Learning To Cope

It’s been nearly two weeks since I arrived at the School for the Blind for my week of training and support.  I’d meant to write up a post earlier than this, but I’ve been a busy body all this past week.

A good thing really!

I have people asking me what kinds of things visually impaired adults do at the School for the Blind. This post, I hope, will answer some of their questions.

The School for the Blind in Grand Forks (North Dakota) is mostly geared for school-aged kids but the ND Vision Services offers quarterly week-long training sessions for adults at the school each year.

Awesome’s my humble opinion.

What types of training do they offer for adults?

Well, when you first express interest in attending, you have the option of selecting any of (or all) the following six types of training/support:

Adjustment (coping skills, therapy, etc.)

Daily Living Skills (cooking, housekeeping, organization, etc.)

Technology (learn about all types of accessibility options with computers, phones/cells, etc.)

Orientation/Mobility (cane training, learning skills of getting around at home or in the community, etc.)

Braille

Vocation/Career (what’s out there for a visually impaired person, job training, career preparation, etc.)

 

The week began at 8:30am Monday; but first, I arrived there Sunday evening where I was greeted by the House Parent, Amy.  My “room” for the week was actually an “apartment.”

My “room” at the School

The School has two “apartments” reserved for teens where they can learn Independent Living Skills. They are equipped with a full kitchen, one bedroom, full bath, living/dining room which has an extra bed and TV w/ cable. I lucked out and was assigned to one of these rooms.

Awesome.

During the week, there’s a House Parent on duty between 3 and 11pm, and then another one for the overnight hours until the instructors arrive usually around 7am.

Each week day began with breakfast at 8am held in the large kitchen/dining area where in order to get there from your room is by maneuvering through a series of thinly carpeted hallways (in my mind have always been a sort of maze with strange series of tiled, checkered-style blocks at certain sections throughout each hallway).  But this time I learned their purpose! For an individual who’s completely/mostly blind, as he/she walks with the White Cane, each block signifies there is an office or room located at that area. And in order to know which room was which is by counting the blocks. Block #3 is the Technology room, or Block #4 is where the kitchen’s at.  When you cross an extremely large block, that means you’re at an intersection where two hallways meet.

You get the idea (I hope).

At the first/initial breakfast, you’d receive your scheduled classes for the week. For this day (Monday), you’d have an instructor aiding you to each class so you’d know where it’s located.  For the rest of the week, the help to each class gradually decreased until you are independently getting around to each class, meal, and your room.

This is the ultimate goal for all the training at the School…to enable a visually impaired person to become as independent and self-reliant as possible.

There are generally three classes in the morning, and three classes in the afternoon (each session is one hour long where you meet one-on-one with the instructor) running from 8:30am until 4pm with a lunch-break at 11:45.

My schedule was as followed:

8:30 Daily Living Skills

9:30 Technology

10:45 Mobility

11:45 Lunch

1pm Adjustment

2pm Daily Living Skills

3pm Technology

I opted out of the rest while the other attendees participated in all areas.

Dinner (set up by the House Parent) usually began around 5:45pm. The rest of the evening was your own time.

The classes were great, but for me, I absolutely enjoyed the interaction with the people (both the instructors and peers).

The first time I attended here was in June 2016 where there were seven of us total. This time there were just 3 of us.

Harley was the youngest at age 26. She completely lost her vision two years prior due to diabetes. This was her first time here.

Jewel was the oldest at 53, and as local, she’s a frequent visitor. She’s in the process of losing her sight also due to diabetes.

And of course, there was me, right smacked in the middle.

The camaraderie between the three of us was awesome and inspiring.

Just what I sorely needed.

The days were intense but fast. When Friday came, I found I wasn’t really ready to head home.

I felt safe here. I felt like I mattered. And the people I hung with truly get me whereas my family struggled to do just that.

But, I’ve learned new skills, and have been introduced to new possibilities that I’m truly excited about and hope to bring to fruition soon.

 

 

 

 

 

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Monday Memoir: An Eccentric Outsider

 

I was almost six years old when I was diagnosed with nerve deafness.  I received my first behind-the-ear hearing aid shortly after the initial visit with Ms. Audrey.   The device helped as I was finally able to hear the sounds around me more clearly.  I could finally hear myself talk as well as whoever was trying to talk to me.

I was now able to understand and learn in school.

It certainly was not a “cure-all” as I was still very much a loner.  An outsider.

I spent the next two or three years attending speech therapy at a distant school.  About twice a week, a transportation vehicle would come and pick me up at the tiny private school I attended, and took me fifteen miles away to a moderate size elementary public school where I met with my speech therapist for our one-hour sessions.   Then I would board a public school bus with kids I didn’t know which took me home.

The speech therapy sessions helped, but I still spoke funny.

My accent was odd.  Out-of-place.

People, kids looked at me with strange expressions.

I felt very much alone most of the time.

Imaginary friends helped me through this period, as they would throughout my life.  Even as an adult, I still have imaginary friends.

Does that make me strange?

An outsider who’s not quite all there?

Hmm…yeah, I guess so.

And you know the funny part about all this?

I’m fine with it.  Totally and completely.

Why?

Because I have an excuse to be strange and odd, and what’s that word that a coworker once used to describe me?

Eccentric.

However, by the time I was eleven I’d developed a slight problem with having imaginary friends.   I started to act out some of the things they wanted me to do or where they wanted me to go.

Adventures in other lands.  Or, more like misadventures.

Like this one time when I was playing with my various superhero friends when one of them convinced me that I was Wonder Woman and could leap over a line of six chairs.   I almost cleared them all.  I ended up straddling a rocking chair and spent that evening in the ER.

When I was eleven my best friend was Melanie.  She was a red-head with a fiery temper.  I can’t remember what sparked the idea but she put out a challenge to see who could write the best short story.  I took the challenge and wrote a story about a haunted house where a girl went in to explore and found a decapitated head in the fridge.  Pretty morbid, but this particular challenge altered my life forever.

That day I learned there were other ways of participating in adventures with my imaginary friends; not to mention, much safer.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the writer within me was born.

The Dawning (Day One) Part One

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(*Note: In continuation to the Dusk (Arrival at the School for the Blind) post)

 

Day One

The first full day is done.  It was a good one, I think. Had three one-hour classes in the morning; and three one-hour classes in the afternoon.  My schedule will be the same for the rest of the week. One of the Vision Specialists made sure we were awake by 7:15am by knocking on each of our doors.  Breakfast was held in the kitchen/small dining area on the other side of the building from 8 till 8:30.  Since each one of the residents have varying degrees of visual loss and this was our first day,  Amy (one of the Visual Specialists) led us down a few different hallways to the kitchen/dining room area (also labeled as Daily Living Skills Center). Here we ate cereals and toasts.  It was a fairly quiet meal as we didn’t know each other.  I could sense that I wasn’t the only one feeling anxious about being here at the School.

My first class began at 8:30 with Ken (Daily Living Skills Specialist) so I stayed in the kitchen/dining area.  We just went over tidbits in regards to kitchen skills (which areas I like to work on throughout the week.  Guess I’ll be getting some cooking in too).  At 9:30 I met with Margo (Mobility Specialist).  She took me into an office and we discussed various aspects of mobility and the cane (I brought my own but have never used).  She took me out to a particular (long and wide) hallway and went over the basics of holding on the cane, and tips on how to use it.

parts of walking cane

 

For about 1/2 hour, I walked up and down this corridor, swinging the cane side to side (tip must always stay in contact to the surface), while Margo watched.  Every once in a while she’ll correct my form.

Today I didn’t have a 10:30 class (Specialist had a previous appointed event to attend) so I went to my room, and rested.

At 11:30 I headed back to the kitchen/dining area for lunch.  Again, we were quiet as we ate.

12:30 was a group meeting in a conference room.  From there I went to my 1pm class with the Technology Specialist, Tracey.  She showed me a little about various accessibility functions on a desktop computer (mainly Windows).  2pm I headed back to the kitchen/dining area for my second Daily Living Skills class with Amy.  I had the joy of preparing sliced potatoes and ham for supper.  Nah, it wasn’t that bad at all 🙂  At 3pm, I met with Candy at the Braille Center.  I learned what the alphabets A and B look like.  Oh man, this is like learning a totally new language!  The entire Braille language is based on these 6 dots.  See below:

braille letter z

 

“The braille alphabet is based upon a “cell” that is composed of 6 dots, arranged in two columns of 3 dots each. Each braille letter of the alphabet or other symbol, such as a comma, is formed by using one or more of the 6 dots that are contained in the braille cell. The chart below provides a good example of the design of the braille alphabet.”

braille dots

 

(Courtesy of Vision Aware)

 

Whew…am feeling exhausted after my first full day here; but, in a good way.  Margo told me that I am to be using the cane the entire time I’m here; meaning it has to stay “attached” to me no matter what.  I told her that I would.  Using the cane still makes me quite nervous (self-conscious is probably a better word); but, I think I’m getting a little more comfortable with it (better than earlier today anyway).

The others are a good group of people: Tara, Rosalinda (aka Linda), Marlene, David and Sarnoe.  Several of the Vision Specialists are vision impaired themselves.  I’m quite impressed.

There’s a level of comfort being here. I don’t have to constantly feel like I have to make an excuse for my “clumsiness;” or wonder what the others think of me as a “blind” person.  The other residents know. They understand and can completely relate.  I don’t feel so alone anymore.

Yet…I still feel quite a bit of hesitancy and uncertainty.  Not 100% sure why.

Tomorrow I’m supposed to bake banana bread.  Oh, boy…

 

Stay tuned…

 

 

 

Fighting the Darkness

bare land

 

For a long time, I viewed my disabilities as weaknesses; and considered myself to be inferior to other able-bodied individuals.  I felt that by “accepting” my disabilities meant I was giving in to them.

So, anger settled in.

Instead of feeling propelled to do great things, I opted to feel sorry for myself and gave up on my dreams.

Years passed.  Regrets mounted.  Misery and loneliness hung on me like thick furs on a hot, muggy summer day.

Suffocating me ever so slowly.

Anxiety and depression visited intermittently until they decided to move in on a more permanent basis.  It got so bad I couldn’t step outside of my own home without having an episode.

I realized that I couldn’t go on living like this.

Something had to change.

It wasn’t too long after we moved to North Dakota when I learned there was a School for the Blind in Grand Forks (a short 45-minute drive from home); and that they offered Adult Weeks just about every quarter.  Pam, my Vision Services Specialist, encouraged me to come in March.  I had every intention of attending, but “chickened” out at the last moment.   She then encouraged me to attend one during the first week of June.

I actually went.

Finally.

 

*Will talk about my week at the School for the Blind in my next post.

 

 

Summer Tidbits (and a question)

Welcome to the end of summer and upcoming start of a new school year (my son starts his first year of middle school…gulp!). Things have been a bit crazy around my house.  I haven’t written or read as much as I’d wanted.  I hope my readers will understand.  I’m also hoping that in a few weeks things will start to slow down and I can resume my “normal” schedule.

It’s nice to dream, huh?

Very recently I was presented with an opportunity to work on a collaborative project (a screenplay).  We plan to start it this fall.  This new adventure excites me beyond words as I’ve never done a collaborative work before.  For those of you who have, what kind of experience did you have?  Was it positive?  Negative?  Any words of wisdom you can to share?  🙂