A couple disclaimers before we get started:
I will never use names in any of my posts. Some of the people I mention were fantastic, others, not so much, but I am not here to point fingers. I will never call out individuals who have, hopefully, matured since I knew them.
- This post is pretty long. I will not hold it against you if you skim or skip it, but future posts will likely refer back to this first one every so often. It’s my story in brief. Yeah, I know, it’s not that brief. But when you’ve been around as long as I have, you’ll find you have a lot to say. Twenty-three years man! I’m ancient!
I was born on a sunny afternoon in mid-April to a sighted father and a blind mother. I was their fourth child, but their first girl. My dad still loves recounting his glee at having a daughter. He pranced joyously up and down the hospital corridors, telling anyone and everyone who would listen that he had a baby girl. You might be thinking: “Oh damn. This bitch gonna be spoiled. Three older brothers and two doting parents? shutters”. But, alas, it was not to be. I was two and a half when my first sister was born, and seven when my parents rounded off their herd of children at an even half dozen.
My childhood was a happy one. We lived on a small island with winding dirt roads perfect for tearing along on a bicycle, and windswept beaches ideal for driftwood forts. My summers were filled with hiking, swimming, and tree-climbing, my winters jam packed with skiing, sledding, and hot cocoa. I was a cheerful, outgoing kid with dreams stacked higher than the Empire State Building. It was a beautiful time. I was unburdened with knowledge, untroubled by worry. No one my age cared I was different, so why should I? Sure, I got more bruises than most as I raced headlong down a rocky beach. Sure, I read Braille instead of print. But all my friends from primary school gave great verbal directions, walked with me through crowded places, and did their best to describe movies. Some even tried their hand at learning Braille (so we could pass secret messages of course). They basically ignored my disability. It wasn’t an issue. It was a fact, and not a very important one.
As I grew older, this slowly changed. My friends would have birthday parties and “forget” to invite me. They’d keep silent when I walked into a room in the hopes I wouldn’t realize they were there. One girl flat-out told me I couldn’t hang out with her and her “normal” friends anymore. I was ten years old. I went home and cried. I didn’t tell anyone. I thought that there must be something wrong with me. It couldn’t be just that I was blind. Some of them had known me for years and it hadn’t mattered before. No. It had to be something else…But what? I began criticizing everything about myself, from my personality to my looks. Was I incredibly uncool? Insanely unattractive? Had I done something, said something, to make them all hate me?
Insecurities plagued my pre-teen years, growing ever stronger with every friend who ghosted, every comment I overheard. No one seemed to understand that blindness effected my vision, not my hearing. By the time I was thirteen, I was down to just two friends. My best girlfriend was gorgeous, funny, and popular. She stuck by me far longer than everyone else, but we eventually drifted apart. She had a staggering social life, and I had none.
It all became clear at camp that summer. I was finding it harder than ever to make friends. Some of the girls I had known from previous years still thought I was cool, but most tended to avoid me as if hanging with me would make them uncool by association. One day, a few of my cabinmates asked if I wanted to go on a walk with them. Naturally, I jumped at the chance. I hoped that if they spent enough time with me, maybe one or two of them would want to be friends. I couldn’t have been more wrong. We walked through camp chatting about makeup and boys. I didn’t contribute much on the subject of makeup, (I loved wearing it but didn’t want to say something wrong about color or style), but I had lots to say about boys. When we reached the far edge of the grounds, the conversation veered dramatically. They began asking me a lot of personal questions. Not the usual: “How do you do your makeup?” “So, what’s it like being blind?” No, these girls asked: “How do you even get dressed?” “Do you think you’ll ever find a guy who will be able to deal with you?” Face burning with shame, I requested that we talk about something else. They obliged. Next, they wanted to know if I knew what I looked like. When I repeated what others had told me, straight brown hair, blue-green eyes, a little short, they laughed. I couldn’t work out what was funny about what I’d said. Had I gotten something wrong? Worse, was there something in my hair? One girl asked if I wanted to know more. I shrugged and nodded. I wanted them to like me. What harm could it do? As it turned out, a lot. I stood for what felt like forever in a hailstorm of my worst fears. They told me over and over that I was fat and ugly. My nose was too big, my smile was horrible, my chin was huge, my face was covered in gross splotches of freckles, and my teeth were crooked. I had bad skin, the worst figure, and it was weird I couldn’t make eye contact. They criticized every aspect of my appearance, and I couldn’t argue with any of it. After all, what did I know? I’d never seen my own reflection, as they were quick to point out. I wanted to walk away, but I didn’t know where I was, and I couldn’t ask any of them for help. This was years before my guide dog arrived on the scene. If I’d had her with me, I might have attempted a dignified exit. As it was, I stood rooted to the spot, feeling sick but refusing to cry, until they ran out of things to say. We trooped back to our cabin, the rest chatting and laughing, me pale and silent. There was no point trying to get them to like me. I knew exactly what everyone thought of me now. My favorite counselor found me crying alone later that night. I told her I was just homesick. I never wanted anyone to learn what a disastrous screw-up I now knew I was.
In the weeks that followed, the things those girls had said were always on my mind. I’d wake in the middle of the night with my heart racing and the panicked sensation that I needed to run. The problem was, what I most wanted to escape was myself. I had to change the things they said were wrong with me. I grew obsessed with it. The simplest thing to change, it seemed, was my weight. I began skipping meals and lying about it. I obsessively tracked my calories and worked out in secret for hours late at night. I drank pitcher after pitcher of ice cold water and got very creative at disposing of my meals. I allowed myself only 200 calories a day for months and dropped from 106 lbs to 78 lbs. The weight loss seemed to help my social life. I felt more confident and tentatively tried making a few friends. After I reached the weight I thought I should be at, I went back to eating normally. It was Christmas time, and I was happier than I’d been in months. I gained the weight back as quickly as I’d lost it. By New Years, I was a mess. I hated myself more than I had ever hated anyone. And so began a ten year struggle with body image. The sad thing was, when those girls convinced me I was fat, when I hated my body so much I decided to starve it, I was just one lb above my ideal weight. I was 5’1, and according to all the charts, I should have weighed 105…I weighed 106.
As time went on, my eating disorder took over every aspect of my life. I constantly felt like a failure, I could never get warm, and I was so, damn, tired, all the time. I lost my last friend because I stopped talking to her. I told myself I couldn’t go out looking so huge and fat. I had to lose the weight first, then I would hang out with her. If I didn’t lose the weight first, she wouldn’t want to be my friend either.
The next two years were empty with loneliness and full of pain. I was depressed, anorexic, and I thought very little of myself. Things didn’t improve until a few months after my sixteenth birthday. I traveled to California on my own to attend a guide dog class and receive my very first beautiful pooch. There, I met eleven other blind people, five of them my own age. My roommate and I were instant besties. Several classmates and staff members also seemed to enjoy having me around. One girl adopted me as her little heart sister. I was blown away with delight. I was invited to evening poker games with the guys. I went on afternoon swims with my girlfriends and had impromptu pizza parties with my class. I smiled at meal times. I sometimes ate dessert and felt okay about it. I laughed, so, much. Either insanity had swept through campus and diluted twenty some people into thinking I was awesome, or my sighted peers back home were wrong about me. Over the course of the three weeks I spent in California, I transformed from a petrified, desperately shy teen, to a competent, independent young woman. The clouds had thinned. I could breathe again.
A year later, I began university and met more great people. My first uni friend was hysterically funny and the best bad influence I could ever ask for. She loved my guide dog instantly, and then decided I was pretty cool too. I dated “one of the true good ones” that first semester, and he mended so much that hurt inside. The rest of my uni years have had their ups and downs, but mostly they’ve been filled with ups. I’ve made great friends, been out on bad dates, and nearly survived my entire undergrad experience. I’m not graduating with the degree I originally set out to get, but where’s the adventure in that? I may never be the most beautiful girl in the world, but can you imagine the pressure of upholding that standard?
So, the takeaway from the rambles of my life.
Life is filled with seasons. Some are bright and shiny, others are cold and dark, but most are a foggy, jumbled mix. If living in Vancouver has taught me anything, it’s to never worry about a little rain. Just be sure you remember your umbrella. 😛
And lovelies, if you remember anything from this post, please remember this. The small amount of bullying I experienced that summer afternoon may have initiated an eating disorder, but being ignored made me believe in it. And, when I met people who included me, I got better. Social inclusion is just as powerful as social exclusion.
And everyone has a story.
Be kind, and be aware.
Have questions? Got a topic in mind you’d like me to write about? Don’t hesitate to reach out through the sites contact form
Some musical accompaniment for the amazing readers who have stuck with me this long: Thank you!