Excerpts from Losing Sight, Finding Vision: Thriving Throughout Life’s Lasting Losses, by Sheridan Gates

From The Introduction In this book I offer lessons on what it means to thrive while living with a life-altering challenge or illness. As my friend suggests, enabling our learn­ing and development to prevail as we navigate through loss and change fosters dignity. I introduce ten strategies which emerged over my three decades of gradual sight loss. These strategies resulted from trial and error. As I bungled through, reacting to unwanted changes, I discovered what I could do to foster well-being. For each of the ten strategies I highlight both practical and soul-enhancing ways to access our full aliveness. I invite you to engage in your own inquiry —“What would fully thriving look like for me?”— as you read each chapter. Living solely based on others’ expectations or our prognosis thwarts our sense of aliveness. We may not be able to change our diagnosis, but we can change our experience and perhaps our prognosis. As we consider the fullness of our soul and spirit, not just the diagnosis or adversity, we recognize the many choices which foster wellness and wholeness in our lives. Join me on this journey to intentionally deepen fulfillment and vitality in your life as you discover the wellness and wholeness within.  

From Chapter 1: Being With Your Experience I toggle between denial, depression, and acceptance, just as the EKR grief cycle describes. Every time I think I’ve accepted my vision loss, another wave of disappointment sweeps through me. Eye exams, an encounter with someone who doesn’t understand my challenge, or a last-minute sprint through an airport resurrects feelings of anxiety or frustration. The very basic nature of my challenge serves as a humbling equalizer. Activities that I once took for granted now activate my vulnerability. I hesitate when I enter a dimly lit elevator. Which button do I push? I have a quest, albeit possibly a compulsion, to fix, to heal my eyes. I am much more interested in healing than in accepting the loss. I’m not  sure if my quest is simply the normal garden-variety lack of acceptance or bargaining that accompanies a loss like mine, or whether it’s unique in some way. The question I ponder is how to face the realities, the medical knowledge and known limitations linked to my eye disease, and how to find hope for healing. As I move between these two points of view, I bump into each awk­wardly, always forgetting that my vision is not supposed to get better, only worse. Then I get disappointed all over again. I want to heal, not be con­tinually disappointed by my daily realities. As I wander through the experience of loss, weaving together lessons from others and myself, I yearn for a compass to guide me. Rather than try to change the unchangeable, my deteriorating vision, perhaps I can steady myself in some other way. The disorientation of blurred vision jars my nervous system, and the constant adjustment to gradual loss continually pushes me outside my comfort zone. I need an inner compass, because without it, the pain and loss are too great.

Acceptance When I fully embrace the current realities, I experience a settling in my nervous system. I no longer need things to be different in order to be at ease. I stop trying to manage my inner experiences or my outer cir­cumstances. A new sense of ease permeates my inner landscape and steadies my mood. Low-vision specialists, counselors, fellow seekers, and others with vision loss help me to reach this place. Each caring conversation inches me toward acceptance. I learn again and again that I am not alone, and the compassion I receive strengthens my self-acceptance. Soon I can pass along my own lessons to others facing a fresh diagnosis of macular degeneration. I begin to see myself as connected in so many ways, and my personal loss transmutes into a well-worn notch in the tree of my life.

Being with Our Experiences The first strategy for thriving involves truly being present for our direct experi­ences. When a threat to our life as we know it looms, we all experience the emotional cycle described in the EKR grief model. We each move through this cycle at our own pace, but ultimately we’re forced to face the reality that the assumptions that so neatly held our life together are not as solid as we first thought. There is a breaking apart that happens inside when we realize this. Facing the truth of our circumstances enables us to deal with them. I remember hearing somewhere that letting go is really just accepting the truth of what is happening. As we become willing to meet our life circum­stances honestly, we slowly begin to feel less anxious, less afraid. As we pay attention to our own experience of change and loss, our feelings, the sensations in our bodies, and our own thinking, we befriend ourselves. This is being with ourselves.