The Year that Never Was: Part One

picture of Crater Lake, a very blue lake surrounded by snow covered shore, mountains and clouds in the back ground. Photo by Harry Williamson

Coordinated by Maribel Steel

Editor’s note: This is the first post in a two-part series written by the VisionAware Peers, all of whom have vision loss and have found ways to cope during this very stressful year. We hope it will inspire you and hope as we move into 2021.

Who would have thought at the beginning of 2020, a  number associated with excellent vision and unlimited possibility, the world would be looking back on a year we’d prefer to forget? Rather than moving forward, for some, it could be remembered as the year that never was. In this two-part series, VisionAware peer advisors reflect on how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted their daily lives and offer reassurance to those with vision loss that they are not alone in these uncertain times.

Adapting to the Pandemic and Staying Connected by Sandra Burgess

Sandra sitting with arms around black dog guide

During this year dealing with the pandemic, I have been encouraged to hear various ways people have banded together to be supportive of one another. In my case, I live alone with my guide dog. My friend, who generally takes me to my grocery shop twice a month, was uncomfortable bringing me to the shops for the first few months of the virus. Instead, she adapted to the situation by asking me to email her my shopping list. For convenience, she delivered my groceries weekly. She also did the same for a friend of ours who is blind and lives alone.

My church began to have programs on Facebook Live, YouTube, and Zoom to keep us connected. I found the American Council of the Blind sponsoring all sorts of Zoom meetings, and I continue to participate in yoga, game nights, and karaoke. One of my neighbors has checked to see if I need anything, and my cousin has provided transportation to some appointments until I feel safe enough to use public transport again. With so much support from my friends, I am forever grateful for the opportunities that have come my way this year.

Self-isolation and Breaking the Monotony by Mary Hiland

Listening to the gurgle of a bottle of margarita mix as I poured it down the drain might have caused extreme remorse for those who love a cocktail before dinner. But for me, it meant a wave of sadness. Not because of the waste of a delicious adult beverage; it was the realization that my plans for having it on hand for the unexpected company was a pipe dream.

When I heard that Covid 19 had invaded the world, I decided to keep myself and my family safe. If that meant self-isolation, that’s how life would be for the duration. Previously, except for an occasional lunch out, going to a meeting, a doctor’s appointment, or church, my days had been spent alone, with only the company of my guide dog. Life as a single-blind woman who lives alone prepared me well for social distancing.

Now my days are filled with correspondence via email, listening to talking books, meetings via Zoom, and cleaning out closets. I am blessed to have a friend who takes us to a park once a week to hike through the woods, break the monotony of solitude, and just walk around the neighborhood. Even with keeping our distance and wearing masks, having a flesh and blood person to be with rather than a voice on a screen is a real treat. I pray that someday soon, I’ll buy a bottle of something fun, and we’ll celebrate by ripping off our masks and enjoying a toast with friends to mark the end of the pandemic.

Finding Solutions Through Daily Problem Solving by Deanna Noriega

I have been an advocate and activist since high school to do what I can to be a part of the solution instead of a part of the problem. I am also a caregiver to my husband of almost fifty years, who now uses a wheelchair and has several conditions that put him at risk should he be exposed to the COVID virus. I am a social person having to go without hugs from friends and family.

I have had to up my skills in technology, especially during 2020. This year has added an extra level of challenge to my life as I learn to shop online, attend meetings via Zoom, WebEx, work to deal with vertigo and maintain my physical fitness to care for my husband.

Depression is also a new acquaintance. I have always seen myself as a problem solver, but this year has called on all of my resolve and determination to carve out a new way to get things done. If you, too have struggled, know that you are not alone. Fortunately, there is help if you reach out. My friends may not be close enough to hug, but they make me laugh, supply tech answers, and are like the stars: even when I can’t see them, I know they are there.

When Everything Went to Dust I Found a Way to Move On by Elizabeth Sammons

Elizabeth sitting in garden with plant fronds behind her

I returned to Ohio from the south in March to volunteer at a canceled conference, and my plans to adopt a busy social schedule all went to dust. Everything was about the pandemic, and it was hard to know what would happen. It took me a little time to mentally reorient to a new way of looking at things. Daunted by the isolation of this pandemic, I began an entirely new project: revisiting my journal of thirty years ago. 1990 as a freshly-graduated journalist, I served as a bilingual cultural ambassador on “Design USA,” the last US cultural exhibit touting the American Dream to the Soviet public. I described our work and adventures on this show traveling through the USSR, which welcomed hundreds of thousands of Soviets from all walks of life. Since I have been blind from birth, I also related my own disability experiences.

Among the biggest challenges with this project was making the nearly 1,000 typed and hand-written journal pages accessible. About half could be scanned electronically, but the rest had to be input by hand. I’m super lucky that two friends with “Corona time” on their hands were willing to do some typing. I’ve nearly completed combing through these Soviet memories and am revving them for future publication. It feels like I’m venturing out and about in the world, even if it’s the paper world of my past.

Be sure to read Part Two.

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