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13. Movin' on Out: Living Independently and Navigating a New City

This time last year I was sitting in my childhood bedroom or basement trying to figure out the best angle to hold my iPad to record Legally Blonde & Blind episodes. I went through each segment at least five times, and I always noticed something wrong. I was so nervous about making this first episode and now I have been creating Legally Blonde & Blind content for over a year. I think the most shocking part about it now is the fact that I'm sitting in a dorm at Georgetown and one year ago. I honestly didn't know if that was possible because we were in the middle of the pandemic. So today I wanted to take the time to reflect a bit more on that transition from my hometown to college. Specifically, I wanted to focus on some of the unique challenges I faced as I was preparing to leave for college and give some general advice for those who are moving away, especially for the first time. Stay tuned to hear some nifty blind hacks, navigation tips, and much more.

*Intro music*

God, I can't believe I used the word nifty in a sentence. Hello, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of legally blonde and blind. I hope you all are doing well and enjoying the colder weather in November. I am so ready for the holiday. I got a miniature white Christmas tree for my dorm and I put it up on November 1st. The first day I could, after Halloween. I love it so much. It is a four-foot white Christmas tree and it has blue and silver Christmas balls. And I have this really pretty white tree skirt with little silver snowflakes. So it sparkles when it lights up. I swear. I could make a whole episode in December about Christmas decorating. It would have nothing to do with blindness except the one Christmas-related blind tipI have, which is wearing glasses while you fluff your tree. If you have a fake tree, you know, you have to spend hours picking apart all of the branches. So it looks more natural and like, it didn't just come out of a box, but that's actually one of the rare occasions in which I will wear my glasses.

Anyways, enough about Christmas, hopefully, these blind hacks that I'm going to give you in today's episode, will apply all throughout the year, not just in December and November. And episode six, you may recall. I had talked very broadly about independence and some of the anxieties I had surrounding it. I wanted to make this episode as almost a follow-up to episode six, because even though I have recorded it only a few months ago, I believe it was, it was April. No, not April. It was February. Even though I had only recorded it a few months ago. I feel like I was a completely different person because I was so anxious about riding the Metro, finding my classes, and getting around campus. All of the things that I do now, without even thinking about it.

I lived on Georgetown's campus for the first time this summer, it was for a five-week program. And it was just to get the sophomores an idea of what campus was like because we had missed out on a whole year due to the pandemic. It was during this program that I had received most of my initial mobility training for getting used to the year. And there were several moments throughout the summer. And even in more recent months where I just do something and I'm like, “wow, a year ago I would have fallen over at the thought.” So I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on how I went from where I was in February to where I am. And I think it's an especially fitting time to do so at the one-year anniversary of Legally Blonde & Blind because I would also like to reflect on how I've changed in the year since I have started this podcast.

Now I'm not trying to act like I'm perfect, or I have everything figured out. Believe me, most of the tips I'm going to provide in this episode were learned the hard way. But I am very proud of the progress I've made in the last year. And I would love to share some of the insights I have made along the way. I wanted to get started by giving you a brief refresher on some of the toxic mindsets towards independence that I had identified in episode six. The three main ones that I experienced throughout my life were thinking that being independent means I can never ask for help, thinking there are certain levels of independence and finally thinking there is a certain point in which I achieve independence.

Now, these questions still played a huge role in my insecurities and fears as I was preparing to move away from home. But I realized as moving away became something that wasn't happening in the distant future, but rather something that was happening in the next two weeks. A lot of my fears started to change and the most prominent ones were different when independence was something that was hitting me right in the face, as opposed to something that was being inevitably delayed because of the pandemic. So why might moving away be especially nerve-wracking for a blind person?

Moving away from college is incredibly stressful. No matter who you are leaving your high school friends, your hometown, your family. And living on your own for an extended period of time by yourself can be a lot to take in at once and keep in mind for people. In my grade, some of us had never even gone to college like in person, our freshman year. So that whole adjustment process was thrown off by a year for us. And we were going into it as sophomores, basically being freshmen that had no idea where they were. I think at least for me, I had sort of idealized certain elements of in-person learning, like being in a classroom with all of my peers, being able to go to concerts or large gatherings, even though I am claustrophobic, I did idealize that during the pandemic, but when I had moved to college and I saw all of these people in one day, I have just, I just felt overwhelmed.

I remember there were several distinct moments during the summer and during the beginning of the school year when I would be rammed into these crowds, like during a welcome assembly, for example. And I'd be thinking to myself, “I have not been around this many people in two years” and as great as that is to be back and to be able to start exploring that community it's still rather overwhelming.

So I want you to take all of the factors that I have just listed and then add the ones I'm about to tell you that specifically apply to blind people. Firstly, as I was preparing to move out for college, I worried about how I would be able to balance orientation and mobility training with all of my other responsibilities as a college student. Now, if you're blind or visually impaired, getting used to your surroundings is going to take more time. You're going to have to carve more time out of your schedule to do so because you can't just go into a building and scan the whole area for a sign that leads to the hallway you want to go to.

So that may mean organizing an extra tour with your school's disability office to find all of your classrooms or going on an orientation and mobility lesson to learn about the Metro system. But I've found that it can be incredibly stressful to fit all of that is when you're also trying to get started on your schoolwork, you're trying to meet new friends, attend social events, and get your dorm rooms set up. It can feel like everything is happening at once. And I remember when I first moved to Georgetown, the first day. My parents will tell you I was a hot mess. I was so overwhelmed because I felt like I needed to organize everything. And if you know me, you know how hyper-organized I can be with my dorm room, I felt like I needed to get everything set up. I needed to find pretty much every building. I felt almost lost because it was like, if I leave this building, I don't know where I'm going. So that was stressful. And then I felt like I needed to make friends. If I saw two people next to each other, I'd be like, “well, they already have friends.”

So all of this may not be a blind issue. Part of it might be a Marissa overthinking issue, but I think there is something to be said about how the added stressors of orientation and mobility training can make a move tougher. I also noticed as I was preparing to move out, I became a lot more worried about personal care tasks. And this is something I haven't really talked about on the podcast as much, which is also in part why I wanted to make this episode, but I noticed that I started thinking a lot more about those little practical things in life that I had never really had to do before because I'd always lived with my parents. Like I've never cooked a meal on my own. What if there's a bug in my room, like, how am I supposed to find it? What if there's mold and I don’t see it? How am I supposed to clip my nails? What if I drop an earring? All of those little personal care things.

And the worst part about it is that I felt extremely embarrassed to ask any other blind person about it. Especially blind people who are older. I had this impression, especially for those blind people who are lawyers or advocating for legislative changes, I almost felt like they were on another level and they would look down on me for not figuring out the art of cooking, nail clipping, or cleaning when you can't see. And then I felt even worse about asking sighted people these questions, because, A, they couldn't really give me any solutions that would be particularly useful for me, and B, I was worried that it would almost confirm their suspicions, that I couldn't live on my own. I felt like I had to act as if I were perfect and I figured everything out.

I think I felt this extra pressure because blind people will get questions about things like how they do their makeup or how they cook. And I felt like I had to be this sort of upstanding example, but the truth is life is messy and all college students, even those who are cited have to make embarrassing calls to their parents. Like I've seen people in the laundry room, calling their mom, asking them where to put the detergent in the washing machine. I have called my parents to ask them how to peel a banana because I had never done that before. I didn't like bananas for the longest time. I've called them to ask how to empty my mini vacuum cleaner. I once had like a 10-minute conversation with my mom, trying to figure out how to open my dorm window. The point is that everyone who moves out for the first time has their own hiccups. And you don't have to feel this extra burden to be perfect, just because you're blind.

On that note too. I realized that asking blind people for their tips, even for things that I thought were too simple or beneath them can be really helpful. Because even if they're older than you, even if they're super accomplished, they're still human and they want to help you out. For example, my vision teacher in high school had this whole elaborate system for folding money, so she didn't have to use her phone to check every single bill. And I wish I had the diligence to implement that kind of system and my own wallet. I'm crazy organized with some things, but then there are other things that I just don't care about at all. So honestly my money just gets shoved in there, but even for sighted people, I think having a whole system where you, you wouldn't even have to look in your wallet, you could just feel it and know what kind of bill it was. It would be super useful. And I think that's a really cool tip.

Finally, I have already talked a little bit about this in the last point. I felt like I couldn't express my fears or talk to other people about them. I knew for example, that my family was worried about me moving out. Like I could tell any family is going to be worried about their child moving to college blind or not. But I felt like I couldn't confide in them about some of the things I was worried about because I almost felt like I would be confirming some of their doubts about me living on my own. I wanted my family and friends to believe in me, believe that I could. And I'm not trying to imply that they didn't, they were all incredibly supportive, but anyways, I was afraid of this because they had never really seen me do the things that I was going to be doing on my own.

What I mean by that is if you talk to my friends, Elizabeth and Alanna, who I met at Georgetown, they will tell you that I love using Google maps. I love to walk. I love to explore, but I feel like my sighted friends at home, didn't really see that side of me. I was never the leader. I was the follower. I never gave directions. I kind of just blankly followed behind people, I suppose. Like I perceived it as a situation where they would have to see it to believe it. And once again, I'm not trying to imply, that this is how they actually felt. This is more my anxiety talking and this doesn't just even apply to people that are close to me. It's with any sighted person, almost because when you talk about somebody being blind, their independence is almost automatically questioned. Like, why else do you think Molly Burke gets 10,000 questions about how she does her makeup, how she picks out her outfits, how she travels, how she gets around the airport? It's all because I think people see their sight as by far the most important sense. So I think to a degree, if you asked a sighted person to try and imagine their life if they couldn’t see, they probably wouldn't think they could function.

I think all of these fears, worries, and insecurities boil down to the fact that I deeply value independence. Not just because I'm blind. I like having a lot of autonomy over what my day looks like. I like exploring new restaurants, nature, trails, and parks in the area. I like being able to go somewhere and not have to ask for permission, not have to ask somebody to give me a ride. And I was deeply afraid that I wouldn't be able to live that kind of life.

I think it's challenging to emphasize how important this was to me, because doing something as little as riding a Metro, finding a restaurant by yourself, or crossing the street, may seem trivial, but this was so important. And being in that position during the pandemic where I was in the sort of limbo waiting for that kind of life to start, it killed me. I felt so much self-doubt because I had never done something like that before. So I felt like, “oh, it'll never work out.” But being in the place now where I'm settled in Georgetown and a lot more comfortable with the area as a whole is so rewarding because I get to have, and keep working towards that independence I have always wanted.

This may seem like a silly story, but the first time I had ever taken the Metro completely by myself, with no one with me, it was on the way back. I had walked to the white house from my campus, which is about two miles. It's closer than you would think, but it was starting to get hot that day. It was during the summer. So it would get up to like 95, 96 degrees. And I just decided to take the Metro back. There's really nothing that eventful about this Metro ride, except for the fact that once I had gotten back to my dorm, I was so shocked that I had just done that without even really worrying about it, because for context, I would try to study the Metro map. And normally I would decide to do this at like one in the morning. So it never worked out very well because I was very tired and irrational, but the fact that I was just able to do it and. So nonchalantly, it made me so happy. I honestly cried.

So how did I get to that point? Well, the past month I have been reflecting on some things that I did before my move that made the transition easier. And then also some tips I wish I would have known. One of the first things I'm glad that I started mobility instruction very early, because most of the skills, whether it be learning to navigate with a white cane, crossing a street, or using different apps on your phone, a lot of those techniques are transferable across cities. In high school. I had done several mobility lessons in Philadelphia since it was only about 20 minutes away from me. And even though it wasn't my favorite city. I wasn't planning on going to school in that area. It was still a really good experience for me to get used to that type of environment. Especially as someone who came from a suburban area, who wasn't used to all of those sounds and people, it was very helpful for me.

Firstly, it made me aware of how often I tend to follow behind other people when I'm going places. And that I'm going to need to start being a little more aware of my surroundings. If I want to try and memorize routes faster, it is also very helpful because it takes a lot of the stress. Well, I shouldn't say a lot because I was very stressed before this move. It took some of the stress away because the mobility lessons I got in DC were less about learning those skills from scratch and more about just applying them to a new area and becoming more confident with certain transportation.

So my general piece of advice is that it's never too early to start mobility training. And I know for some people there can be sort of this embarrassment surrounding it because it's you, you think to yourself, “Oh, well, most sighted people don't have to get training to cross the street.” Somebody in middle school asked me, they were like, “why are you learning how to cross streets?” It may seem surface level. It may seem common sense to an outsider, but I like to think of it as the equivalent of driving lessons. It's our way of getting around. And I had one mobility instructor put it to me this way. Think about all of the tourists that get lost when they're trying to use the New York subway or think about all the people that can't find buildings when they first move to a new city. In other words, pretty much everyone could use a mobility instructor at some time.

I have several follow-up tips for this because I think for me at least for me this was such a huge part of what made the smooth transition possible for me. Firstly, if you know, you're going to be moving away in a few months, say you committed to a school in March, right?

You want to find a mobility instructor as soon as possible because this is especially true if you're moving out of state. I can't speak for other states commissions, but at least in New Jersey, it can be very slow and bureaucratic. If you receive services from your state's commission and you go to a school out of state, they're going to have to contract that mobility instructor from another state and add them to their payroll, which I'm not kidding you, it took months for my state's commission to do this. And what was especially stressful for me was that I was trying to find a mobility instructor when most state commissions weren't even offering in-person services. I remember feeling incredibly frustrated because it seemed to be that state agencies were treating mobility instruction as some sort of supplemental service or an add-on or something that was optional. But for blind people to live and work independently, especially if we're starting a new job or starting at a new school, it's a necessity.

Thankfully, I was able to find somebody who did freelance services and was willing to meet me in person. But I think this just highlights the importance of getting this stuff figured out early because it's better to have somebody who you can call in a few months than to be stressing about it two weeks before. When you're looking for a mobility instructor, especially as a young adult, I think it's important to find somebody who treats you as an equal, because even though they are teaching you something, they are not in a position of authority over you, right? They're not your high school teacher. They're not your professor. They are ultimately doing a service for you.

With that in mind, take the lead. I think a great sign is when a mobility instructor seeks your input. And lets you set the goals. For example, when I did lessons this summer, I basically decided where we were going to go and what we were going to do. I told her I really like to learn how to use my university's bus system. And I would like to visit these particular locations. Taking ownership and making your own goals is so important in this process. And I think it's something that you almost have to adjust to when you're taking mobility lessons as an adult versus as a child. Because when you're a kid, it's almost like they're babysitting you. They're just taking you around.

This is such a tangent, but when I was little, I was learning how to do street crossings in my town. And I was with one of my instructors. My dad's friend was in his car and he sent my dad this text and he was like,” what is Marissa doing with this stranger?” Like, I think he thought I was going to be abducted.

But in terms of creating the lesson plans, if you will, they don't all have to be boring. For example, I was doing some lessons in Philadelphia and we were learning how to use Google Maps. So I had decided, well, why don't I use Google maps to find a chocolate shop and coffee place? If you're in a place like DC, I highly recommend you hit up the touristy spots. I mean, the Washington monument can't be that hard to find, right? I mean, it's pretty big. So you can't miss it.

Next I recommend testing out different navigation apps on your phone. This was incredibly boring for me because where I live, the only two places I could walk to were a Wawa or an elementary school. So my options were very limited, but I think it's almost helpful when you use a map for the first time to know where you're going. So you get an idea of how the mechanics are. But downloading apps, getting past that learning curve, figuring out what you like, what you find easiest to use while you're at home can remove a lot of stress once you do finally move out. For example, I realized that I couldn't stand apple maps because it would just be this little dot whereas when you use Google maps, it has this arrow. So you can tell what direction like it's almost like a compass, so you can tell if you're going in the right direction or not, but I found apple maps so useless because it's this little circle and I'd be going off in the corner and I wouldn't know what I was doing wrong.

During this whole preparation stage, I was simultaneously so excited and nervous about going to Georgetown that I had made many spreadsheets. I think if you're feeling anxious about a move, planning ahead, what you can plan ahead for is very helpful. I know I took a look at a lot of campus maps to get a general sense of the layout. Looking at a map is not the same as being there in person, but it's a start, right? You get a general sense of the shape of the campus, trying to learn what all the important buildings' names were, and where certain classrooms would be.

I also, and this is, this is a huge tip as well. I also took a look at Google images of all of these buildings, so I could get an idea of what they looked like from the outside. And some general features that I could look for to identify them, for example, our business school's building has a sign in front of it. Right? But I'm never going to be able to read that. However, I can tell that it is a building with all the glass windows on one side, and it's right by the football field. Those types of things are a lot easier for me to recall. I also made a color-coded spreadsheet of all the different restaurants I wanted to try off-campus.

I'm gluten-free so that adds another layer of complications to finding places to eat. I can't just find any old restaurant. I have to find one with options and I don't like salad. So that even makes things even worse. Right? I even made a ridiculously long spreadsheet about all of the things I wanted to pack ranging from dorm decor, toiletries, snacks, and even the stuffed animals I wanted to bring. I really got into it. Okay. Now, at the end of the day, did I really need all of these spreadsheets? No, but it can help you think ahead and alleviate some of that stress about packing or finding places to eat. Once you arrive on campus, in essence, having that spreadsheet can make your life just a little bit easier and help preserve your sanity.

As I've alluded to several times throughout this episode, the move to Georgetown stressed me out. I tried not to show it, but let's be honest if you know me it most certainly did. One of the things I think I could have done to alleviate some of that anxiety was to write down some of my biggest fears and come up with an action plan for each of those scenarios. This would have helped me avoid catastrophizing certain situations. Like what if I get lost? Well, I can first take a few deep breaths, and calm down. I can refresh Google maps on my phone because sometimes that can help. If it looks a little wonky, I could ask somebody on the street for help. And if I were in a situation where I was feeling unsafe, I could always call the campus police.

What if I can't find the bathroom? Well, honestly, asking where the bathroom is, especially at a place is not as weird as you probably think it is. A really good tip I have is. So if you're having trouble following somebody's directions, like let's say you ask somebody where the bathroom is, they give you these really specific instructions.

You can't follow it. So you try going up a little further. Right? And you still can't find it. You can just ask somebody else where the bathroom is. They're not going to know that you already asked. I've had situations where I've had to ask four different people along the way before finding the bathroom. It’ll work eventually

The point is even if I ended up in situations where I felt lost or helpless, there will always be something that I could do. It's not like if I got lost, I would be on the streets for the rest of my life. So I think it's very important to give yourself patience and grace, and to come up with plans in case these things do happen.

Now, once you've moved in, you've had a few mobility lessons or even before then, I strongly recommend practicing these types of skills on your own. Now I'm not saying to wander off into the middle of nowhere at night, or, you know, go in an alley. I'm not saying to be unsafe, but I think there are several benefits to practicing mobility skills on your own. It's a wonderful way to build confidence. Firstly, because you can't follow behind somebody else, you have to use these skills. And secondly, at least for me, I found it easier to be patient with myself if I were alone. I found that if I were with other people, I felt as if I were being watched or they were waiting for me to figure it out or that they would just be like,”here, let me.”

And when you're practicing by yourself, give yourself a fun, low-pressure challenge. Learning how to use the Metro right before a job interview is going to be very stressful, to say the least. What I would do during the summer is I would take several long walks and I would try to find all of these different touristy spots in the city. I would try to find the Lincoln Memorial Washington Monument, the Martin Luther King Memorial, the White House, and the National Cathedral. And all of these excursions were not only a great opportunity for me to exercise, but they provided a means for me to get more familiar with the layout of DC and a low-pressure situation.

During these walks, I gave myself enough time so that if I did get lost, I could take a few deep breaths, sit down for a minute and then try to regroup and go at it again. I would give my poor grandmother heart attacks when I would go on these walks because I would call her and she would hear all these cars and she'd be like, “where are you?” I would be like, “oh, I'm on my way to see Joe.” She's like, “Joe?” I'm like, “yeah, Joe Biden. I’m going to the white house. And this is a true story. My maps said I was at the white house, so I sent her a picture and I was like, “oh, I'm at the white house.” And it was from the side. And it was this building right next to it. And she was like, “I’m not sure that’s the white house.” So it took me another minute to actually find the right white building.

Honestly, I think any person blind or not should do these things when they move to a new city, because it's how you get a lay of the land and tell you, figure out some of your local favorites, right? It helps you become more familiar and start to feel at home wherever you are.

Now, finally, I have some more practical, smaller tips for you. Once you do move to college or wherever life takes you. If you are moving on to a college campus, ask your disability office if someone can take you on a one-on-one tour. Now, most schools will have an orientation when you first move in, they will do several group tours. But I normally don't find this as helpful because it's not going to show you where your individual classrooms are or other important buildings to you are. So what I recommend is asking if you can do a one-on-one tour, it was actually really funny. I got the director of our academic resource center, which is our disability office. And this guy really wanted to be a tour guide after he retired. So he got really into it. And when I tell you this man took me on a two-and-a-half-hour tour where we walked three miles, that most certainly happened.

Next, get yourself a designated finding things buddy. This could probably be a roommate if you live with someone else or even just a new friend you've made. Have that conversation where you're like, “Hey, if I lose something. Will you come to help me?” The only time I have had to call upon my finding things buddy was when I was doing laundry and I lost a few pairs of shorts, but I didn't know where I had lost them.

So for context, I have to go down a few floors from my room to the lobby, and then I have to go into another building and go down a few floors to get to the laundry mat because there isn't one right inside of my dorm. So my friend comes down to my floor with her little dog in her hand. And together we search the entire, we retrace all of my steps to find the missing shorts. It may feel awkward to have that conversation, especially with someone you might've just met a few days ago, but it's really helpful to know in advance that somebody is willing to help you if you need it.

But in terms of finding things, I think the most helpful tool is your iPhone. It can help you scan the room in a way that your eyes can't. You look through the camera and you're like, “this is how the other half lives.”

Now, if you don't want to end up in a situation where your laundry is scattered throughout the lobby floor, you can invest in some large delicate bags. They are these huge bags that you can put several pieces of clothing in and just throw them right in the washer. I know I made a few Instagram stories about this because I was so excited when I did laundry for the first time without losing anything. Counting can also be especially helpful. So if I'm not using the bags, I will count every single piece of clothing that I put in there. And I will know I have 12 things that need to come out of this. I don't know if any other blind person has had this problem, or if it's just a Marissa issue. Something's telling me it might just be a Marissa issue.

Goodness. I know these are so, so random and not connected at all, but I need to share these blind hacks with you. If you are planning on taking an Uber somewhere, I recommend wearing a sun hat or some other piece of distinctive clothing, and here's why I personally find the pickup process for Uber, a living nightmare. All cars essentially look the same to me. And the only feature I can tell apart is color and obviously license plates aren't an option for most of us. So if you're wearing something that the Uber driver can easily spot, it's a great way to help them find you without letting them know you're visually impaired, because that might make you a little uncomfortable, especially if you're traveling solo.

And last but not least ask clarifying questions. You have no idea how helpful it is just to turn to somebody and be like, “Is this the bus going to Georgetown? Is this the MacPherson square Metro stop?” Most people aren't going to think anything of you asking these questions and they are a great way to know, “Hey, I'm in the right spot.” When I ride the train, I try to make small talk with people around me to find someone who is also getting off at the same stop. So I can make sure that they do not leave before I do. ‘=

Now that I've talked about some of my more practical, blind hacks. I now want to share some things I've learned about myself and some general takeaways, both from my transition to living independently at college, and also the past year making this podcast.

Firstly, I want to reiterate that you do not have to prove your independence. This was something that came up a lot for me the past few months because my family would talk to people or I would even talk to people that would doubt my ability to live on my own. My mom, for instance, met this other family during parents and family weekend at my school. And it somehow came up that I was blind. After that this mom kept asking her a bunch of questions along the lines of” how do you deal with her living on our own? How do you manage your anxiety? How does she do it?” And I remember feeling pretty upset when I first heard about this conversation because there is an implicit lack of faith in the notion that my mom should be more anxious or apprehensive about me living on my own just because I'm blind.

The hardest part about this conversation for me to accept was the fact that even though my mom told her about all the assistive technologies and strategies I use and all the things I'm able to do in the city. It probably didn't change her assumptions and stereotypes about blindness. It may feel kind of depressing to admit that regardless of how successful or independent you are, you single-handedly are probably not going to change societal notions about blindness, but I almost find it kind of freeing. Now. I'm not trying to imply that things are hopeless and change is impossible. The blind community has made significant progress in the past 100 years, and we still have plenty of work to do. But what I am saying is that you do not have to feel like you're a token representing the entire blind community.

I remember I would feel this pressure to be perfect, to always be put together, to give people the impression that, you know, blind people are independent. We can live our lives, we can do what we want. However, making this massive policy and attitude changes is a group effort. No one person can do it on their own. And therefore no one person should feel pressure to act perfectly. To give a positive impression of the blind community. Accepting that there may be some people who underestimate you, but that their views do not reflect your determination, your independence, or your performance can be very freeing.

I think it's a lot healthier to view changing these negative assumptions as a community effort, rather than something you have to put on your own shoulders. So one of the main things that I learned this year is to set goals and to be independent for myself, not to prove myself to other people because that's what's ultimately going to make me happy.

After moving to DC and having to experience all of these new things for the first time, another lesson that I learned is that being independent requires vulnerability. I had always imagined these two concepts as polar opposites. When I feel independent. I usually feel as though I'm in control that I have everything figured out. And when I feel vulnerable, it's when I don't know what I'm doing. It's when I have to go up to a stranger in the street and ask them for help. It's when I have to go up to people in the grocery store and ask them where something is.

But I realized that I shouldn't think of these things as opposites because, in order to be independent and to try all of these new things, I would have to be vulnerable. I mean as any person would because things usually don't work out perfectly the first time. And I think I had gotten to a point where I only accepted part of my blindness. I only accepted the blind girl that got good grades that went to Georgetown that does all these things in DC on her own. That doesn't let anything stop her. But I had a much harder time accepting the blind girl that did get lost. That didn't need help. I couldn't find it. And I think I had gotten to this point where I was only comfortable talking about blindness when I wanted to, when I felt like I was in control of the narrative, where I felt like I could present myself as otherwise perfect to the people around me.

What made me realize this was that I had gone to a grocery store a few weeks to pick some things up. And I usually do in-store pickups. So I don't have to worry about trying to find things on shelves. Right? Well, the system was a bit confusing because it was primarily designed for people who are driving up to the store. And so they'd have employees, they put it straight into their trunk, but obviously, since I wasn't driving, I couldn't just stand in the parking lot, waiting for somebody. So I went into the grocery store and asked some of the customer service representatives for help. And it was this very honestly, I don't remember it very well. I think I blacked some of it out. But it was a very confusing process because like I was trying to find–they had like this warehouse almost where they would store all of the in-store pickup orders, but it was like behind this parking garage. So I was wandering aimlessly throughout this parking garage that had all of these ramps and other, like, it was very uneven terrain. I felt so overwhelmed and exhausted. Like I was, I was about to cry in the middle of a parking lot.

And at that moment I did not feel confident at all. The last thing I wanted to do was ask another person for help and have to explain my visual impairment yet again, but after those gruesome experiences, which I would argue is worth it because I got six pints of blueberries. I realized I had to love the blind girl who was lost just as much as I love the blind girl who's independent, who has her act together because they're both a part of my experience. And if I had never put myself out there, tried new things, put myself in a position where I could feel lost or helpless. I wouldn't gain the skills that I have today. So it's not something that negates my independence, my determination, my competence, but rather it's, it's a part of the process. It's all a part of striking out on my own and being true to myself.

And finally, as cliche as it sounds, I learned the importance of taking care of myself. I don't think people, especially those who are outside of the blind community, acknowledge the extent to which navigating a world that isn't designed for you and encountering ableism can impact your mental health. In January and February, I had gone through a period where I had pretty severe anxiety, insomnia, and other mental health-related issues. And a lot of my stressors had to do with my blindness. The fact that I felt especially stuck during the coronavirus pandemic as a virtual student who couldn't drive around her suburban neighbors. And thankfully, a few weeks after getting help, I started to feel so much better. I got much better sleep. I wasn't staring at the ceiling until four in the morning. Overall. I was in a much better place. And especially now looking back on how I felt a few months ago during the winter, it's almost unbelievable to me how miserable I was and how normal I thought I was.

I realized that crippling anxiety, staying up all night, and crying every day, doesn't have to be the status quo. I deserve better. And in that sense, I am really grateful to have this podcast because it, in many ways, helped me to define these systemic and institutional barriers. I faced a blind person that was completely out of my control. In other words, it helped me, it helped me take the blame off of myself for some of the problems and stressors I was facing.

And beyond that, it was just something that I did for fun. There was no grade, no application. No evaluation tied to it. It was a way for me to express myself, learn more about my identity, and meet some really cool people along the way.

And with that, I would like to thank you for listening to the 13th episode of Legally Blonde & Blind. If you liked today's episode, make sure to subscribe on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google podcasts, or wherever you listen to your shows. You can also follow my social media pages @legallybb_ on Instagram and Legally Blonde & Blind on Facebook for more updates.

Thank you for watching, and I hope to SEE you soon!


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