents state that there is no admission of wrong-doing”, let’s just say that it was settled and those documents show 8 line items of things they agreed to. For The record, it was not my intent to be “loud” with what I did, I wanted it to stop and I wanted to be treated fairly. I asked for this in 4 different forums before taking action that could not be ignored. It was painful and lonely, but it is over and I am proud of the way I handled it. There is a fine line and that line is different for each of us. We have to make that decision that will be best for us and one that only the quiet reflection and deciding what is right. For me, that was not to remain quiet. It is sad, that in 2015, with all the diversity there is, discrimination on the basis of being blind happens. It did to me.

A year ago, my professional life was less than optimal. Now, I am in a job that I am treated with dignity and respect and though they may not understand and know all there is to Section 508, there is open dialogue and we are getting there. The mission of the organization is to help individuals learn to be more resilient and adapt to the curve balls that life throws.

How appropriate is it that I am in this organization? I have been told that my picture is under the word resilient in the dictionary, but I have to take their word for it. After all, I cannot see the picture. The vibe at work now is one of acceptance, intelligence, and emotionally evolved. I am still told that I am inspiring and motivating. For that I say “good, go do something positive with that feeling!” I would like to globally share my story as well as so many others that I have come across.

In the last year, I have come across many books of inspiring stories. One was about Stuart Scott, the ESPN Sportscaster who fought cancer of the appendix for more than 8 years. That is not the story; the story is how he fought. In his words, he is poignant, emotional and resilient. Robyn Roberts, a co-host on Good Morning America who fought breast cancer only to get a rare form of cancer from the treatments of the first cancer. Hers’ is a story that just makes me pump my fist and say “you go girl.” And finally Gabby Gifford, the Arizona Congresswoman who was shot in the head while hosting a constituent meet and greet. Told from her astronaut husband’s voice, she too makes me shut up and just learn to live life in this new way. There are so many examples that help me reinforce that having a positive outlook on less than good circumstances is a choice. Because of these stories and others, I have called my mobility instructor and said “OK, it is time for more torture.” He laughs at me and we go for a session.

In the last year, I have come to terms that I do not sleep like other people. I am often asleep when they are going to dinner and I am watching television having a cup of coffee when they are asleep. I have also come to accept that I am mentally worn out easier than I used to be. It is hard to put into words at the effort listening to JAWS all day and having to listen actively, when everyone around me gets to speed read and listen at 50%. So, I do not feel guilty when I want to re-charge quietly and alone. The upside to this is that I am told that I am a good listener and I am perceptive to others’ mood. I like that; it is a way I can show that I care for them back.

Finally, in the last year I have learned that I am living a more authentic life. It is simpler than and not always as exciting as it used to be, but there is more peace, smiles and I am more present in the lives of those that I care about. All this in the last year? I’d say it has been quite a year.