Feeling Pride is Okay

A few days ago, I reached out to a professor to tell her that I’ve been struggling to keep up in her class due to some personal reasons. I had decided to reach out to her a week prior to sending the email, but I found excuse after excuse to put it off.
During my last therapy session, I told my therapist that I’d rather quietly drown than admit to needing help. I told her how hard it was to write the message and how much shame I was harboring about doing so. I told her about the class I failed during my sophomore year because it was more comfortable to fail in silence than step forward and say something.
This post isn’t about classes or even therapy, but they were what lead to my purpose in writing this.
In discussing my feelings about reaching out for help, she asked me to list things at which I have succeeded, because I feel like requesting help makes me a failure. I couldn’t list many, the main one being that I am still in school, and she asked me if she could be blunt with me and say something she thought was an obvious success.
I consented, and in a tone of almost amused exasperation that I hadn’t mentioned it myself, she said, “You’re blind! You have learned to and succeeded at navigating a world where you can’t see anything. You haven’t allowed yourself to be held back.”
I immediately had two very conflicting emotions: panic that someone had just complimented me and I needed to figure out how to respond positively, and slight indignance that she pointed out something that, for me, isn’t exactly optional.
I gave this a lot of thought later on, and it’s what this post is really about.
I have this vivid memory of being a senior in high school, and I had just finished lunch and my friends had gone to their classes. I was waiting for my sister to come meet me and guide me to my own class which I didn’t share with my friends. She was nowhere to be found and seemingly unreachable by text. Another student in my class approached and asked if I needed help, and I accepted. I took his arm, and a moment later saw my life flash before my eyes as I nearly went sprawling down a flight of stairs. If it weren’t for the quick reflexes of my guide, I’d likely have met an untimely demise on the tile of the school cafeteria. Or at least my dignity would have.
There’s a lot that you, dear reader, probably see wrong with the above scenario. I made no mention of using a cane, because I didn’t. Didn’t I know my own way to my classes? Narrator: “She did not”. Why was I relying on my own sister to come help me get around? Why didn’t my guide mention the stairs? Okay, I don’t really know the answer to the last one.
My own friends didn’t realize I was totally blind for a whole semester because I didn’t ever use a cane. Hmm, maybe the guide didn’t mention the stairs because he also thought I had some vision due to the lack of a cane. I used it in my orientation and mobility lessons, and I had excellent travel skills. It was a constant point of bewildered contention that I could travel well but refused to use my skills.
I had so much shame and embarrassment over being blind, and for some reason I still do not comprehend, I felt like it was better to ditch all the physical signs of my blindness and instead embarrass myself by my reliance on others and general incapability to do much on my own.
Though my travel skills were good in concept, my lack of real-world practice resulted in me having a considerable lack of confidence and a great deal of anxiety. Another memory that I feel is relevant to the point that I will get to in a moment came a few years later, just before I went away for university.
I was on an o&m lesson with an instructor who was fairly new to his job. He was teaching me how to navigate my new campus, and at some point, a few weeks into our lessons, he randomly stopped me and told me, “Ok, now I want you to guide me back to your apartment.”
Aaaaaand queue the panic attack. I wasn’t quite sure where I was, though in hindsight I could have figured it out. He didn’t leave me somewhere completely unfamiliar. I tried, but I was shaking so badly I could hardly hold onto my cane. I was in tears and hyperventilating, and the only solution I could come up with was to ask a nearby student where I was.
I’m pretty sure the instructor felt awful about the experience, which made me feel all sorts of guilty, and I eventually found my way, but I was so traumatized by the whole ordeal that I was terrified of having any more lessons with him.
It’s now been seven years since the first memory and four since the second, but I had reason to look back on them because of what my therapist said to me and my resultant feeling of indignance.
Before I got heavily involved in the blind community, I reveled in the sense of accomplishment when a sighted person complimented me. I was also quite young, so that certainly was a contributing variable. As I’ve gotten older and more entrenched in the world of people like me, I’ve seen countless examples of people being angry about, scornful of, or dismissive when a sighted person remarks on their ability to do something. Please note here that I am not at all intending to devalue or invalidate those feelings; everyone feels them for different reasons, and it is absolutely not my place to say that someone’s feelings aren’t justified. Please do not walk away from this thinking that I think that someone is somehow lesser or wrong for reacting in a way they feel is necessary.
What this ingrained within me was the sense that what I do is what is expected of me, and that is true. I either have to learn to live in the world or simply exist within a bubble of dependence, and I’m grateful that I have always had people pushing me toward the former. Being around other blind people who were competent, independent, and confident inspired me to spire to be the same.
I did, however, feel as though I needed to take with me the irritation and dislike many people exhibit upon being praised or complimented. Any time a stranger told me it is awesome how I get around, told me that they were so impressed by the things I’m doing, mentioned the dreaded word inspiration, I felt a twang of guilt over being slightly proud. What I do and how I get around are things I have no choice but to do. It’s the life I have to live, it’s not something I decided to live with, right?
And yet, in some ways, it is. I look back on the girl who never took her cane out of her backpack, the girl who stood on the sidewalk crying in terror and frustration at being lost, the girl who feigned sickness in order to avoid learning to use public transportation because she was so scared of everything. I look back at her, and then I see myself now. I still deal with travel anxiety. There are still things I won’t do that many of my friends would do without a second thought. But I am a thousand times more independent than I was at seventeen or twenty. I am proud of what I have learned to do. When I walked to my choir class on the first day of this term, I was so proud of myself for not getting lost. I felt elated that, after nearly two years of remote learning, I could still travel well. I got lost last week and only felt a vague sense of embarrassment that if anyone was watching me, they’d see me turn around and walk back the way I had come. There was no panic. I found my way. It might take me entirely too much effort to talk myself into trying something, but I do try it, and I often succeed.
I’m not saying that everything for which someone chooses to praise me are acceptable or okay with me. There are still lines separating the positive from the infantilizing, and I’m just like anyone else in that I don’t like those lines being crossed.
My therapist being impressed by what I can do and encouraging me to be proud of myself could have been taken in a negative light. I could have chosen to be offended and switch the subject onto an aspect unrelated to my blindness. Maybe it would have been okay for me to do so. The thing that I realized, though, is that I am proud of myself. I have come so far and overcome so much that I never imagined I’d get through, and I don’t think it’s wrong to feel that pride.
Yes, these things are things I have to do if I want to get anywhere in life. They are things that everyone else does. But guess what? So is living. So is waking up in the morning and choosing to keep going. And I’m proud of myself for that, too, and I’m proud of everyone else who does. It’s not a bad thing to be proud of that; it’s actively encouraged.
I’m telling you and myself that it’s also okay to be proud of the accomplishments which seem commonplace. It’s ok to be proud that I, and you, navigate a world without being able to see it. And If I’m going to be proud of myself, I think it’s okay for me to be content when others are, too.

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