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October 20th, 2006

04:44 pm
Greetings From The Carroll Center

So, yeah, I promised a part two that never happened. I'm sure you're not surprised. You should all know by now that I suck at making time for this silly little web site thingy. It's not a big deal though because most of what I had to say about my classes and stuff at the Carroll Center can be covered now in even more detail. Woo!

I don't quite know how this happened but I have just completed my seventh week at the Carroll Center. I'm pretty sure I just got here, but for some reason, the calendar says October 20. This can only be explained by some mysterious temporal disturbance that has gone unnoticed by our scientists. . . or I suppose it could be that I've been kind of busy. But I'm not ruling out that temporal disturbance thing.

So far, things are going great. I feel like I have been learning a lot and am making progress. For instance, I am doing this entry using a program that I am learning called Jaws. It is a screen reader. It reads what's on the screen and tells me what keys I am pressing and stuff like that. I no longer need a mouse or a monitor to use a computer. It is really quite convenient. All you sighted people are wasting your time with a mouse. It is so much more efficient to use keystroke commands. I feel like a chump for ever wasting my time with a mouse. I am also learning how to use my bitchin' new note taker that I got just a few days before leaving for Boston. It's called a Pac Mate and it is sort of like a pda. I can keep track of contacts, send email, get on the internet, keep a checkbook, type documents using a word processor, play music, read books and a bunch of other stuff that I can't even imagine. It syncs up with my desktop computer so I can send stuff back and forth. It's hella-cool. Being blind does suck at times, but at least there are cool gadgets.

In addition to the computer stuff, I have been learning more Braille. It is going great. The head start I got by working with a Braille teacher at home has really paid off. By the time I get done here, I will know all the Braille symbols. I am still a little slow, but, as long as I know the symbols and continue to read, my speed will get better. I am really excited about the progress I have made in Braille. I have been really lucky because it is coming pretty easily to me. It is basically a lot of memorization. I can handle that.

Another class I am doing here is Personal Management. This is basically daily living skills, like cooking, cleaning, matching clothes, grocery shopping and all the mundane stuff that one needs to do in order to live and manage a household. I suppose it might seem kind of silly to think that an intelligent 32 year old woman like myself would have difficulty with such simple, everyday tasks, but blindness changes the way that you have to do things. I can still do all of that, I just need a few pointers on how to do them non-visually. I am finding the cooking instruction to be especially useful. I have been cooking since I lost my vision, but I have been making gigantic messes. And, I really couldn't figure out how to use a knife to chop stuff without also chopping off a finger or two. Now, I know how to chop safely. And I still might spill stuff but, I have learned that if I work on a cafeteria tray, my messes stay confined to the tray and cleanup is much easier. I also use a tray to help keep track of ingredients and utensils that I will need while I am cooking. Knowing where everything is really cuts down on my stress level in the kitchen. I have gotten all kinds of useful little ideas that are really very simple but not something I would have ever thought of on my own. And I'm even learning some new recipes in the process. Today I made clam chowder. How cool is that? I love clam chowder but I always figured it was complicated. It's not. Go figure.

My biggest challenge so far has been in my mobility classes. I knew mobility was my weakest skill when I got here but I didn't expect to have as much trouble as I have had. And the thing is, I'm actually doing fine, but it doesn't come easily to me like every thing else and that really pisses me off. I get frustrated with myself for being a dumbass. I need to get over that. It's hard for me to step back and realize that I'm here to learn and I'm going to make mistakes in the process. I know my frustration is making the whole process even harder but I'm not sure how to not get frustrated either. I've always had high expectations for myself which is not necessarily a bad thing. If I expected nothing of myself, I would have ended up doing nothing. But if I expect too much, I am setting myself up to always fail. I have to find a balance. That's been hard for me to do. I expected mobility to come as easily to me as everything else has and now that I am struggling a little I feel like I am failing in my goal to become an independent traveler. I'm actually not doing that bad. I've made good progress. I've just made more mistakes than I am accustomed to. I'm trying to learn to let it go. It seems that with mobility, the trip is probably never going to go 100 percent smoothly. Getting around blind is tricky. I should just be happy that I reached my destination rather than being annoyed by every little hiccup that I encounter along the way. I have lost count of the number of times that I have been told that I am entirely too hard on myself. I know that everyone is right. Fixing it is a huge challenge. This little quirk of mine pops up in other classes too, but it is most severe in mobility. I think it has a lot to do with anger over being blind. . I have accepted a lot of aspects of being blind but the complications of getting around are hard to accept. When things start going wrong with mobility, that's when I really start wondering why I have to deal with this crap. I just want to snap my cane in half and go take a nap. I know this will work itself out over time but I still get pissed off about being blind. I know it's getting better because I used to get pissed off over a lot more stuff. Now my anger is pretty much limited to mobility issues.
That's progress, right?

Mobility is tough. I am doing all of my training blindfolded so that I can break the habit of trying to rely on my remaining vision which is too poor for me to depend on for safe travel. It's scary as hell to be totally in the dark while traffic whizzes around. Cars sound big, fast and deadly. I always feel like I am being hunted. They sound closer than they really are and my brain has been slow to understand the relationship between sounds and their actual distances from me. I really need to quit thinking of traffic as my enemy but it's so hard. The traffic noise is actually quite helpful as long as I am able to stay calm. I am getting more relaxed with practice but it ‘s still tough to make myself trust what I am hearing and step into the street to make a crossing.

In addition to dealing with fear, I have discovered that I have a tendency to veer to the left without realizing that I have done so. When I am walking along a sidewalk, I do fine. And when I cross a street with the noise of parallel traffic, I'm OK. But make me cross a street with no noise as a reference point and I am screwed. I always veer way left. The other day, I was practicing a street crossing with an audible traffic signal. At this particular intersection, the traffic is stopped in all 4 directions during the walk phase. So, I take off thinking I am walking straight. In actuality, I have turned so far to the left that I am almost walking parallel down the street that I was trying to cross. So, I'm walking and walking and I know I've done something wrong because I should have hit the curb already. Then, I start to hear the traffic move yet here I am in the middle of the street and I have no idea where I am. When the traffic started moving, I totally panicked and basically froze. It sucked so bad. I felt like a total dumbass. My mobility instructor had to come running across the street and drag me out of traffic. I have no idea why I can't walk straight and I don't know what I can do to fix it. It is really frustrating to me. This was a pretty traumatic event for me, but when I told Dad about it, he laughed his ass off like I was doing a comedy routine. I was kind of pissed off at first, but after I thought about it, Dad's laughter kind of gave me a little perspective on the incident. I still don't think it is hilarious, but, it's not as serious as I wanted to make it either. Stuff happens. I'm here to learn and I am going to make mistakes. It's better to screw up here when I have someone to bail me out. I just need to learn from it and move on. Next time I get in that situation, I will try not to panic. I should have listened to the traffic, figured out which way I veered and that would have told me where the curb was. Veering isn’t good but it was the panicking that really got me into trouble. I am going to work on that.

I have so much more to say but the building is about to close for the weekend so I have to wrap this up. Now that I am getting to be competent on the computer with jaws, I will make time to update more often. Later.