Guest Contributor: Liza Thomas
I had the privilege of speaking with a family friend who was recently certified as legally blind after living as a carrier of severe myopia her whole life. I remember a couple years ago our families went on a rope-climbing course, and as we approached the night, though she could no longer see the ropes in front of her, she courageously was able to finish the courses with grace while I fumbled around for my footing dangling 40 feet in the air.
Jeanne has inspired me as someone who has never let anything hold her back, from advancing her professional career to learning how to make life enjoyable for her and her family while losing her eyesight. She hasn’t let anything keep her back from achieving her dreams.
I wanted to share this story, not to gain sympathy for her situation but to bring inspiration. Jeanne’s story is a lot more than what is happening to her eyesight. Rather, it’s the story of the steadfast determination of a woman who has never let the world tell her that she can’t accomplish anything she sets her mind to.
Jeanne: I was always visually impaired and I never saw the way the rest of the world could see. But, my eyesight was good enough that I could drive. It only became an issue when I got older and the hardest part was having to give up my driver's license, because that changed how I could do everything in this world. I couldn't get things done when I wanted to get them done.
So it no longer became executing 10 different tasks in a day; rather, we're going to do this one task today and we're going to make it a journey. It took a lot of changes, but my kids benefited from it and they learned how to get around and enjoy the journey. If we have to go to the library, we’ll have to walk there so we would make sure to look at the flowers and stop for pizza. We turned everything into an experience and that made things a lot easier. It wasn't so much about being brave but how I got to incorporate these things pathways into my life.
Liza: What was that process like for you to learn new paths and enjoy the journey?
Jeanne: Well first it was denial. Then there was anger and I would get frustrated and yell and scream. I went through a lot of embarrassment, walking around town with my granny cart to go food shopping. It took me a while to get over my perceptions of what I thought I looked like. But my goal was to try to make it look positive for the children. And over time things started to change. I saw the kids becoming independent. Now they don't have a problem using the bus and getting around because it's just the way we do things. Things got easier because I met people that were willing to help out. I had to learn to ask for help and that was a very hard thing for me to do. Especially when the kids had to go to soccer games or practices because I couldn't drive them.
A hard thing for me right now is trying to make that transition to using a cane. When I use the cane I feel like I'm reminding myself that I can't see and that my world isn't the same as everybody else's, and it's not fair that I have to use this. But I'm learning and I'm surprised at how accepting people are. They don't think twice about it. When I’m walking down the street with my cane I feel like I’m carrying this big bold sign saying. “Hey, look I'm handicapped.” But people just step to the side and they keep going on their day. So, I’m learning to get over the awkwardness of things.
Liza: How has this affected your journey professionally?
Jeanne: In the early 2000s when the kids were born, I took a step back in the work that I was doing. I took a job that was a lot easier with a lot of flexibility so I could be home with my children. In June 2014 I left that job, but my skill set was behind the times and the actuarial world had passed me by. The laws had changed and there were new technology programs doing the work I used to do.
I started doing contract work and the last contract I had, I was replaced by actuarial software. But, it was the software I really wanted to learn. So I told them before they let me go, that I would work for them for free if they let me stay on and learn the program. That's what made the breakthrough for me because when I went to go look for a job. I was able to put it on my resume.
You know, my dad was always legally blind but he did everything himself and back then you didn’t tell people that you were disabled. And he was an inspiration for me. I just told them at my current job that I'm legally blind and that I need to have a special monitor. It was a matter of getting used to having to tell people you can’t see, but I’m realizing that people are okay and surprisingly accepting.
Liza: I find it inspiring that you choose to move forward and that you continually want to keep improving and learning new things. What motivates you to keep going?
Jeanne: I try to find little inspirational sayings to help me, like “keep moving forward” or “feel the fear and do it anyway.” You have to move forward or you're just gonna hide away the world's going to pass you by. You know, there were parts of my life when I did that and you wake up and everybody's passed you by. But, there's something to be said about learning something. I wish I had more energy to learn more things.
I like the idea of being able to achieve something and having a challenge and to overcome. I made these little cards and stuck them in my wallet, like this year I’m going to learn to type 40 words a minute. I set a goal, and make it realistic. I’m a doer, I get energy from being able to accomplish things.
Liza: What would you say to someone who feels like they’re in a rut?
Jeanne: I think the worst thing you can do is to make excuses. If you start making excuses for why you're stuck, then there's your problem. You have to recognize that it's only yourself that's preventing you from doing what you want.
It comes back to fear. You're going to feel the fear of it. But you have got to take that next step and do it anyway. Until you take that next step you're never going to get anywhere. Say I'm going to do that because I want to get to the other side. Take that leap of faith, what’s the worst that’s going to happen?
Liza: If you had a message that you wanted to share with people, what would it be?
Jeanne: Be happy. I think that you always have to look at things and laugh. If you can't make a joke out of it or if you can't find the happiness or the positive in things then you’ll always be miserable. I'm not going to be able to change physically how I see the world. But I could always make it a happy place and I think that goes a long way.