Shed the Shame

I was honored when my friend Keili Elliott reached out to me and asked me to be a  guest contributor on the theme of visibility for SPNSTER! SPNSTER is a bi-weekly newsletter and community that functions like your friend group chat — full of advice, laughs, and stories about things we love or want to deeply improve in.
 
If you are interested in learning more about SPNSTER or receiving the newsletter check them out at Spnster.com or @Spnster on Instagram!
It’s been six-and-a-half years since I have seen a face. At the age of 23 I was diagnosed with a rare hereditary disease called Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON) which changed my sight from 20/20 vision to legally blind over the course of a few weeks. This all happened in between my first and second year of graduate school at Florida State University while my family was living 1,500 miles away in Colorado. 

After my diagnosis, many months of loneliness and feeling trapped passed by. I had so much fear about being unable to safely leave my apartment or office. I knew about white canes, and had been encouraged to begin using one, but getting one of my own would reveal an identity that I myself had not yet fully accepted. 

After relying on others for months, I decided I wanted my independence back. I set my pride and fear aside, and began using a white cane. Once I did, I was able to navigate the world independently. I slowly began to shed the fear and shame of being disabled and instead began taking pride in and owning my ability. Along with this, I also became much more comfortable with asking for help, knowing that the person I was asking where the bathroom was would understand why I wouldn’t know it was right in front of me. One of the most surprising gifts I’ve received from using my cane (and now having my guide dog), has been to have complete strangers approach and ask if I need help.

But, still to this day, despite the white cane and guide dog, there exists the persistent feeling of being alone. My inability to see faces, make eye contact, navigate spaces, and operate as independently as I used to often leaves me feeling invisible.

These feelings are not unique to people who are blind, visually impaired, or differently abled. This is something we all experience.

Allowing a friend, family member, or complete stranger to feel seen is one of the greatest gifts you can give. Because even in our social media filled world, where we are more visible than ever before, feelings of loneliness and invisibility are at an all time high.

Try to surround yourself with people who make you feel seen; people who initiate phone calls, coffee dates, dinner dates, and honest, meaningful conversations. If you’re finding it difficult to locate these people, become one yourself. If we want a friend, we need to be a friend; if we want to be seen, we need to be able to see others.

Just because someone doesn’t have a white cane doesn’t mean they don’t feel invisible. And whether you have a white cane, a different ability, or any other identity, own it and shed the shame because this world needs more of who you are. Life feels lighter when you are able to own and be your true, authentic self.

@aaronreistad

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